The Cult of the New

2010 has seen a ton of books released already that I’d love to read, from The Politician by Andrew Young to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (I happen to be passionate about books, of course – perhaps your passion is films or video games or gadgets or music or something else entirely.)

Five years ago, I would have rushed to the bookstore and picked up these titles in hardback. I would have been completely impatient to read them, so I would have just thrown down the $20 or so, picked up the hardback, and headed home with it. About twenty percent of the time, I would have read the book once, stuck it back on a shelf somewhere, and ignored it as it gathered dust. The other eighty percent of the time, I wouldn’t even have read it before it started gathering dust on the shelf.

Why did I do this? There were several factors – I didn’t have the time I wanted to have to read, for one – but the biggest one was what I like to call the “cult of the new.”

Simply put, the “cult of the new” is the willingness to pay a premium price for whatever the newest releases are. When something new comes out, you’re inordinately focused on it because it’s new. It pops up again and again.

If a new restaurant opens, you have to visit it even if the reviews are mediocre.
If a new book or album comes out, you have to pick it up.
If a new car is released, you can’t help but swing by the dealership to scope it out.

It’s a very expensive routine. You constantly overpay for things in terms of their actual quality – instead, you pay a premium for the “new.” You pay new release prices for DVDs and for film tickets. You pay hardcover prices for books. And, in the end, you get far less for your dollar – or you dig yourself into a financial hole.

Some people do it with some level of social justification – they need to keep up with (or keep ahead of) their friends. To them, I say that if your friends value you only because of what’s on your shelves or where you ate last night, there’s not much depth to the friendship.

Others do it to feel good about themselves, so that they feel current. This is perhaps even more dangerous, because you’re tying your self-esteem and happiness to material things and short-term experiences. Without a constant influx of these things, you begin to feel bad about yourself. True self-worth comes from within, not from external things, and it took me a very long (and painful) time to learn that lesson.

It took me years to break out of the “cult of the new.” Here are some of the things that really helped me.

I adopted a firm rule about buying such new things – I don’t. Excepting gifts for others, I simply don’t buy new releases, period. I don’t pick up books for myself until they’re in paperback. If I do happen to read a hardback I like enough to keep around for multiple readings, I still wait until the paperback comes out.

If I truly must read something that’s brand new, I visit the library. I’m a very heavy user of our local library’s book reservation system. Yes, sometimes I don’t get hot new releases in the first month they’re out. However, I do get them eventually and, quite often, I get them faster than I expect (because other readers check them out for much shorter periods than expected). You can do the same thing with movies – sign up early to rent a new release from Netflix, for example.

I also swap frequently with my friends. If I do receive a book as a gift that I think a friend will like, I loan it out. Similarly, they’ll loan their new releases to me. This way, a new release given to me as a gift is often like two or three of them, since I have friends with which I share interests and can trust in terms of swapping books. One’s social network, if filled with compatible, good people, can be a very valuable resource.

I learned to love exploring the archives. If I find an author I like, for example, it’s much cheaper to dig through his or her older books than it is to charge out and buy the new releases. Take Richard Russo, an author I discoverd a few years ago (and subsequently hooked my mother on). Rather than rushing out and buying myself his newest work in hardback, I used PaperBackSwap to read a multitude of his older novels. The cost for these older books was trivial, but I was still able to deeply and fully enjoy his writing without paying that “new” premium. I explored Douglas Coupland in a very similar fashion.

When I finish a book (or a game, or a movie…), I first turn to my own shelves. I don’t insist on finding the thing I want to read/play/listen to already on my shelf, but quite often I find it anyway. I’ll spy a book that just speaks out to me, saying “read me…” in its own special way. So I pick it up and I suddenly have free entertaiment that I’m deeply enjoying.

Some set of these techniques work no matter which form of the new you’re chasing, whether it’s restaurants or trading cards. Whatever it is, if you can seek out other avenues for your passion than the shiny new thing, you’ll almost always receive a big thank you from your wallet.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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