You can’t buy your way to lower consumption

Zen Habits has an article about wanting less. I like it, and I’m going to build off from this theme.

I am recognizing more often that my desire to buy something comes from my desire to solve a problem. This problem may be one I’ve had for a while, and may be genuine, but it also may be one that I’ve been convinced that I have by good marketing. Anyone who’s in marketing is probably rolling eyes at my naivety right now.

Often, there may be a genuine problem: but it’s important to take a moment and check your thought process. Will buying this thing really solve your problem? Remember all those times you thought just by purchasing some gizmo, you could save time on a task? In reality, it works only about 1/10th as well as it should, and while you may save a few minutes here and there you’re not really much happier. You are, however, down $15 and now have less storage space.

In a very meta twist, I find that my growing focus on developing skills is even suspect to this impulse, and worryingly so. For example, I’ll see a book that claims to teach skills of time management, or investment strategies. My internal monologue instantly tells me “Hey if you buy and read that you can be better at <x>.” Here’s where it gets recursive: at times I’ve thought that if I can grow my own vegetables I’ll be more self-sufficient and save money. Perhaps I’ll buy a book on gardening. Wait, what?

One of tenets of gaining early financial independence is solving problems by either gaining skills, using one’s own ingenuity, or just flat out rearranging one’s life so that what was a problem is no longer a problem (don’t buy a car, move closer to work). But one also needs to critically apply the ability to say no to purchased solutions when it comes to advertised solutions to your need for purchases. Since I’m blogging here and you’re reading, we obviously both have internet access, and there’s a wealth of information out there.

I’m not going to become an amazing options investor, and improve my passive income (thus reducing my dependence on my salary) just by buying a book on options trading. It takes an awful lot more time and effort than just one purchase and a bit of reading. If I’m not prepared to put in the hours, the study, and the capital, then the purchase of the book will be worthless. So I think twice (most of the time).


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