“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
– Henry David Thoreau
When we wonder where our money went, it went to wants.
When our money trickles away due to stuff we don’t need, it’s all about the wants.
When we see a credit card bill start to build up, it’s usually wants that made it happen.
The more we want, the harder it is to be happy with what we have and the more we feel pressed to spend our money to alleviate those wants.
Thoreau puts it so well. If we want riches – not just in terms of money, but in terms of a rich life – we need to get our wants in check.
This is the hardest part of personal finance for me. I struggle with this constantly and I’ve tried many tactics to master it. So far, I’ve only found a few things that genuinely work.
Turn your interests away from acquiring stuff and toward enjoying the experiences. Instead of focusing on buying a new book, focus on reading. Don’t worry about where that next book is going to come from – after all, there are libraries.
That philosophy works with almost any hobby or personal interest that requires stuff. Stop obsessing or even thinking about the stuff. You’ll find the stuff you need when you actually need it. Until then, focus on experiencing what you have.
I struggle with this when it comes to board games. Rather than playing the many games I have, I’ll often think about the upcoming games I don’t have. I’m far better off when I stop thinking about future releases and look instead at the games on my shelf.
Buy well-made multitasking items so that the tasks you can’t easily complete quickly become few. Whenever you struggle with a home task, it’s easy to start thinking about items that can solve this problem. When your home is filled with poorly-made items and items that aren’t flexible in their use, it’s easier and easier to run into hard tasks, which leads to a desire to buy a fix.
Instead of continuing this cycle, when you actually need to buy an item, buy a well-made item that handles lots of tasks. Instead of buying a pile of Teflon-coated pots and pans, get a cast iron skillet and a couple of enameled cast-iron pots. You’ll never need another.
Look for items that will solve your problem for as long as possible as well as solving lots of other problems in your home. When you do that, situations where you’re stymied by a problem you can’t easily solve with what you have become less and less frequent.
Stop spending my time with things that “generate” more wants. “Best of” lists are largely useless and do nothing but generate new desires. Avoid them. Hobby publications often do the same thing. Avoid the ones that talk about new items to buy/want and stick with things that discuss technique.
“How will I find better stuff?” you ask. When you actually have a genuine reason to acquire something new – like when you’ve read all of the books you own or you’ve played all the games you own to death – research it at that point, not before.
Extract desires from my mind as quickly as possible. If you do stumble upon something that you might want to buy, get it out of your mind. Find some consistent way to record these desires for later so you don’t have to think about them.
If you keep that desire in your mind, it will twist around in your head and keep popping up in your thoughts, reinforcing itself and convincing you (eventually) to buy. If you write it down in a “want list” or something like that, not only have you taken a responsive action, you’ve recorded it for looking at later – and you know you’ve recorded it. This helps your mind to let go of that desire – and when you let go of it, the urgency often fades. The want fades away.
I’m far from perfect – I still want lots of things. However, these tactics have drastically cut into those desires, which makes it far easier to spend less money and build toward your bigger goals in life.