These questions are designed to slow the process of consumption and assess the true value of a purchase.
The best way to save money and live frugally is not to shop in the first place. This, however, is easier said than done. Resisting the urge to buy things that appeal and attract takes great determination, especially if you have the money but know you should save it for something more important that’s far in the future, such as paying down debt or saving for retirement.
While listening to an interesting podcast with Tim Ferriss and financial freedom guru Mr. Money Mustache this past weekend, I was interested to learn about the questions that Mr. Money Mustache asks himself whenever he’s tempted to make a purchase. He says he uses these to slow down the process of consumption, to regain perspective, and to remind himself that just because he wants it doesn’t mean he should have it.
Question #1: Why are you being such an idiot?
Mr. Money Mustache calls this his “mental beat-down.” He criticizes himself for even having the urge to buy something in the first place, reminds himself of how impossible it would be to justify such a purchase to his cult-following of fellow frugal Mustachians, and how weak he’s acting. It works most of the time.
Question #2: Would I come back tomorrow to buy this?
Procrastination is a tactic recommended by many finance bloggers. If you’re really struggling, then put off the decision for a while. See if you still feel a strong urge to purchase several days later. Better yet, in the moment of deliberation, imagine coming back – and hopefully the answer would be no.
Question #3: How much space would this take up?
Consider the amount of space a new acquisition would occupy. Everything has to be stored or displayed, and while it might look pretty on the store floor, fitting it into your own domestic life might be harder than you think.
Question #4: What if it breaks?
Is this something that you can repair easily, or take somewhere to be repaired? I’d expand this to consider the full life cycle of the components. Are they recyclable? Or will you just have to cart it off to the dump someday and leave it there?
I appreciated the reminder Mr. Money Mustache gave at the end of this discussion, when he said that happiness isn’t about adding positives (i.e. nice, shiny new things), but rather about removing negatives. So if you’re shopping because you’re seeking fulfillment or novelty or distraction, it’s a waste of time. Focusing on what’s making you unhappy is a far more worthwhile endeavor – and cheaper, to boot.