A first-world problem if there ever was one.
June 8, 2013 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I get a lot of happiness from buying stuff. I want to become one of those people who is happy with what she has and guarded with her cash. Someone who squeezes every last drop out of their shampoo bottle instead of getting overly excited to try a new brand before the current bottle is empty. How do I do this?

I make decent money and I'm not in debt, I have no problems paying all of my bills on time. However, I would like to save more money for travel. My problem is that I love to acquire pretty and neat things. In the past week I've bought fashionable shoes, a cool expensive can opener, a pair of mid-century modern dining room chairs, a nifty label maker, and the list goes on. It's getting ridiculous.

Buying stuff isn't my only source of happiness; I am a bit lacking in the friends and hobbies department but am overall content with my life and due to intentional effort on my part I've made some awesome improvements in these areas. But this spending hobby is embarrassing and something I hide from people. These objects DO make me happy, which is the problem!

Threads like this get me itching to buy stuff, and the internet does in general. In the past I have left my debit card at home and carried very little cash which worked well for day-to-day shopping, but I still bought stuff online. I have very little self-control. For what it's worth, NONE of my friends are like me - they are all thrifty and frugal, but my mom and sister have the same attitude toward shopping as I do. Growing up my mom had a separate room filled with stuff she bought and never used and continues to carry a ton of credit card debt, while my dad is frugal to the point of ridiculousness (for what it's worth, he has never bailed me out financially).

Like I said in my question, I basically want to be one of those people who is miserly and squeezes every last drop out of their shampoo instead of getting excited to try a new brand before I'm done with my current bottle. I can't begin to fathom how to do this as it's basically 180 degrees from my current mindset. Any pointers?
posted by pintapicasso to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not frugal, but my monthly expenditures are still much less than my wife's. In our case, it's not that she indulges herself a lot more than I do. It's that she happens to be interested in things that cost a lot more than my favorite things cost: one or two pairs of fashionable shoes cost way, way more than all the paperback/Kindle novels I can read in a month. So my first suggestion is get a cheap hobby and engage in it in sort of a cheap, multi-dimensional way--read blogs about it, meet up with others who are into it, etc., so that you can still do it even if you're not in the mood for the main part of it.

I'd also recommend dumping things you have an impulsive, momentary interest in into wishlists and seeing if they still matter to you in a week or two. My Amazon wishlist has grown huge from that, but I rarely dig deep to buy old stuff on the list, and it's likely I've bought less than I would have if I'd thought I needed to make an immediate decision. Generally speaking, you should trust that more cool things will always be there to buy in the future. There will always be more sales, more amazing things someone just mentioned, etc. It's OK to let most of them pass by.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:32 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just an idea. Cut out a little picture of the place you most want to travel to and stick it on your credit card. Every time you take it out to buy the expensive item, think about how much closer that cash will get you to your dream destination. It might be a way to redirect the short, sugar-rush of the new shoes toward a more fulfilling high you really desire.

The question you mention was my last one! I didn't realise the implications of askme...
posted by 0 answers at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a little bit like you (and we have similar taste -- hello!).

What helps me is to work *with* my interest in quality, rather than against it. There's a character named Peter in Margaret Atwood's Edible Woman who lives in a barely furnished apartment because he would rather have nothing than things that are imperfect: I have had good luck channeling that. I cultivate a kind of ruthless contempt as my defence against over-shopping. Like "that is just a tchotke! I don't want that crap!" and "Will I want that thing in ten years? Maybe I should forgo it, until I find something better."

It's not pretty, or in any way admirable, but it works for me :-)
posted by Susan PG at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

IME this behavior has a certain amount in common with overeating, in that both are a way of self-regulating your emotions via endorphin rush. That means that lots of common advice for reining in one's eating works to tame compulsive shopping, as well-- including:
--more exercise
--meditation and mindfulness
--plenty of sleep
--removing temptation from your environment (plot a path home from work that doesn't go past the mall; unsubscribe from sale emails; get a net blocker that blocks shopping sites for most of the day)
--plenty of time outdoors and in the sun
--being sure to schedule ample time with friends and family (doing non-shopping-related things, of course)

In addition, two specifically shopping-related techniques:
--While it's better not to browse online, an Amazon Universal Wishlist can be golden for intervening between the point where you see and desire a product and the point where you click "Purchase." Set yourself up a big ol' wishlist, make sure your family and friends know about it, and the next time you desperately want that Awesome Thing, just put it on the list. Sometimes just knowing you'll likely get the thing eventually from someone at some point is enough to satisfy the acquisitive urge, and you can always remove it a couple months later when you realize you're no longer all that interested.

-- This is more the "methadone maintenance" approach to a compulsive shopping habit, but if you're ever particularly down and feel you must buy something, thrift stores are pretty great for allowing you to pick up Cool New Things without breaking the bank. Much better to look back and regret a $7.00 sweater purchase than a $65 one.
posted by Bardolph at 12:35 PM on June 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

My brother came back a changed man from a trip to Ghana. I mean, 180 changed. We all thought he'd end up a greed-is-good cut throat d-bag scammer of some sorts; now years after that trip he's still very into sustainability, anti-consumerism and generosity.

Take a trip or start to study up on places that don't have fancy doodads, much less clean water or food. It might be a little guilt-ridden for some people, but think hard about people who have less than a dollar to day to live on when you're dropping $15 on shampoo while there's still a half-full bottle in your shower. Think of the Things in landfills, garbage dumps and in the ocean.

Hell, go down to your local soup kitchen or food bank. Check out the people who could really use the half-used stuff all over your house.

On your way back, stop at one or two estate sales and take a look at the Stuff we never really needed and have to leave behind for someone else to clean up.
posted by mibo at 12:36 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's going to sound weird but: get rid of your cable.

My kid never asks me for Hot New Toy, even at Christmas, because he is not watching 800 hours of BUY TOY NOW ads because we don't have cable. Local channels don't blast nearly as many commercials. And that's true even of adult purchases; plus, without cable, you watch less TV in general.

Which is good because commericals work or they wouldn't be used. Exposing yourself to fewer of them makes it easier to not think about all the cool stuff you could buy.

And of course no cable=savings.
posted by emjaybee at 12:37 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm the same way, but what I've started doing is buying nicer versions of things - like I have the can opener you listed and it's great. I've actually had it for several years and like it so much that I never feel the need to buy another one. I like the way it looks and it's just a great can opener. My mom, on the other hand, is the type of person who would sooner buy 5 cheap can openers than one nice one, and she ends up spending more on stuff than I do. I go to her house and it's so full of junk I can barely stand it...and she has crappy can openers!

So I gradually adopted a minimalist lifestyle. I hate having redundant things, but I make sure that I really like what I do have even if it's something like a can opener.

As far as clothes/shoes/accessories go, I've started buying myself nicer things, and actually what happens is that when I look at something I want to buy, I think about whether or not I like it better than what i have. If I buy a nice handbag and then see a trendy, cheaper one in the stores, I think about how much I like my nicer one better and then I don't feel the same urge to buy.

Also before you buy something, think about whether or not you really like/need/want it, or if you just want it right then. Be mindful about what you're purchasing.

I put things on wish lists as well - one thing with me I think is that I worry that I'm going to forget about an item that I like in case I really do want it. Putting it on a wish list takes care of that problem, and I've only actually bought a couple of items from my wish list. Usually I forget about them.
posted by fromageball at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I basically want to be one of those people who is miserly

I think you're setting yourself up with a false dilemma that will cause you to fail. There are plenty of stops along the way between extravagant and miserly. Start with one area -- no more new shoes until 2014! -- and expand outward from there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:48 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

One, pay yourself first: put $X a month direct from your paycheck into something you can't touch on a whim, like a Vanguard fun. And then forget about it, because that money doesn't exist for you.

Two, you really, really need a budget. If you spend $300 a month on shit you don't need, it's still better to have $300 a month budgeted. And if you need $600 chairs, you save up for them.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:56 PM on June 8, 2013

I love to have things that are pretty and do a brilliant job at what I need them to do. This means I have expensive kitchen and cycling kit, for example, because those are the things where having brilliant things make my life better.

I am, however, allergic to the ideal of clutter and the thought of adding more 'stuff' to my house makes me a bit twitchy.

Between them, these tendencies mean I buy things infrequently, and they're usually replacements for things I already have. But they're normally exactly what I want, so my very expensive rain jacket has been in constant use since 2002, and my perfect travel towel since 1999, and my perfect backpack since 1998. Those things are perfect for me, I spent time researching and a lot of money buying, and as a result I don't buy anything else that does these functions. This is possibly a habit worth cultivating.

One of the ways this works in practice for me is that I avoid advertising of all kinds. The things that trigger me to buy is when I notice a need in my life. Sometimes that need is for a black cardigan, sometimes it's for bicycle panniers (expensive one!), sometimes it's for a pressure cooker. I then make a habit of waiting on that purchase for a while until I've looked at a lot of options and settled on what fits my needs. This often means I throw money at it and that's fine, but it's never an impulse buy.

It's almost a rule for me that I don't get to shop unless I identify a need in my life, rather than browsing and triggering a want based on something being pretty. I almost never go shopping as a recreational activity. I make sure that the things I spend my money on lead to fantastic things I can spend time doing! At the moment this is walking, cycling, cooking, martial arts and singing so I buy bike stuff, music, maps, kitchen stuff. It all has to add to my life in a concrete way. I don't buy things I don't consider to be perfect for me.
posted by kadia_a at 1:02 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is going to sound strange, but Pinterest has really helped me with my acquisitiveness. Finding great images of things I want to own, places I want to visit, or just look cool, gives me the same feeling as buying something new. Only it's just pixels on the screen. And whenever I want I can scroll though all "my" awesome stuff and bask in my superlative good taste. Having others like my pins is just gravy.

Anyhow, I know it's a little bizarre, but it works for me.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:11 PM on June 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I'm kind of at a midpoint on this too. I already have an automatic retirement savings account (in addition to the base French retirement scheme, which is already decent – pointing it out since it is significant; something you definitely want to prioritize), own my place, have a detailed budget, and am tryyyying to actually keep money in my savings account. No debt other than my home.

The key is:
- a detailed budget!

I use a simple Excel file, with formulas so that part is automated, meaning all I have to do is enter the (real, not idealized) figures and it tells me how much in the green I am when all the basics are accounted for. Mortgage, taxes (all of them), food, pets, home insurance, life insurance, transportation, telephone, internet, all that. Write it all down.

I also keep paper records. This is immensely helpful, because I can look back and see that, oh hey, I may only remember buying my new motherboard and power supply for my PC, but as a matter of fact, I have also bought a stereo amp, processor fan, and smartphone in the last 6 months. With that kind of record-keeping, it's easier to raise an eyebrow at yourself when you're looking at the latest doo-dad (whatever it may be; your spending habits will naturally be different) and say, "ahem, methinks that can wait. Remember how much you were looking forward to PastDooDad for XYZ reason? Let's enjoy it!"

I don't have a TV and have indeed noticed this is a BIG difference with acquaintances who do. It does have an effect on spending habits, as well as being an expense itself. I get all my television from the internet and DVDs (which are an expense as well, but you tend to choose them more carefully, and they don't have tempting ads).

Likewise, yes, like others have said, remove temptation and you'll find yourself spending less. Unsubscribe from commercial emails. Don't go to stores unless you actually need something, and know what it is you need. More often that not, the latest promotion will not actually save you as much as simply waiting until you genuinely need to buy something. There are exceptions to that, but they're few and far between, and I've found that life tends to work those things out well enough on its own when you disengage from advertising.

It may also help to remove guilt from purchases you are making (or have recently made). Feeling guilty can actually encourage spending, paradoxically. If you bought shoes that will last for a good long while, that's good! A quality can opener that you won't need to replace forever; great! (I did the same, as a matter of fact.) Expensive purse/bag that will last ten years as opposed to a cheaper one that only would have lasted a fraction of that time? Excellent. Look at where you are in life too: it may simply be that you're in a sort of transition period from not having a lot of money, and having been obliged to buy cheaper products, to being able to invest in quality items that will last longer. This is how I've been for the past few years, and it's another point towards keeping detailed records: I can see, black on white, that I have actually made progress in my spending. I have more money now, even though my savings account is still laughable. I no longer have to scrimp on food. I have shoes that last, I own my apartment, never have to worry about transportation any more, my home is finally furnished (those are big expenses), and my computing setup should last me five years before needing to be upgraded again. Put in other words: look at where you have been, where you are now, and what that all means for your future. If your future is clearly more stable and financially positive due to choices you've made, then you're on the right track.

I too have found meditative practices to help for the rest. When you've come from a place of financial need, it's easy to get in the habit of spending as soon as you have money. Learning to sit and be in the moment helps you gain the habit of being in a state of plenitude as you are, which has repercussions on how you view and use your finances.
posted by fraula at 1:18 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came to suggest the exact thing orrnyereg did: use Pinterest to collect pictures of that stuff instead.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2013

Couple things I did to break this habit when it really had me in it's grips:

1. Never buy magazines or the Sunday paper. The ads always made me lust after stuff.

2. Unsubscribe from lists, shopping newsletters, etc.

3. Turn off One-Click at Amazon.

4. Tape over your credit card with a scribble about your goals.

But the very best thing I ever did was having a garage/yard sale. It's depressing how little value the stuff you paid tens, hundreds of dollars for has the minute you bring it home. Don't buy "pretty" or "neat" - but buy quality items that you need and will use again and again and again until one day you just can't use it any longer.

I was kind of miserly for a while and I did a lot of traveling. I loved it. But now I buy lovely things that I like to collect and art. I buy things that will truly enrich my life. Some times those are practical (the $2k king size memory foam bed) and other times they are just wonderful things I love having near me (the five foot tall vintage circus poster). But I don't just spend to spend. I really have to LOVE it. Like "if I don't buy this one of a kind thing now I'll never find it again and it will haunt me" kind of love. And that's just never the case with shoes, a jacket or a label maker!
posted by FlamingBore at 1:38 PM on June 8, 2013

Just one perspective I want to add. I think a lot of us often feel like, when we are "better" we won't want to buy things anymore (or drink or eat fattening foods, or whatever). If that's your attitude, you're setting yourself up for failure. You'll always want to buy stuff, even misers (like me) want to buy stuff.

Part of what needs to change is you need to set yourself up for success. Identify your triggers (are you more likely to shop when stressed? Can you not resist stopping when you take a certain route home. Is it to relieve boredom?) And tackle what you can of those. Then, make it more difficult to access your usual methods. Have a plan for what you'll be doing instead of shopping. Block tempting sites or all sites in your browsers. Set yourself up for success. Don't try to depend on willpower.

It might help to have a specific number figure in mind to save up for, by a particular date for a particular trip. Take off work now, make a reservation and don't back down.
posted by hannahelastic at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A simple answer, but true: you just need practice. Practice not spending. In time, that will become your default behavior. It's been true for me.
posted by kitcat at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2013

I read Your Money or Your Life many years ago. The book may have some flaws but I still recommend it. It helped me see how much of my precious life-energy I was giving up to acquire things. A couple I know followed the steps faithfully and retired while in their 30s. Now they pursue their real passions…making beautiful crafts and helping others. They are very dedicated people!

I would encourage you to think about the power of money to do good for others. If you are debt-free and have a great savings plan for retirement maybe the next step is funding a scholarship in a field you love!
posted by goodsearch at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

First off, just like I avoid ads, I avoid threads like the one you mentioned. I know some of the things that will just make me want things I don't currently know about. Second, though, I feed that acquisition feeling by placing holds at the library. So instead of quite as many Amazon purchases, I have more books, movies, TV shows, and CDs that show up at my branch as a fun surprise for me. I can enjoy them (or discover I'm not that into them) and either way, in a few weeks they go back to the library (and I didn't spend any money on them). If you can concentrate some of that enjoyment of new things on new things from the library (or, upthread, from the thrift store,) than it might be easier to abstain in the online shopping arena.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you know exactly what you're looking for and will settle for nothing less, the world of retail has a lot less to offer than if you go in there open to anything that's appealing on some level. So, raise your standards? (And even if they're already high, make them higher!) Think of it as becoming more discerning if that helps. I see a lot of things that I like initially, but if I think about them (especially a day or more later), I realise they could be better in some way, usually a LOT of ways, and once I thus realize what all the qualities are that are missing, and what all the qualities are that would make something a fantastic match for me, very few things have all of those all at once. Stores contain a selection of things that each have some but not all the necessary qualities of awesome.

So you end up doing similar amounts of shopping, you still get the thrill of the chase and to think about the reward, but you do less actual buying, more searching, and when you do buy, you are getting something because it is truly excellent.

I also find I can get traction against impulse because I get satisfaction from thinking (instead) about how much money I just saved (by resisting the impulse), how much clutter issues I've just avoided inflicting on myself, and how much better my goal (the trip you're saving for) just became.

I also have an account that I'm not allowed to withdraw from (well I am, but I don't allow myself). Once I put money in there, it's gone, and if I suddenly need to buy something, I'll have to beg, borrow, steal or save for it. This is a pretty normal way to save for things, which presumably means it works for a lot of people.
posted by anonymisc at 2:38 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

For me it's helpful not to look at advertisements and sales and anything that's actively marketing things to me so much: don't go to stores (other than grocery stores--and try for more places that feel less sales-y like farmers markets or Trader Joes), don't read Sunday paper ads, don't watch TV ads, don't let yourself spend a long time browsing on Amazon. I'm very good at not spending money, but I still get caught up in doing those things almost obsessively sometimes, and if I take a minute to stop and think while I'm doing them, I realize what unhappiness it's creating. I see things for sale and suddenly think I need one of them--and not only do I need one, I need the exact right one, which will take a lot more energy to find. But 99% of the time that's not true--I would have been fine without it and never thought I needed one if I hadn't had someone advertise it to me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I tell myself I can always go back and purchase whatever impulse item I like at a later time. Usually what happens is I forget about whatever it is I was looking at.
posted by florencetnoa at 2:42 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Buying stuff isn't my only source of happiness; I am a bit lacking in the friends and hobbies department but am overall content with my life and due to intentional effort on my part I've made some awesome improvements in these areas.

i'd keep working on the making new friends and pursuing your hobbies. the compulsive buying may be a way to not feel lonely or bored. trying to become a miser is not realistic and will ensure failure so shoot for some balance instead.

one of the best things i think you could do is to do some volunteer work with the poor. it will really change your perspective. when i found out years ago there are people in the world who don't even have clean water while we here in the western world buy bottled water (& pollute the planet with all that plastic) i was pretty aghast. at the end of the day people and relationships are what matter.

also, be aware of the conditions that the products you buy are made in i.e. sweatshop labor. it will really kill your desire to buy things when you know some person is enslaved or working in horrid conditions. check out the fair trade movement and try to buy their products as much as you can. also, you could sponsor a kid through world vision or some other group. what i'm trying to say is work on developing your social conscience. i grew up doing a lot of shopping, but these days these are the sorts of things i'm more into and it is much more satisfying.
posted by wildflower at 2:57 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am one of those people on an extreme budget, mostly out of necessity (teacher with a hefty student loan debt). I get paid monthly and at the beginning of every month I decide in advance how much I want to spend per week on a given thing (e.g. $50/wk groceries, $70/month gas) and when it's run out, it's run out. If I had a habit like that, I'd probably make a "unnecessary amusing purchases" category. Maybe you could start out earmarking, say $400 per month (or something close to what you actually spend on ridiculous things) and then the next month you could put aside $350, and keep weaning yourself until it's down to an amount you're satisfied with.

As a thought experiment, it might be helpful to go back and look at some things that you bought for amusement, say, a year ago, and see if they still bring you satisfaction.

The thing about my extreme budget is, being frugal doesn't cut down on my quality of life. I buy my groceries at Family Dollar and Walmart and my clothes from Target, and aside from the actually purchasing of things part, my quality of life isn't really diminished at all by the fact that I buy inexpensive things. It's like it makes no difference. Just thought I'd proffer that up as food for thought.

Also, when you want to buy something, issue yourself a 24 hour rule. Give yourself full permission to buy it if you still want it in 24 hours. If you don't want it then, go without. Just try it to see what the results end up being.
posted by mermily at 3:27 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A media diet and avoiding websites full of pictures of cute, expensive things (pinterest!) might be helpful. Whenever I find myself gravitating towards web shopping out of boredom or stress, I try to derail that thought train by looking up new swimming spots/bike trails/parking in my area or reading a poetry website.

Something else that I've been trying to remember when getting caught up in the idea of buying stuff online is the feelings and irritation that come along with purchased items not working out as you'd imagined. Like remembering BEFORE buying something online how annoying it is to return a dress or pair of shoes that you ordered that didn't fit well. This might quell the endorphin rush.

I live in a very small house and I've found it really helps keep me in check with accidentally acquiring too many things (be they free, purchased or gifts). It's slightly stressful to bring things into my house/ have them take up space and somewhat difficult to get rid of things after they have arrived, so I try to spend time thinking about how well the impulse thing will fit into my life and what its future will be.
posted by zem at 3:42 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm of two minds.

My first inclination was to start shaming you into saving money. I still do that, below. But then I looked at the items you're so worried about. A $20 OXO can opener? If you need a can opener then it's okay to spend $20 on a good one. Here is a $42 can opener. If you had a pile of these, or were buying can openers for color coordination or something, then you should be concerned. Similarly, $65 shoes is fine if you needed the shoes, or at least needed that type of shoe. It's okay to buy something you need and to be happy with the transaction.

Also, from a moral point of view, there is no difference between blowing money on travel and blowing money on shoes and can openers. You could wander Asia for 3 months and spend $5000 and you would be just as ridiculous as a Sex in the City woman with $5000 worth of shoes in her closet.

Okay, so now here is the shaming bit:

I save money partly because I've been (first-world) poor in the past. I've had to ask friends and family, hat in hand, for a place to stay. I'm very anxious to make sure I never even consider doing that again. I would be deeply ashamed if I had to look for charity after a disaster because instead of saving responsibly I had spent my money on expensive gadgets and clothes.

You should also save for retirement as a gift to old you. Getting old and needing retirement money is a real thing that will happen to you if you are lucky. Do you want to have to work when you're 70? No? Then you have to save. At minimum, you should try to save the max $17,500/year into your 401k and max $5,500/year into your Roth IRA. That is a LOT OF MONEY but it should be your minimum target. Most people don't get close to this but honestly most people are really financially screwed. Sit down with an online savings calculator and do the math and you will find that even this impossibly high amount will only get you a middle-class retirement. And I think things will be much more desperate in the world when we're old than they are now.

In other words: picture yourself begging your parents for money while you have an apartment full of pricey trinkets. Picture yourself getting laid off at 60 and never earning more than minimum wage again because of age discrimination. Think of that when you buy some fancy toy instead of sending the money into your savings account or bumping up your 401k contribution.
posted by moonlit walk on the sun at 4:25 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're not already using a service like Mint, sign up for it today. Mint is completely free and a great analytic tool to really put into actual terms what your habit is costing you.

The wife and I eat out most meals. But putting it into dollar terms really helps us see where we can save money if we want to. Likewise, I can easily track what travel or vacations cost, and see if we're pushing past our typical spending for the month.

I'm the type of person who will buy things that make my life easier, but I'll also usually require myself to convince myself I actually need that thing. I've tried to take a default posture of "no" when I ask if I need to buy something, but I also allow myself to cave if it's something I'm sure I'll gain utility out of.

A good example are the monitors on my desk right now, and my computer. I used the same computer for six years, with the same two 20" monitors for those same years. I had some extra money and I mentioned to my wife that I'd like to upgrade to bigger, nicer monitors.

The thing is, I use my computer all the time. I use it for post-production of my photography, I use it for my job, and I use it for gaming and other things. These are the perfect sort of purchase for me, because they're durable, they're extremely useful, and I gain a lot of utility out of them.

In fact, I've found I've done a really good job over the years honing what to spend my money on. I find it very easy to identify something as a barely-nice-to-have thing that I could easily do without. There are so many things that are pretty and nice and crafted to be attractive and interesting and to make it easy to part with our hard-earned dollars that it can be tricky to evaluate if it's something you'll really use, and not just a toy that will sit in a box in a room, like you talk about your mother.

I guess what I'm saying is that you should feel comfortable spending the money you earn some of the time, in small amounts, to make you happy. It's definitely rewarding for me to be able to enjoy things I feel I've earned. I also really love spending that money on trips and experiences, and I usually focus on that. But I also focus on redefining "need" (and my wife's definition of "need") to mean: "is this something we'll use all the time and love?"

We spent some good money on a Westin Heavenly Bed and it is absolutely amazing. It's something we use for 30% of our lives and was worth every penny. Likewise, I'm about to cave and buy a new refrigerator, because whomever invented a 13 cu ft. fresh-food-storage side-by-side which can store exactly nothing should be hit. But I won't cave on the wife's perennial desire for the Eames lounge, because spending $3,500 on a chair and ottoman, while beautiful and which would totally go with our space, is absurd. Maybe a good 5yr or 10yr anniversary gift, but otherwise, I'd rather keep my shekels and build some retirement.

It's hard, but start with Mint, set some budgets, pay attention, and see how things go. Also, find other, cheaper ways to spend money like Mr. Caution observes above: spending $10-$20/month on Kindle books is a great way to still enjoy yourself without spending $200/month on shoes you'll barely wear.
posted by disillusioned at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Watch less TV. Also try to keep other sorts of marketing seepage out of your life, like magazines and blogs and other websites that are marketing oriented (you would be surprised how many sites are monetized via being product-focused rather than more about useful content). Pinterest is another culprit, here.

I find that it's easy when I'm exposing myself to a lot of that stuff to find myself in a mindset where I feel like "everybody" has X item, or "everybody" spends a lot on Y category of stuff, and so I start to feel somehow deprived by for instance wearing last year's summer sandals which are still perfectly good. Like I'm being left behind in the great Stuff Acquisition race and it's not FAIR that I can't have a suzani to decorate my apartment or this specific fancy brand of nail polish (I almost never do my nails at home, so why do I want nail polish so much?).
posted by Sara C. at 4:35 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I always have financial goals. It's more important to me to have a 6 month emergency fund than to have a better vegetable peeler, unless my vegetable peeler isn't doing its job adequately.

I hardly ever pay retail; most consumer goods will have a sale period, or there will be a coupon. If I see a really beautiful piece of clothing, I save for it, and wait for it to go on sale. Some of those things sell out before they go on sale, but the world is full of nice things, and there will be plenty more opportunities to have nice stuff. I'm on lots of email lists, gmail tags them and puts them in the shopping folder. If there's a pair of shoes I want at Macy's, I may already have a coupon in my email, or a sale notification. If I'm cranky and want to do some therapeutic/ recreational shopping, I go to Goodwill. I didn't have to have that pretty copper tray, but I'll enjoy using it, and it was 4.99, which was in my shopping budget. And since I'm shopping at Goodwill, not the Mall, I'm not tempted by shiny pretty things.

If you have credit card debt, make paying it off a goal, then make keeping it paid off a goal. About quarterly, I check on my 401K accounts, and get Midas-like enjoyment at seeing them grow, especially because I'm less than 10 years from retirement (if all goes well).

Both my parents were frugal. My Dad grew up in the Great Depression, and was serious about not spending easily. I use every bit of toothpaste in the tube, every drop of shampoo, etc., partly because I have found that about 50% of what you pay for in luxury brands, esp. beauty stuff, is marketing hype. I buy cheap shampoo, as long as it smells good, and if it's on sale, even better. I assume that most advertizing is full of crap.

Try rewarding yourself for not spending. Foe every week that you keep to your budget, give yourself a star on the calendar. At then end of that month, see how much you saved and put it in a separate savings account. That account can be used for emergencies, or goals you've set, like a bike, or a trip you've always wanted to take, and maybe half could go to retirement savings or saving for a house down payment.
posted by theora55 at 4:52 PM on June 8, 2013

I find this thread very interesting, because well, i feel exactly the same way you do.

I'm financially stable and can afford almost everything I want so it's hard for me to say "oh well i'm not going to buy this because i want to save up for this" because i can already afford most things, vacations, etc. my problem is deciding between a need and a want. I ask myself: yes, i want XYZ but do I really need it? and the answer for me almost always no. try to create a budget for yourself- think about it, how much are you really comfortable spending on frivolous stuff every month? there's really nothing wrong with spending money on things you don't need from time to time but you should create a limit for yourself. it helps me put a clear, definitive number on how much I spend but i still struggle with it and yes, definitely a first world problem if there ever was one...ha.

btw, i had read this article recently and thought you would find it interesting too:

posted by cm1088 at 6:16 PM on June 8, 2013

How about you donate the money instead? It gives you a place to give the money- some body probably needs it more than you do. If you donate to a child who writes often it can give you some of that novelty feeling of receiving something. Be sure to use this website when choosing charities, however http://www.charitynavigator.org/
posted by eq21 at 7:28 PM on June 8, 2013

When I am in a thrifty phase, I record every single thing I purchase in a spreadsheet, categorize all of it (bills, groceries, eating out, fluff, gifts, whatever), and then try to beat myself from month to month.
posted by ktkt at 7:28 PM on June 8, 2013

This is a little specific, but it's made a big change in my spending habits lately.

I would get regular shopping itches and go out and spend way too much money on clothes that I didn't need (and only sort of truly wanted), just because I was in the mood to shop.

I stumbled across a website dedicated to artful manicures, which I had never been exposed to before, and it made me start wanting to try some of these cool nail designs I was seeing. It occurred to me that manicures are a way of being trendy and fashionable, and another way to express that side of me besides clothes and shoes. So, I made a deal with myself that I would stop buying clothes for now and would instead go and shop for nail polish and nail art related things when I got that shopping itch. Going out and buying several bottles of nail polish at once is way cheaper than going out and buying several articles of clothing at once.

Also, the nail art community seems to highlight bargain shopping, thriftiness, and making your money stretch as far as possible, rather than being a paean to spending.

So, maybe at-home manis aren't your thing, but perhaps you could find something akin to that that would scratch your shopping and fashion itch, but be a much cheaper twist.
posted by Brody's chum at 12:19 PM on June 9, 2013

Seconding the book Your Money or Your Life
posted by gillianr at 6:39 PM on June 9, 2013

DarlingBri: "One, pay yourself first: put $X a month direct from your paycheck into something you can't touch on a whim, like a Vanguard fun. And then forget about it, because that money doesn't exist for you."

I use Betterment to do exactly this, because it's a bit easier to manage than a "real" Vanguard portfolio, and doesn't have any minimums attached to it.

Better still, if you don't already do so, max out your yearly Roth IRA contributions. You can withdraw your principal without penalty, but by doing so, you're making a conscious decision to set back your retirement. It's the perfect place to stash money for emergencies.
posted by schmod at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2013

Put money into savings on payday, then spend to your last dime. If you spend first, then save what's left, human psychology has already won. "Pay yourself firs."

That said, fun mental hack.

The next time you get a raise, let's say your paycheck jumps from $500/week to $550/week. Take half the difference in after-tax pay , and immediately dump it into savings on payday.

You keep saving more and more over the long haul.
You keep having more to spend over time in the long haul.

"Savings", for me, means retirement. Your savings might be fancy travel, or whatever else floats your boat.
posted by talldean at 7:26 PM on June 16, 2013

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