In this fast paced, consumer driven society we are often overworked, overstimulated, and impulsive when it comes to our purchases. Our credit cards are often as overworked as we are. Been a long day? Go ahead and buy that candy bar, expensive bottle of wine, shiny jewelry, new gadget or piece of clothing.
The vicious cycle goes something like this, wanting, working to buy, wanting, over working, over wanting, over buying, and exhaustion from working to pay for purchases. As the initial pleasure of the new object fades away, one is left with a credit card bill exceeding one’s paycheck and the desire for another ‘special treat’. The soon-to-be maxed out credit card and a zero balance in the checking account leads to more worry, more pain, and more wanting used as a way to alleviate the pain.
To begin noticing the cycle one must pause in the midst of the cycle and ask, ‘Is what I am buying positively contributing to my life, my life’s goal, or others around me?’. If the answer, more times than not, is yes one can assume the purchase is positively contributing to the person’s life. If one pauses, asks these questions, and when responding finds the answer to most often be no, it may be the purchases are in fact negatively impacting one’s life and the life one wants to create.
Years ago the authors of the book, The Minimalist, were having a book reading at a local Boise, Idaho bookstore called Rediscovered Bookshop. A friend and I decided it would be neat to check out, and off we went. What we didn’t know was how much it would affect us.
The authors explained the liberation they felt when ridding themselves of the ‘stuff’ which filled their homes and lives. They spoke of the freedom which came from paying off debts and living within their means and how after reevaluating their needs they were able to center themselves, finding their inner balance. They had more time to do what they were passionate about, and spent less time worrying about their ‘things’ and how they were going to pay for their next purchase.
Immediately upon arriving home from the book reading I ripped through my guest bedroom closet, hall closet, bedroom closet, and boxes in the garage. I cleaned under beds, all the pantry shelves, and bookshelves. ‘How much stuff do two people need?!’ I asked myself multiple times. I found stuff I didn’t even know I had: five different tents, four coolers, a computer from 2004 (It didn’t have WiFi capabilities. What would you even do with a computer without WiFi capabilities?), books neither my husband or I had read or purchased, ‘Whose are these?’ I thought. Near the end of my three week tirade, my friend and I exchanged pictures of cut-up credit cards and piles of goods, labeled ‘trash’, ‘donate’, or ‘sell’. Feeling liberated and centered I reflected on my needs and wants in relation to my life’s mission. Did they match, ‘Not quite’ I thought.
I realized the amount of stuff I had was only part of the problem. Materialism and consumerism made up the other part. ‘How do I begin to prioritize my needs and wants to positively benefit my life’? To answer this question I had to seriously look at the purchases I made, how much they cost, and how much happiness each individual purchase created in my life.
Step One: Get a piece of paper and fold it into thirds. Label the first column ‘What I purchased…’, the second column ‘How Much Money Did it Cost?’, and the third column ‘Level or satisfaction…’
First Column: What you purchased: record each purchase you make for one week (you can print out your debit or credit card purchases for the week/ month)
Second Column: How much did spent on the purchase? No need to make this complicated, your bank does this for you each month. Take advantage of the technology!
Third Column: Note the level of satisfaction you get from the purchase. Score purchases from -10 through +10 Concert tickets for a favorite band may cost $15 which was a great time, so you could label that +8. A parking ticket you got after leaving your car downtown may rank -4 (depending on why you left the car downtown aka responsible driving, it may rank a +6).
The first step in reducing money spent on unnecessary purchases, which allows more money to be spent on the things one enjoys, is pausing and noticing the cycle of purchases.
Enjoy spending the extra dollars on purchases which contribute to happiness!
Please let me know if this strategy of identifying purchases and noting your satisfaction has helped by leaving a comment! What else helps you to identify and decrease unnecessary purchases? I look forward to reading your responses!