This guest post was written as a guest post (by me!) in 2010.
There I was, minding my own business, when suddenly, Sumdood came out came out of nowhere and forced me to buy a new flat-panel TV, a time share in St. Thomas, and join one of those overpriced underwear-of-the-month clubs. Talk about a bad day, rivaled only by the day the odd, lacy package gets delivered on the first of the month.
No, really, as I go about my business each day, the temptation to spend my money can be almost irresistible. Yet somehow, I manage. Is it because I have superhuman willpower? I don’t. Is it because I’m chased by a leather-clad, sjambok-wielding pixie who chastises me for every unbudgeted purchase? That’s not it either, but it makes for a fun picture.
What’s my secret?
I follow a principle I like to call “Don’t buy that!” Don’t buy that! is a simple plan that is surprisingly hard to implement, mostly because following the plan means delaying gratification for a while. Delayed gratification is never as much fun as instantly indulging every whim.
I can hear your shouts of protest. If it’s so hard, how can I expect you to do it? Easy. Just follow the rules. There are a few things you can do to make Don’t buy that! a realistic plan of action for you.
1. Find a slap-me-upside-the-head buddy. I use my wife. It works for me and she tends to enjoy it. If I’m in a store and I get tempted to buy something awesome, I call her for a reality check. Sometimes, it’s as straight-forward as my calling her and saying “Honey, tell me ‘no’.” Other times, she actually has to talk me down using–horror of horrors–logic and reasoning. Usually, she just invokes rule #2.
2. If you have to check if you can afford it, you can’t. If I’m not immediately sure that we have the money to buy something, it is far too big of a purchase to buy on an impulse. Big purchases need to be planned. “Honey, I found this great TV on sale!” “Can we afford it?” “I don’t know, let me che…crap. Nevermind.”
3. You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything. We could afford a fancy vacation in Paris every year, but not if we also pay for extended super-cable, Netflix, dinner out every night, and a new car every three years. Expenses need to be prioritized.
4. The little things can ruin you. There’s a story about a nail missing from a horse’s shoe, which lamed the horse, which made the knight miss a battle, which was lost, which led to the loss of the war, which led to the loss of the kingdom. For want of a single nail, a nation fell. If I buy a new book or movie every week, will I end up short on my mortgage payment? It’s far easier to pick up some of the little things after the necessities are met than it is to try to pay the mortgage after squandering your paycheck on lottery tickets and Mad Dog. Handle your needs before you worry about your wants. Sometimes, that means putting off the things you want, but having the things you need makes it worthwhile.
5. Remember the past. When I bought a bunch of movies a few months ago, I was happy. New movies go great the the movie screen and projector in my living room. Want to take a guess at how many of those movies I’ve taken the time to watch? I certainly enjoyed the act of buying the movies and the anticipation of watching them far more than I’ve enjoyed seeing them site on the shelf, unopened. What a waste. It happens regularly. Often, we get far more enjoyment out of the idea of doing something that the actual doing. If I can remember that the anticipation is better than the act, before I buy whatever is tempting me, I can usually avoid buying it.
These 5 rules have helped me to follow my master plan of Don’t buy that! That plan is the single most useful thing I have ever used to save money.
What’s your best tip to save money?