Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Buy Less: The "Will-By" Defense

Another mental trick that will keep your spending in check without you feeling deprived! I call this one the "Will-By" Defense. Here's how it works:

If you can't clearly state when you WILL use an item BY - an actual, MM/DD/YY date - you are likely not ready to buy it at any price.

No matter how great the price, buying something costs you money over time.  Just like a store has a cost associated with things sitting on the shelf, items incur a 'cost' sitting in your house unused.  Space and storage costs money.  Time is spent on keeping things clean and undamaged.  Investing money into an item removes that money from other uses that could have made you money.  Therefore, if you can't USE an item in a certain amount of time, it will never be worth the 'good price'.

Consider the following:

  • Buying 5 lbs of oranges for $2.00 is a GREAT price! However, if you don't have a plan to use up 5 lbs of oranges in the next week, they will spoil and you will LOSE money over it.
  • Buying a fancy dress for 80% off the original price makes it a great buy, right?  Well, if you have no reason to wear that style dress in the next year, you probably won't wear it in the next year, and you will have your cash locked into that dress instead of in a 401K, or a CD, or some other investment.  A dress accumulates dust, not a return.  It becomes LOST money.
  • Buying a new tool, be it a wrench set, another sewing machine, or a fancy crafting item like a paper-cutting system, seems to be a practical application of money, right?  It is a tool, after all, that you will be able to re-use over and over again!  Well, only if it is a tool that you will be USING.  If you buy a tool and it sits on a shelf for the next 6 months, it will accumulate the cost of not just the money you spent on it, but the money you spent on keeping it safe and stored (as in your mortgage or rent), plus the time you spend moving it around as you use things stored around it.  So, unless  the tool is used SOON, its amazingly low price isn't so amazing.  Left too long on the shelf, it will COST you money with no return, which sucks.

So, before that great clearance item touches the bottom of your cart, REMIND yourself:

  1. The price you pay for an item is not its total cost. 
  2. USING things makes things useful, NOT just owning them.
  3. I will have to use this by ______ to make it WORTH it.  Will I?
In closing, I just want to throw out some of my own experiences and some of the 'timelines guidelines' I've developed for stuff before I buy them:

For items with a limited shelf life:  Look for the 'use by' date, and determine if you can use all of it by that time.  Otherwise, a more expensive-per-unit but smaller package of the same item may save you money.  Remember this isn't just food - adhesives and glues, paints and pens  and inks, make up and beauty products, oils and and chemicals of all sorts don't last forever - if not used, they degrade/dry up/stop working and are worthless.

For large tools/equipment:  Figure out how many times you could make use of an item in a year, and divide that by the cost of the item - is it worth it?  I find that if I can't bring the price per use down to at most a few dollars within a year, it isn't worth my time and space to have the item in question.  Unless I use a machine or tool more than once a month or so, I can usually get the same effect with something I already own.

For tiny items:  How many projects can the item be used in within the next year?  How many months before I can use it up or bring its price per use to less than a dollar?  If you can think of only a few uses and have something similar already, don't buy it.  I find I lose small items before I can get the money value back out of them.  If you are more organized than me, maybe this isn't a problem, but always keep in mind that tiny things accumulate FAST and disappear EASY.

For 'useful' items:  If it is something I have some of already, I consider how often I find myself wishing for more of them.  If I can't remember the last time I 'ran out' of them, I probably don't need more.  If I can't recall wishing for the item more than twice, I can live without it another year.  If it is a 'useful' item but useful only for something I do less than once every 6 months, I can make do without it.  

For 'splurge-y' items:  Decide how often you will take enjoyment from the item - if you can put it out and see it/use it at least a few times a month, go for it!  If it is a specialty item that only comes out once a year, you won't get the money value out of it before you find something else you wish you had the money for.

For rock-bottom-priced stuff:  Thrift stores are notorious for having crazy low prices on things that, yes, you could use.  But be realistic about when you will use them, and know that 90% of the time you will find a similar item at a similar price within the year and you don't NEED to buy it now.  I have found that with the exception of wall art that I can't draw my eyes away from, or the occasional "I've been wanting this for a year already" item, I haven't regretted NOT buying a super priced item a year later.

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