A few weeks ago, I bought something that I didn’t need but I wanted. I didn’t realize when I made the purchase but the decision was rooted in aspirational living: I saw someone else had it, thought it would improve my life, and I went out the next day and bought it. Although it didn’t make or break my budget (it came to about $50 ), it was still enough for a nice dinner with my girlfriend, a couple of books, or an extra payment towards my student loans.
The problem wasn’t my impulsivity. It’s what happened next. A few days after my purchase, I came to the realization that I needed a new wallet. One that was not only vegan but also made in an ethical manner. After browsing online, I found one made in San Francisco that fit the criteria that I had (vegan, US-made, fits in my pocket, elegant minimalist design). The following day, I ordered it online.
Fast forward a week, I felt an urge taking over my brain: I just had to have a camera. My iPhone was fine for regular photos, but I wanted to take exceptional photos. After all, this summer I’m heading to Vancouver and I want to capture the experience. Memories are priceless, right? Within a short month, a relatively minor purchase snowballed into an insatiable urge to purchase $650+ worth of stuff.
It’s not like we’re ignorant. We’re aware that ephemeral pleasures don’t bring lasting happiness. Yet, despite all our self-awareness, a lot of us still fall privy to the shininess of the newest thing — myself included. I used to get down on myself for this weakness, but as of late I’ve taken a more liberal approach. It’s perfectly normal to be unsatisfied with what we have and, to a certain extent, that’s what pushes us to continue striving for better. What isn’t normal is wanting to get a new life because you hate the one you have. Instead of feeling ashamed for wanting to spend money on yourself, I find it much more effective (not to mention healthy) to meditate on a few questions instead.
1. Will this break the bank?
This is the most important question to ask. Are you in a lot of debt? Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Are you constantly maxing out your credit cards? If so, then you need to be stricter with yourself when it comes to indulgences. I held myself to a stricter regimen when I was $50,000 in debt than when I was $5,000 in debt. You shouldn’t make excuses for yourself, but you also don’t need to languish in destitution either.
2. How did you come to realize that you wanted or needed this?
Did you see this because some influencer on Instagram took a picture with it? Or did you do your own research and determine that this item fit your values and price range the best?
3. Do you plan on using this within the next month? And the month after that? And the month after that?
Is this another pair of shoes or a new laptop that you need for work? Do you plan on using this every week or every year? Although I like quality travel products, I only travel a few times a year, which is not enough for me to purchase expensive bags or accessories. It makes more sense for me to spend money on things that I use almost every day.
4. Will this help you in a meaningful way?
I invest heavily into anything that I believe pushes my artistic endeavors. I never say no to books that I want to purchase, tickets to the art gallery, or seeing my favorite bands. Consequently, I reduce my spending on clothes, restaurants, alcohol, vacations, transportation, and housing. I consider it a simple cost-benefit analysis.
And the three aforementioned items? I ended up returning the first item and decided not to purchase the camera. It wasn’t because both were too expensive, I just reasoned that I didn’t need them right now as much as I thought. If I want to buy them later, they’ll still be on the shelf. The wallet is on its way.
This might be a controversial opinion for someone who promulgates a minimalist lifestyle, but I don’t see the harm in buying things for yourself. We all deserve nice things. Instead, we need to move away from spending as a form of pacifying our discontent and move towards intentional decisions. If the math works and you believe something will add value to your life, stop wasting time by mulling it over for weeks and just buy it and move on.
Jennifer Chan is a lawyer and blogger. You can find her at jennifertchan.net where she focuses on connecting the dots between work, money, and happiness. She resides in Toronto, Canada with her girlfriend, full-figured rabbit, and a deaf & blind cockapoo.
Image via Unsplash