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Sometimes people make choices for a variety of reasons entirely outside of my knowledge and understanding.  Yet somehow, I still manage to be dismissive and occasionally derogatory.

What I have come to realize is that there are numerous reasons for making apparent bad decisions.   It is easy, though often not correct, to dismiss these supposed mistakes as character flaws, without taking the time to fully understand the decision-making process.

For example, I am usually quick to point out the folly of gadgets.  Odd, that, for a gadget geek.  So many gadgets are merely ego purchases, bought because the are “cool”.  Obviously a waste of money.   A smartphone serves no practical purpose for an average person, right? What if that person’s life is so difficult to manage that a calendar sync including both spouses and multiple calendars will allow a family to make sure every kid gets to every activity on time?  Or he has a side business that is easier to manage with ubiquitous email?  Or even a strong urge to limit the number of items carried every day?  A phone/mp3 player is fewer gadgets than separate appliances.

Another example is a close friend who started running several months ago, to be met with questions of why somebody would run without being chased.  It’s easier to play on the internet or ride a bike, right?  And the special running shoes?  Silly.  Except running is cheaper than biking and running shoes beat knee surgery any day.   Running on the street is more effective than a treadmill, since you can’t step off after running two miles away from your house.

So here I sit, a runner with a crackberry and plate full of crow.

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”  Indeed.

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How to Prioritize Your Spending

Jewel-Osco - monster shopping cart truck

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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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