It’s not crazy to have a voice in your head. Conscience—that little voice telling you what’s right from wrong—is perfectly normal. It’s our subconscious brain reminding us how our personal morals compare to a situation we’re presented with. The more you work to understand your inner voice, the less conflict you’ll feel. You’ll find your in-the-moment feelings become harmonious with your deep-down fundamentals. It ties back to one of my all-time favorite sayings: “temet nosce,” or “know thyself.”
I hope I haven’t turned you off with my psychology 101; financial segue inbound…
I bet that if you really think about yourself, you’ll find that you also have a voice in your head that sometimes screams out, “BUY THAT!!!” It’s natural psychology: an item seems cool, and you wanna be cool; your friends have it, and you don’t want to be left out; Tom Cruise is impressed by it, and you wanna impress Tom Cruise! But once you’ve bought the object, your long-term feelings might not be so optimistic. Why the hell does Tom Cruise like this Couch Cushion Trampoline™ so much, anyway? If you learn to understand and predict how your Buy That! voice will react, you’ll decrease the number of regretful purchases that you make, and increase your overall financial happiness. Not to mention, you’ll save some money for the future.
So, if you haven’t done this before, I’d encourage you to get to know your Buy That! voice. Mine definitely gets triggered by cool books, nerdy gadgets, and hiking gear. If I ever see a book full of nerdy hiking gadgets, man, I’d want to buy that! I love to cook and bake as well, so many a kitchen item gets me thinking Buy That! Over time, I’ve learned to recognize the timbre of my Buy That! voice, so I’ve started asking myself some questions when the voice gets annoying. For example:
- Do I need this item? Or do I just want it? Will I feel the same need/want in the future?
- Can I afford it? Do I have money in my budget set aside?
- Can I get it cheaper if I buy it elsewhere? Or at another time of the year?
- Can I make it myself, borrow it, or use something I already have as a substitute?
It’s led to some happy successes! Most recently (today), I was tempted to spend $18 on a book called “Smart People Should Build Things,” by Andrew Yang. I’d heard Yang speak on some podcasts; he seems like a very interesting guy, and so his book has me intrigued. But before I even put the book into my Amazon cart, I asked myself the questions from above. Here are my answers:
- It’s a want. Definitely not a need.
- I can afford a $18 purchase, but the holidays do have my discretionary budget a little tight.
- But the real kicker: the Rochester Public Library system (which I think is great) has at least one copy of the book at 4 different locations. They have three week loans, and unless you’re borrowing the 0.1% of items deemed “high demand,” you can always renew for as many 3-week terms as needed.
So it was an easy decision, really. I’m not going to spend $18 on something that I can go borrow for free whenever I want to.
There are other little examples, too.
- Since my gym clothes are solely for sweating in, I try not to spend oodles of money on primo Nike gear. Instead, I buy basic cotton tees from Goodwill or Salvation Army.
- My kitchen island. I set aside a couple months of miscellaneous money in my budget in order to buy materials (from Craigslist and Home Depot), and my wonderful girlfriend helped me with her interior design expertise and painting work. Instead of spending $250+ on Wayfair, I spent about $100 and got some great DIY practice.
- I know my house has needs, but some are more important than others. So before I spend $1000 on new living room furniture, I need to set money aside for that in my budget. Also, I need to make sure that my house emergency fund–to cover a sudden furnace failure, or something like that–is at a safe place. The Buy That! is there, but I need to make sure the purchase is responsible.
The successes are great, but I’ve failed plenty of times too:
- I bought a hot tub. It’s great. Especially on these bitter cold winter nights. But, when I think about it from a cost-per-use perspective…I certainly don’t feel the same “want” now that I felt before I bought it. If I could do it differently—like buy a smaller tub—I would. I learned that my Buy That! voice is a sucker for a pushy salesman; next time, I’ll be ready for that salesman, in whatever form he might take.
- DVDs. Back in my college days, I was sure that having a great collection of DVDs would make me happy. So for the price of–for example–60 months of Netflix, I now have 60 DVDs…most of which I could watch on Netflix. You mean Barbershop 2 isn’t an all-time classic?
- Cross-country skis and boots. Granted, I did buy them used from Craigslist for about $70. But last winter I used them…once. And so far this winter, I’ve used them…once. I might get my use out of them in the future, but so far, the skis fail to provide good answers to my standard Buy That! questions.
So those are my anecdotes. But only you know yourself. Only you know what makes you happy, or what purchases you’ve regretted. So I’m not telling you to be a minimalist, or to reduce your purchasing to zero. I’m not telling you to be as cheap as possible. I’m not saying that hot tubs, DVDs, and skis are inherently bad purchases. Plenty of purchases have plenty of utility. All I’m providing here is encouragement.
When I started taking the time to know myself and know my purchasing impulses, I felt less regret, found more fulfillment, and also saved money. I hope that if you learn to know yourself, you will find the same benefits.