The biggest personal finance mistake I make on any sort of a regular basis is to visit a store of any kind where I know I’m going to be personally tempted, and to do so with money in my pocket. A board game store, a bookstore, a stationery/pen/ink store, a brewing supply store – I should never, ever, ever walk into places like that with money in my pocket that I know I’ve budgeted for free spending. It’s a huge mistake.
Why is it a huge mistake? I know that in such places, I am extremely susceptible to hasty purchases. I’ll see a board game or a bottle of ink or a notebook or something else that really scratches my fancy. Even worse, I’ll see one that’s on sale, or I’ll see something rare that’s hard to find but isn’t selling at a premium price.
In those situations, I usually feel like I have to make my decision in a hurry. I’m usually not in such stores for a long period of time and I rarely have opportunity to return in a reasonable timeframe, so I have to make the decision quickly: Buy it now or walk away?
It’s in that position that I often make my worst financial mistakes. I give into that temptation and buy something that I really don’t need and honestly don’t even want that much; it just happens to be sitting right in front of me.
That’s not to say I don’t believe in being spontaneous. I absolutely do think that spontaneity is a wonderful thing. However, buying an ill-considered book in a bookstore isn’t spontaneous; it’s a waste of money. Buying yet another bottle of ink or yet another boardgame I won’t play as often as I need to in order to merit the cost? Sure, it might be a bit of fun, but it’s not worth the price of entry.
I recognize those facts later, but in the moment of temptation, sometimes those facts go out the door. Here’s what I do to cut the feet out from under hasty purchases.
I spend my free time and hobby time away from stores, online as well as brick and mortar. If I want to spend time on my hobby, I don’t go to a store. Instead, I go to the kitchen table or out to the garage. I grab a book off of my shelf and open the pages. I pull out gear I already have and do something with it.
When it comes right down to it, the joy in a hobby doesn’t come from throwing money after stuff (unless you’re an obsessive collector, which we’ll get to in a bit). It comes from doing things. It comes from making cool sketchnotes. It comes from reading a great book. It comes from hiking a new trail. It comes from making a killer homebrew. It comes from building something or making something or learning something.
It doesn’t come from acquiring something.
That’s because the magic in a hobby is in you, not in the stuff. It’s the use of your mind and body to do something interesting and engaging and, ideally, results in making something or achieving something.
The beauty of a passion for books isn’t in buying books by the armload, it’s in reading them. The beauty of a passion for board games isn’t buying more games, it’s playing them and mastering them. The beauty of a passion for ink and paper isn’t in accumulating more and more, it’s in doing something interesting with them.
Spend your hobby time and your free time in the places where you do stuff, not where you buy stuff. Stores are places where you buy stuff. Go there when you need something new for your hobby and can walk in there with a very specific purpose in mind. Otherwise, stay out of the stores and stay in your actual active hobby places.
When I do go to hobby stores, I go in there with a specific purpose. The above strategy doesn’t mean that I never go to a hobby store. I often do go to hobby stores. I just try not to go through that front door unless I’ve already made up my mind what I’m going to buy. The same exact thing is true for online stores.
I don’t go to websites like Coolstuff or Pen Chalet without a specific item in mind that I want and I’m intending to actually purchase. The same exact thing is true with brick and mortar stores – I don’t go there unless I’m intending to make a purchase. I don’t click my way to online stores, nor do I walk into brick and mortar stores without a specific purchase in mind.
“But what about sales!?” What about them? Here’s the truth about a sale: if you didn’t want something before you went to that sale, then it’s not worth spending your hard-earned money on it, no matter how inexpensive that item is. An item that’s not on your radar is never worth seeking out solely to spend money on it.
I try to collect achievements and things I’ve made rather than things I’ve bought. I’ve learned that it’s a lot of fun to “collect” achievements and to make things than it is to accumulate things I’ve purchased. This moves me from a collecting mindset into one where I merely buy supplies for making new things.
For example, I love writing down notes on things I’m learning and thinking about. I’ve learned that I’m far more proud of a notebook filled with thoughts and ideas than I am of a pile of empty notebooks without anything in them, no matter how pretty they are. I like writing with fountain pens and I’m far more proud of an empty ink cartridge or ink bottle than of a full one.
I love reading books. I’m far more proud of the list of books I’ve read than I am of the pile of unread books on my shelves.
I love hiking. I’m far more proud of the list of trails I’ve walked along and the pictures I’ve taken than I am of the latest hiking gear I’ve acquired.
I love homebrewing. I’m far more proud of the list of beers I’ve made and shared with friends and family than I am of all of the equipment that I have.
I love playing board games. I’m far more proud of my list of plays than the collection of games that I have, and I’m particularly proud of the games I’ve played more than 100 times.
Center your pride and activity in your hobbies and interests around making and achieving and doing things. If you’re going to accumulate something, make it a list of things you’ve completed.
I channel my physical collecting into free or very low-cost avenues. Like most people, I have some desire to collect and acquire physical items. If I do my best to turn off that attribute with regards to buying things, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to turn it off in other regards. I look for other things to collect.
I collect pictures of myself at the far point of trails. I collect journals and notebooks full of my own writing. I collect single bottles of my homebrew, the last bottle of each batch. I collect rocks from my travels. I collect leaf rubbings from unusual trees. I collect labels of interesting beers (I actually keep a notebook of these with notes about how I liked the beer).
Those things tend to absorb a lot of the brunt of my “acquisition disorder.” Those things are either free or are extremely low cost ot acquire, so it’s not a bad thing if I acquire a lot of them.
I simply do not buy non-essential items without following the “10-second rule” and the “30-day rule.” If I’m considering buying an item that isn’t an absolute necessity or isn’t one that I’ve completely decided on in the past, I use two rules before I buy.
First, I apply the “10-second rule.” I spend 10 seconds with the item in my hand asking myself if I really need this or want this. Quite often, I find reasons to not buy the item and I put it back.
Second, I apply the “30-day rule.” If the item costs more than a few bucks, I agree to wait 30 days before buying it. I write down the item in my pocket notebook or take a picture of it and then I go on a 30-day break before buying the item. During those 30 days, the desire for almost anything I might want to buy fades away. If 30 days pass and I still really want the item, then I switch into a “buyer mode” and start looking for a good price on the item, which leads to situations where I walk into a hobby store with a specific purchase in mind.
Using these strategies together minimizes a lot of my hasty purchases. These strategies allow me to buy things that I actually want, but keeps me from making a lot of hasty choices that I’ll regret later.