“It is not the person who has, but the person who wants more, that is poor.” – Seneca the Younger
I recently had an experience inside a super-hip clothing store. You know the kind. The ones you can only find in a mall. I found myself in line about to buy a shirt that was 75% off after biking 10 miles to the local Apple store.
I was at the Apple store to see if they would fix my broken monitor. The monitor is completely shattered, and I wanted to see what ridiculous price they would quote me to fix the screen. I had previously tried calling them, and talked to many associates in the store, but they told me that in no circumstance whatsoever would they be able to tell me how much it would cost to fix my laptop screen without setting up an appointment at the Apple store. I set up an appointment with their sales geniuses, who abruptly told me that they do not fix their own products that are older than 5 years old, but for a measly $999(!!!!) I could replace my old laptop. No thanks, Mr. not-so-genius! I’ll continue to apply the principals of DIY or DIE (post on that coming soon) to fix it myself! Take that, Apple! Who’s biting of the fruit of good and evil now?
Anyways, back to the mall store. I biked with a friend, and she wanted to go inside the mall clothing store to use a gift card.
Upon walking through the metal detectors, my shopping senses turned on. I was excited about the clothes. A hip young salesman came over wearing a killer bright blue plaid shirt, and I asked him where I could find them. Typically these sort of places charge like $30-60 for a shirt, which is way too many hours of work to justify buying one. However, that day was different.
This particular store happened to be closing down so their shirts were selling for like 70% off at $12.99, instead of $30-50. My initial thought was:
“Wow! I can’t believe that at 70% off they are still making a profit on a shirt that some woman in El Salvador made, and only cost them like $2! Amazing!”
The next thought was one of I’m-excited-to CONSUMECONSUMECONSUMEEVERYTHING! I realized not only was this a great deal, but I NEEDED this shirt! RIGHT? Well, you guessed it. WRONG. For starters, I hate waiting in lines. And since everyone else in the store was buying like 20 items, I was waiting in line to buy this shirt for about 15 minutes. I had a deep internal debate with myself as to whether I would get the shirt. These are important questions when buying anything, but especially clothes. Learn them. Use them. Write them on your credit card. Tell your shopaholic friends that life doesn’t have to be this way. Here are the questions.
HOW OFTEN WILL I USE IT?
I only want to buy a shirt that I will wear, at least, once a week. Ideally more than once a week. This shirt was on the nicer side of things, so I would probably only use it for office-type work, and not for casual wear. Remember the Occasional Use Fallacy. Only buy it if you will use it all of the time, not just occasionally.
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?
I have found that most dress shirts will last me 2-3 years, depending on the climate, how much I bike and play ping pong in the shirt, and what color the shirt is. I was estimating that this shirt would last me 2 years, or 24 months, which, with depreciation/amortization, would cost me about .54 cents a month, or .13 cents a week. The longer the item will last, the more likely I am to buy it. I try to go with the philosophy of BUY IT FOR LIFE. I will buy just about anything, including socks, that have a lifetime warranty on them. This is why, when it comes to shirts, I typically only buy dark colored shirts. Dark shirts live longer than light colored shirts. They more easily survive cooking stains, grass stains, mud spatter from biking, sweat from running, bike grease.
WILL THIS ITEM MAKE ME HAPPIER, OR OTHERWISE IMPROVE MY QUALITY OF LIFE?
This was the biggest question of all. I knew that for the day, and the first few times I wore the shirt that yes, it would make me happier. It would also make me look sophisticated, fancy, smart, hip, cool, and edgy. However, I ultimately decided that 1) I already have too many shirts 2) I was getting more and more frustrating by waiting in line to buy an overpriced item and 3) It would, indeed, most certainly, NOT make me happier in the long run.
DO I NEED IT?
In this case, the answer was no. While I am not against all fashion, spending money on things that we don’t need is how many people in this world live. We are trying to improve the world by NOT having a lifestyle of created needs.
Go through these simple questions before making any impulse purchase.
Many budgeting basics begin with keeping track of these types of expenses, to see if they do actually improve your life. In many cases, if you wait a week before purchasing said item, you will no longer have such a burning desire for it.
The short version of questions to ask before buying anything is:
- How often will I use it?
- How long will it last?
- Will this make me happier, or otherwise improve my quality of life?
- Do I need it?
Another important question pertaining to other things like a lawn mower or an automobile:
5. Are there going to be significant future additional costs to maintain said item?
This is all akin, of course to the Mr. Money Mustache Post, Grocery Shopping With Your Middle Finger. Great stuff.
What are some questions you ask yourself to keep yourself from zombie, drool-inducing impulse shopping? What questions did I miss?
I’d love to hear additional philosophy ideas and tips.
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