How to avoid buying things you don’t need
When I was younger I felt I owed myself new items on a regular basis as a reward for being awesome. Aced and exam = get a reward, got a new job = get a reward, had a birthday = get a reward, made it through another year = get a reward…and I actually thought this was normal. As a result my closet was overflowing with cute new dresses (I got at least one per birthday and Christmas as gifts to myself), expensive work suits, and dozens of shoes I never wore because they hurt my feet, especially fancy heels.
With hindsight and a greater understanding of marketing and social norms it is easy to see why I thought this was necessary and followed the crowd. It wasn’t until i got serious about saving money and investing in my future that I did tuned into the feelings of regret I would have over all the clutter I had accumulated over the years. I also really started to notice that I actually got less joy and happiness with each passing purchase.
It was then I decided to stop buying things I don’t need.
Your mindset makes you buy more
It is particularly easy to find the ‘almost perfect’ item of clothing that almost, sort of fits, or the new shoes that would look so great if I just wore them in especially when you are celebrating, or commiserating a loss. Though have heels actually ever gotten more comfortable over time if you can’t even wear them for 10 minutes in the store?
While excited at the time to buy something new, what I later experienced was buyer’s remorse, and we’ve all been there.
Have you ever purchased something that would be great if you just sewed in some lace over the cutoff sections so it wasn’t as revealing (yes I actually did this)? Or absolutely needed something to make your life easier/more exciting but still months later you haven’t opened the box (hello vegetable spiraliser).
I changed my buying process with these 6 easy questions to avoid buying things I don’t need
While I am not perfect now, and most likely will never be 100% rid of all my impulse buying decisions, I have dramatically cut down on my regrettable purchases and the associated feeling of guilt by introducing a system to make me think before buying.
Before a big purchase (say over $100) or a small one that isn’t a need right now (I can buy as much toothpaste as I need without feeling guilty), I ask myself these 6 questions;
1. Do I have something else that can fill this need?
This is especially important when buying new kitchen gadgets. I love being in the kitchen, cooking, baking and sharing my creations with family and friends. I also have a keen interest in watching cooking shows, which usually leads to my brain believing I absolutely need what they have.
I’ve learnt to ask myself why I really need this item, and if there is something else that could work. You’d be surprised what you can do with a frypan, a saucepan and a knife!
Hint: You don’t need a rice cooker, vegetable slicer, egg cooker, popcorn maker or most things listed on infomercials on late night tv.
2. Are there other items that will do this PLUS more?
If I still want something as I don’t have an appliance or gadget that will get the job done, I ask myself what else is out there that might do the thing I need, plus something else. Instead of getting a cheaper slow cooker, can I spend a bit more and get the multi-cooker that does 10 things in one? One hit wonder items never seem to bode well in my kitchen. I don’t have much storage space so I have to pack everything away after use so if it doesn’t get used regularly it won’t get a prime spot and will most likely be forgotten about.
3. Will I use this stright away?
A huge trap is the ‘maybe’ item. Maybe I could wear this next winter or to the next wedding I’m invited to. What if you never get invited to another wedding again? A bit of a crazy example I know, but there have been so many dresses the old me bought that I never actually wore. I was waiting for the perfect event or occasion and it never actually came up. My tastes changed as I grew up and things I bought when I was 18 look hideous/hilarious to my much older self so they have been donated to charity.
If I don’t have an immediate (or short term) use for an item I don’t buy it.
4. How much is this worth to me?
If an item passes the other tests; does it have multiple uses, does it have an immediate need – I then decide how much is it worth to me before looking at the price tag? This works well for clothes and shoes, even blenders and some food items.
How many seasons will I get out of these boots? If they are top quality and expected to last through a few winters keeping my feet warm, dry and comfortable then I’m happy to pay top dollar. However if I’m looking at a heavy winter coat it may not be worth the large price tag to me since it doesn’t get that cold here in Sydney to justify needed a Europe style winter coat as cute as they are.
If I’ve decided I’m willing to pay $100 for a pair of boots, and they are on sale for $40 (like last year) go me! On the flip side, make up isn’t something I value, or use often and there is no chance I would pay even $40 for a bottle of foundation.
5. Will I use this regularly or am I better off borrowing or renting for a short term need?
My best example here is of anything camping or outdoorsy. Do I really need a tent to camp – yes I go all the time. Do I really need a 4WD to get to some to some cool camping spots? No. There are plenty of great places to camp that are accessible by my little car, and for the odd occasion where we do go to a place with 4WD only access I have a lot of friends I can hitch a ride with (or possible borrow a vehicle if needed). While this may seem like an extreme example considering the size of this purchase, there are plenty of smaller other items that campers buy that they maybe don’t really need. A camping egg holder – what’s wrong with the cardboard carton they already come in?
Mr B and his tools are another great example here. Being tradesmen and/or avid car aficionados, between himself and his brothers they have almost every tool and powered device needed for a small renovation, car service or home DIY project. It would be silly for all of them to buy the same things so they always call around first to see who might have a tool they are looking for before they consider buying one to add to their collection. There is no need for 3 drills or power saws when these are items that are used occasionally. Obviously they all have their own screwdrivers, allen keys, hammers etc. as these are items that they each use regularly and would be an inconvenience to have to borrow.
You may not be lucky enough to have family close by, but the sharing economy is a growing trend and neighbours are usually more than willing to help out when needed. You might be able to borrow that window washer once a year for your spring cleaning, and you may be able to lend your train shaped cake tin to a neighbour for their son’s 1 year old birthday party. If I can’t find something I need between family and friends I’ll often ask my local Buy Nothing group and see if a friendly neighbour can help.
6. Can I pay for this in cash right now?
Laptops, camping accessories, new clothes, holidays and even a new car. Whenever I need to buy these things I will have the cash ready. Consumer debt sucks and none of those things are worth going into debt for. There may be some exceptions to this rule in case of emergency, though that is what I have my emergency savings fund for!
If it doesn’t improve my life I don’t buy it
By asking myself these 6 questions before buying something new I have been able to cut back on my impulse purchase and the associated guilt with never using something and eventually donating it to a more worthy cause.
A bonus to avoiding the emotional toll of buying too many things I don’t need, I’ve also saved myself so much money the past couple of years since deciding I can celebrate milestones and enjoy the fun things in life without marking the occasion with and unnecessary purchase.
What is your purchase style? How do you avoid buying things you don’t need? Your ideas could help someone else overcome this hurdle so please share!
Money & Happiness?
Get tips and tricks on saving, investing, and growing your income while maintaining strong relationships and a healthy body and mind. Here's to wealth and a life win-win.