Updated on 09.26.11

The Products You Buy

Trent Hamm

The products you buy will not make you smarter.

They will not make you successful.

They will not make you more attractive.

They will not make you popular.

They will not make you a better person.

They will not fill your hours with joy.

There is only one thing that can do all of these things, and that thing isn’t found at Amazon.com or on the shelves of your local grocery store.

That one thing that can achieve all of this is you. Not products. You.

If you want to be smarter, don’t buy a product. Instead, head to the library and pick up some books to read on the topics you want to know more about, then spend some evenings actually reading them. Take things you don’t understand in your life and take the time to understand them. Ask questions and seek answers to those questions.

If you want to be successful, don’t buy a product. Instead, work hard. Be reliable. Produce results. Try to look at everything you do through the eyes of your employer (or client or customer) and ask yourself what you would need to do to appear valuable to the situation.

If you want to be attractive, don’t buy a product. Instead, get some exercise. Go for a walk each day, for starters. Practice good hygiene and bathe daily.

If you want to be popular, don’t buy a product. Instead, talk to people. Don’t let your fear of making a fool of yourself hold you back – everyone makes a fool of themselves sometimes. Strike up conversations. Go to meetings of people with similar interests and ideas to your own. Invite people over to your home for dinner. Most importantly, when you’re in a public environment and you see someone you know, go over and talk to them.

If you want to be a better person, don’t buy a product. Instead, make a concerted effort to help others and be kind to them. Watch yourself for cruel remarks and actions and focus on cutting them out of your life and your thoughts.

If you want to fill your hours with joy, don’t buy a product. Instead, do whatever it is that really makes you happy. If you can’t do that, then spend an afternoon completely in the service of others who really need your help, like working at a food pantry or building a Habitat for Humanity house.

Notice how nothing described above involves buying a product, yet they all result in the kind of change that you want in your life. Even more important, products you buy won’t achieve those kind of changes.

You can’t simply buy the person you want to be. You can only achieve that through your own actions. Keep your money in your pocket and work on yourself instead. You’ll find that, before long, you have the best of both worlds.

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  1. Katie says:

    Unless the activity that really makes you happy involves something you have to buy. I’m not trying to be nitpicky; I just think we should look at things we buy as a valuable part of our life, not something that’s trying to tempt us away from the path of righteousness. Things we buy can work in conjunction with the rest of our life goals!

  2. Lauren says:

    Seriously? Iʻve seen your profile on BoardGameGeek – I know how many games you own. I think your messages are generally in the right spirit, but are very condescending towards people who do choose to own things (which does include you).

  3. Courtney20 says:

    Practicing good hygiene and bathing daily both generally involve purchased products. Also, many women feel that makeup and hair products make them feel more attractive. Though I’m perfectly happy with the $8 makeup and $3 body wash from CVS instead of the $50 makeup and $15 body wash from a department store.

    What kind of products does one buy to try to make themselves a better person? Does donating money to a charity count as a “product”?

  4. Tracy says:

    And in some cases, these things can be done *better* if you ‘buy a product’ – blanket statements like the above are just annoying.

  5. Adam P says:

    Books can make you smarter, or can just be for fun. If I want to buy one so it’s mine to add notes to or read over and over in the bath tub it’s fine to purchase this, no? I have a hygeine phobia about using books from a library (reading material!) so maybe I’m nuts but buying books isn’t going to break my bank.

    You can also get smarter from courses, which cost money. I get work to pay for my courses (currently taking 2 night classes) but if I fail I have to pay for them. I am still learning.

    Gym memberships cost money, in some climates getting all the excersize one wants to look their best outdoors year round is just not feasible.

    An attractive outfit can make you look better (see What Not to Wear) and can be purchased. Ditto make up products for the ladies. Hair product for everyone who needs it. Hygeine products.

    I think your intentions were good with this post, and I agree strongly that being a better person involved being less nasty and less critical and treating everyone with kindness, and that doesn’t cost a dime.

    But there is a happy medium between spending NOTHING on products and being a whore with your money trying to buy happiness.

    That said, I get a lot of happiness out of some products I purchase. It takes you a while to realize however just what purchases add value to your life and what purchases are just wasteful spending. The key to personal finance success is recognizing that difference.

  6. Tracy says:

    There’s a huge difference between ‘manage your money wisely, and really think about your purchases and what they could add to your life’ and ‘NEVER EVER SPEND ANY MONEY ON ANYTHING.’

    This post is the latter and it’s neither realistic nor good personal finance advice.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I’m with Tracy #6.

  8. marta says:

    Ugh, more blanket statements…

    If I want to be successful, right, I have to work hard, but it also involves spending some money on computer equipment, business cards, hosting fees…

    If I want to exercise — a mere walk doesn’t cut it for me — I do it with the running shoes I have bought (and that eventually I’ll be replacing) and the fitness equipment (free weights, gym balls) I also bought at some point.

    I could go on and on. Nitpicky? Maybe. But statements that actually don’t mean a thing tend to annoy me. I understand that you shouldn’t spend your money carelessly, but it’s not realistic to expect to go on with life without paying for stuff and services. You just have to decide which things are worth your time and money. For example, it’s not worth it for me to pay for someone to clean my house (been there, done that) but I’ll pay to have my hair cut or to have my walls professionally painted.

  9. George says:

    The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

  10. JS says:

    I agree with previous posters. One of the most important frugal skills is buying products judiciously. Denying that you need to buy things leads to poor decisions when you inevitably do.

    I need to look put-together and professional for work. I know I don’t like to spend a lot of time getting ready in the morning. Therefore, I spend very little money on makeup and instead pay for a good haircut that looks nice with a minimum of work. I know summers in the Phoenix area make clothes wear out faster, so I buy clothes from thrift stores and on sale, and I invest in undershirts to keep the clothes nicer for longer.

  11. Norman says:

    I understand what Trent is trying to say in this post is that buying a product should not be the first and only thing we turn to when improving our lives. In our consumer oriented society, we tend to buy products as a first answer to all of life’s problems. For example, the kid is misbehaving, so we buy him a movie to watch or a video game to play to keep him occupied for awhile so we don’t actually have to parent. With all the negative comments, I’m guessing Trent stepped on some toes maybe?

  12. Courtney20 says:

    Norman – Stepped on toes? Um, let’s see. I bought a college education (including all related books, supplies, and materials) that made me smarter. I bought suits for interviews for jobs that have made me successful. I bought clothes that fit well and are flattering, makeup, hair and personal care products that make me look more attractive (and arguably, deodorant makes me more popular too…) I bought a yoga studio membership that brings me joy with each class. I don’t think this post is stepping on anyone else’s toes so much as it’s stumbling over its own feet.

  13. Courtney20 says:

    Also, I don’t know how some people parent, but when I misbehaved, my parents sure as heck weren’t buying me stuff. They were grounding me and/or sending me to my room.

  14. Angie says:

    I think Trent is just a little too philosophical for some of his readers…

    I get it, though.

    Thanks for the message, Trent.

  15. Steven says:

    If you want to be smarter, put down the books and explore the world around you.

    If you want to be successful, measure success by your own metrics, not those of society.

    If you want to be attractive, first love yourself for who you are. The rest will follow.

    If you want to be popular, sell out. If you want to be genuine, stay true to who you are.

    If you want to be a better person, define exactly what “better” means, and figure out what you can do right now to become that person.

    If you want to fill your hours with joy, do whatever makes you happy…not what someone tells you not to do.

    Life your life according to your own rules.

  16. *sara* says:

    And there are some things that are purchased that bring me ENORMOUS happiness. My camera, for example, brings joy both now when I take pictures of the people and moments that are special to me, and in the future when I look back and have a photo record of our life. No, the camera doesn’t substitute for the real life relationships, but it certainly augments the happy times by being able to document them. It reminds me, when I look back, to keep investing in relationships and memories, and to be thankful for what we’ve got.

    Contrary to the last line of the article, I think that sometimes, products you buy *can* help to facilitate those kind of changes.

  17. Adam P says:

    Well said Steven!

    #11 Norman – I don’t have children (I’m a candle in the wind by Trent’s measure) so no, he hasn’t stepped on my toes by saying all products are the devil. He’s just taken a good thought (you don’t always need to buy things to improve your life) about 900 steps too far with blanket generalizations.

  18. Drew says:

    What Trent is saying is that spending money is not the answer. Advertising is constantly telling us that spending money on their product will get you to where you want to be. Buying a product alone will definitely never get you there. I think Trent’s point wasn’t that we shouldn’t buy anything, but that the answer to a problem goes a lot deeper than that.

  19. valleycat1 says:

    To Norman & Angie: I get – & agree with – the philosophy behind Trent’s list at the top of the post. It’s just that when he starts giving examples, they’re too extreme to be realistic, as the others have pointed out. Even Trent isn’t against spending some money on the things that matter to him or support his various interests, despite what he’s posted here today.

  20. Availle says:

    My goodness, yet another incarnation of the “BUYING STUFF is EVIILLLL!” post.

    I agree with virtually every poster before me: No, buying stuff as such is neither wrong nor bad.

    Personally I get enormous joy out of my Aikido gear & weapons and my microphone to make audio recordings. All of this stuff had to be purchased at some point; without of it I could not do certain things at all (volunteering for librivox) or only in a limited way (no way to practise Aikido in a tshirt).

    And I am sure my colleagues at work and random people I meet in the bus for example get enormous joy out of the fact that I am using hygiene products on a daily basis.

    Thanks Trent, nice idea, bad execution. Try again?

  21. leslie says:

    Buying things is okay, it’s the intent behind it that makes a difference.

    What should be noted is that you are already smart enough, attractive enough, successful enough and popular enough. You don’t NEED to be more.

    You should read because you WANT to, not because you think it will make you a better person.

  22. Courtney20 says:

    “What Trent is saying is that spending money is not the answer.” And the problem is that sometimes, spending money IS the answer. For example, if the job you want requires a particular certification (teaching, nursing, and law all immediately come to mind) simply telling the hiring manager “I work hard and I read a lot” is not going to make you very successful.

  23. kristine says:

    This post seems meant more as a navel-gazing exercise, not a literal call to action, or inaction, in regards to buying. Obviously, the world is not so black and white- either/or. And as for navel gazing, with age I have graduated to contemplating the murky nuanced grey areas that are far more accepting. Judgmentalism can be a hallmark of youth, and limited world experience. I think this post is good for trying to view things in a different light, but I prefer the practical, referential and actionable posts.

  24. moom says:

    Obviously, buying new/good clothes can make you look more attractive. A clean and healthy person in bad/worn out clothes won’t look good. And yes, you do need to buy some products to achieve the other goals too. Just buying the products though isn’t enough. Maybe that’s what Trent is saying.

  25. I agree – on it’s face the philosophy is sound. Even if you “must” buy something, like a college education to further your goals and get the job you want – it still requires YOU. So no matter what, you have to be active in your life in some way in order to become what you desire. Even reading a book from the library won’t do it, unless you actually take the advice!

  26. Johanna says:

    No, the philosophy is not sound. The post is based on a fairly straightforward false dichotomy: Your success/happiness/whatever is either entirely due to your stuff, or it’s entirely due to you. No accounting for the possibility that it may be due to both (as of course it is).

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