How to Prioritize Your Spending

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Don’t buy that.

At least take a few moments to decide if it’s really worth buying.

Too often, people go on auto-pilot and buy whatever catches their attention for a few moments.  The end-caps at the store?  Oh, boy, that’s impossible to resist.  Everybody needs a 1000 pack of ShamWow’s, right?   Who could live without a extra pair of kevlar boxer shorts?

Before you put the new tchotke in your cart, ask yourself some questions to see if it’s worth getting.

1. Is it a need or a want? Is this something you could live without?   Some things are necessary.  Soap, shampoo, and food are essentials.  You have to buy those.  Other things, like movies, most of the clothes people buy, or electronic gadgets are almost always optional.   If you don’t need it, it may be a good idea to leave it in the store.

2. Does it serve a purpose?  I bought a vase once that I thought was pretty and could hold candy or something, but it’s done nothing but collect dust in the meantime.  It’s purpose is nothing more than hiding part of a flat surface.   Useless.

3. Will you actually use it? A few years ago, my wife an cleaned out her mother’s house.   She’s a hoarder.   We found at least 50 shopping bags full of clothes with the tags still attached.   I know, you’re thinking that you’d never do that, because you’re not a hoarder, but people do it all the time.  Have you ever bought a book that you haven’t gotten around to reading, or a movie that went on the shelf, still wrapped in plastic?   Do you own a treadmill that’s only being used to hang clothes, or a home liposuction machine that is not being used to make soap?

3. Is it a fad? Beanie babies, iPads, BetaMax, and bike helmets.  All garbage that takes the world by storm for a few years then fades, leaving the distributors rich and the customers embarrassed.

4. Is it something you’re considering just to keep up with the Joneses? If you’re only buying it to compete with your neighbors, don’t buy it.  You don’t need a Lexus, a Rolex, or that replacement kidney.  Just put it back on the shelf and go home with your money.  Chances are, your neighbors are only buying stuff so they can compete with you.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Break it.

5. Do you really, really want it? Sometimes, no matter how worthless something might be, whether it’s a fad, or a dust-collecting knick-knack, or an outfit you’ll never wear, you just want it more than you want your next breath of air.  That’s ok.  A bit disturbing, but ok.  If you are meeting all of your other needs, it’s fine to indulge yourself on occasion.

How do you prioritize spending if you’re thinking about buying something questionable?

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    1. Most of the stuff that I have with tags are gifts that just weren’t me. I think the most important aspect to consider regarding spending on material items is whether or not it is something that you will actually use. I have few items which I use daily. I am always surprised when cleaning out my closet or basement when I find something that I forgot I had and then wonder why did I ever bother to get that. I shouldn’t be that surprised, though. I need to do a better job of prioritizing spending.

    2. My wife and I do/ask the following to help prioritize our spending:

      1. We shop together. This allows us to keep each other in check. A sanity check, if you will…

      2. We ask ourselves all the questions you present above.

      3. We ask ourselves: Do we have room for this in our house?

      4. We ask ourselves: Is this worth cleaning all the time?

      5. We ask ourselves: Does this item fit in with our desire to live simply and frugally?


    3. Tin Foil Hat says:

      I have the greatest trouble prioritizing when there is more than just money involved. For example: buy the cheap food, or the healthy food? Patronize the mega-store that is sucking the community dry, or the more expensive local merchant?
      If you can shed any light on how to make these types of decisions, please do!

      • For those, it’s really a matter of knowing what’s important to you. What are your values? Do you value the healthy food more than the cheap food, and do they have to be mutually exlusive?

        As an aside: Wal-mart may be killing the mom & pop stores, but it’s employing a thousand more people than they are, for every store it opens.

        • Tin Foil Hat says:

          Actually, it doesn’t. There has been a lot of research on this – check out the book “Big Box Swindle.” Every Wal-Mart that opens decreases total employment in the area once all the smaller stores close (it’s never just one, because they have regional impact).
          Obviously, I know what’s important to me – I just don’t know if I can afford it.

    4. Bike helmets are a fad?

      • They’re not? 🙂

        • Not in the same sense as beanie babies, pet rocks, and tickle-me-elmos. Maybe in the same sense as infant car seats (some have argued that the money we spend on car seats could be better spent, e.g. adding safety devices to the car itself). But bike helmets are cheap, probably make riding safer, and probably don’t hurt anything. And that has been the status quo for a long time. Not quite my definition of “fad.”

          Obligatory on-topic comment: One thing some people (not me) do is put new purchases on a “30 day list”. After 30 days if they still want it, then they get it.

          Also, don’t forget to reevaluate your regular purchases from time to time. Maybe when you first started getting something, it was a good choice, but you no longer need it.

    5. thanks for sharing this post! I believe these are really some of the questions that one must keep in mind when it comes to spending. Will you actually use it? some people just buy stuffs because they just want to and need because they need them. I think that’s one thing that we should prevent from doing.

    6. Cashflow makes you rich, therefore i agree with cashflowmantra, only buy what u will use..

    7. I also try to sit on purchases to see if my desire for them goes away. It works for unnecessary things, but for things that are “really going to be helpful”, not so much.


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