Deciding When It’s Okay to Spend Money

Earlier this week, Sarah and I stopped by one of the Borders “Going Out of Business” sales and browsed through the decidedly picked-over book selections there. At the one we visited, roughly half of the store’s stock had been sold, which meant that you had to really look around for deals in the remaining books on the shelves.

We left the store with four books. Two of them were children’s books that we intend to give to our daughter for her upcoming birthday, another one was a gift for someone else that we’re saving for the future (a really nice hardcover book), and the final one was a book that I’ll review at some point in the future on The Simple Dollar.

Of course, while we were wandering around, I found several books that interested me, including God Created the Integers by Stephen Hawking, Cowboys Full by James McManus, and The Man Who Invented the Computer by Jane Smiley. I leafed through these books and read the first few pages of all of them, but eventually I found myself putting each one back on the shelf.

Mind you, these books were selling at 50% off of their cover price and most of the ones I looked at were paperbacks. We’re talking expenditures of between $5 and $10 here, not particularly backbreaking for us.

Yet, still, I put the books back on the shelf and eventually left without buying any for personal enrichment or enjoyment.

When I went home, I felt a mix of feelings about this choice. I didn’t really regret not buying them, but I couldn’t help but ask myself if I wasn’t going too far in choosing not to buy myself things.

Part of my hesitation is that the bookstore visit came just a couple of weeks after my largest annual splurge, Gencon, which I save up for throughout the year. Of course, this year, I mostly just traded games and spent the small amount of money that Sarah gave to me with the insistence that I spend on games.

I think the truth of it is that finally, after years of consciously adjusting my buying habits, I’ve really reached a new normal when it comes to spending money.

Rather than seeing something I want on a shelf and seeking out a plan for buying it, I see something on a shelf and by default come up with reasons not to buy it.

That’s not to say I don’t splurge. I was certainly quite active in the auction room at Gencon, waving my auction card around during several bidding sessions.

However, I don’t wantonly splurge. I decide in advance, when my mind is on an even keel, when I’ll allow myself to splurge. An impromptu stop at a bookstore, for example, doesn’t cut the mustard unless I find a book there that I was already intending to pick up at some point.

It was not an immediate transformation and it certainly hit some bumps along the way, but that book store visit was the first time where I genuinely felt as though I was no longer convincing myself to buy things on a whim, but instead I was reinforcing my stance not to buy things.

Letting yourself make these decisions beforehand, long before you find yourself in the heat of the buying moment, makes it much easier to simply say “no” when you find yourself in that situation. Simply knowing that you’re not buying anything you weren’t already intending to buy makes it so much easier to not lose money to the temptation of impulse purchases.

It takes practice to get there – at least for me. Today, though, I feel incredibly confident that my money isn’t slipping away from me on unplanned and impulsive purchases.

I control my money and my desires. They don’t control me.

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