Buying things doesn’t always lead to the feelings that I hoped they would. Often times, I feel the excitement of a purchase is the high point, with interest in a new gadget or toy in a steady state of decline the time afterward. I recently thought about this after reading a chapter in Your Money or Your Life, which instructed you to look at your purchases and determine if it gave you adequate fulfillment. I really like this concept, but I thought I would take it a step further: evaluate fulfillment potential before buying in the first place.
I always want to get the most out of my purchases. Sometimes it becomes a bit of an obsession for me. I’ll often spend 30 minutes on Yelp to figure out the best option for a Saturday night meal or heavily research customer reviews on Amazon.com. But this would be a total waste of time if I evaluated every dollar I spent in this fashion.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s impulse buying, where almost no time or thought goes into the purchase. Impulse spending is more problematic since 1) a greater proportion of money is probably spent in this way and 2) what is spent is usually on things that garner less reward.
Regardless of your plan to a acquire a new knick-knack, here are questions to ask yourself before you make any purchases, especially pricey ones:
“Will this purchase really change my life?” Obviously if you’re dead set on buying something already, you’re going to be biased. But if you’re willing to be objective and open-minded, you may think differently. There are a lot of expensive purchases made under the assumption that it’s somehow going to revolutionize our life for the better. Often, the effects aren’t long lasting. I really like my MacBook Pro, but I’m not certain it’s value to me is worth a whole lot more than a cheaper computer. Many small purchases like an DVD or a cup of coffee probably won’t ever change someone’s life (again, being objective here), but that’s not to say you shouldn’t buy these things. However, I think it does raise some questions as to its importance in your life relative to other things, which leads to the next question.
“Is there something better I could do with this money?” I use this every time when I refuse to buy lunch. There are tons of other things I’d rather spend that money on: drinks out with friends, dinner with my girlfriend, or even just buying fancier food (like gourmet cheese!) from the grocery store. There are plenty of places to put the money. If you don’t have an automated savings plan, this is the perfect time to find ways to fund savings accounts. Instead of spending $70 on a pair of shoes, save it for emergencies, vacations, or other adventures down the road. You’ll be happier when you’ve saved yourself from three different $70 shoe purchases and suddenly have $210 to spend towards a trip to Europe.
“Have I purchased something similar in the past? How did I feel about it then?” I recently made my third car purchase in my life. Looking back to when I financed my second car, a brand-new Hyundai, I felt great about it at first. New car smell and all, it was great! But I eventually got sick of the car payments. With the most recent car, I knew that I didn’t want to make monthly payments again. I sought out to buy the cheapest car possible this time around, and I paid $1,000 cash for a 1997 Nissan. While I still don’t love owning a car, I feel much better about spending $1,000 rather than $10,000, and I knew I would feel even better than sinking a lot of money into this purchase.
“Can I really afford this? Will affording this be stressful?” This is a question I find coming up a lot when my monthly budget starts to get tight. If I’m being peer-pressured into an expensive night out, but I’ve already eaten up all of my fun budget, I know it’s going to take serious sacrifice to make ends meet. I’m all about fun times, but it’s not helpful later when I realized I’ve spent too much. That creates stress, and sometimes it’s simply better to say “no” when it’s not affordable.
Looking back at my purchases now, I wish I had asked some of these questions. I’ve learned several (expensive) lessons, but it’s taught me how to maximize fulfillment and happiness from my purchases.
$ $ $ $
photo by: Jason Cartwright