The Real Reason We Buy Stuff

by J. Money -

close up money

Have you ever met anyone who buys stuff they hate?

Who willingly goes out of their way to blow money just because they see someone else doing it?

I haven’t, yet we’re always talking about these “Joneses” who we’re supposedly keeping up with as if we were robots without any capability to think for ourselves!

We are influenced by them, but the real reason we buy stuff isn’t just to be like other people. No.

IT’S BECAUSE WE LIKE $HIT!

  • We like big TVs because they’re big!
  • We like nice houses because they’re nice!
  • Vacations? We’ll take 10, please!
  • Fancy cars/clothes/coffee/avocados on top of avocados? NOM NOM NOM…

Everything we’ve ever bought or spent money on (outside of bills and boring adult stuff) we’ve done so because we LIKED what we got in return for it at the time.

We may not be happy with ourselves later, but in that given moment of time we traded our cash because we WANTED to, and because it made sense to us. We saw something we loved, and we went for it – pretty straightforward.

There were no Joneses holding up guns to our heads.

I state the obvious for two reasons:

  1. We like to place blame on other people for the stupid stuff we do
  2. At the same time, we’re also in the terrible habit of not cutting ourselves some slack!

Placing blame on others — Yes, where you live and work and hang out all influence us one way or the other, no doubt about it. And the wiser of us get better at navigating around it, while the others get crushed by it. But at the end of the day, YOU, PERSONALLY, are the only ones making decisions on how you choose to spend your own money. Sometimes you make the right call, sometimes you make the wrong call.

(And not all Joneses are bad btw. Everyone here reading this blog are The Joneses to someone else, and we’re all even Joneses to ourselves here! Which I like to think is a good thing :))

Cutting ourselves some slack — While it’s important to accept responsibility for our actions, it’s also important to not always give ourselves such a hard time too. We win some and we lose some, but either way we were making decisions with all the info and beliefs available to us at that time. You’re never going out of your way to buy something you’ll later regret! You’re buying it because you really want it in that moment and you think you’re making the right call. And often times those bad decisions could have easily gone the other way!

(A perfect example – us buying a house because we thought it was the “responsible” thing to do. While the first couple of years were ignorantly blissful, by the end of the decade we wanted out and eventually wiped our hands of it completely, swearing off home ownership altogether. It didn’t work out for us, but it very well could have and maybe right now you’d be reading a blog from some real estate moguls?! Look how many $$ bloggers rave about investing in houses! On the flip side, we gave investing in stocks a shot and that one panned out beautifully, so now we’re champions of that route here.)

The point is, sometimes we’ll buy stuff and it’ll turn out well, and sometimes we’ll buy stuff and it won’t. But at the end of the day it was always something we wanted at that given time, and it was always 100% our choice.

Cut yourself some slack going forward, and then go and apologize to The Joneses* for always throwing them under the bus :) They are not to blame!

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*You can blame The Joneses here though for making your finances better – we’ll fully accept that ;)

Jay loves talking about money, experimenting, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his two beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life June 7, 2017 at 5:21 am

I’ve always liked some stuff so I’ll never apologize for my 500 lbs of comic books. Despair of how to move them without breaking someone’s back, yes, but regret them? Nah. They’re awesome in and of themselves (all hail Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gail Simone!) but also represent fifteen+ years of amazing memories and experiences with my bestie from college.

So yeah, I like some $hit ;) I’ll save plenty in other ways. That’s what being a money blogger is for, right?

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2 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:38 am

Haha, you know it sister.

Interestingly enough I just came across an older article by J.D. Roth on offloading his $75,000 worth of comics! Pretty interesting story, if you can stomach it ;)

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/4935925-how-i-sold-my-comic-books-and-why

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3 Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life June 7, 2017 at 7:33 pm

I was so conflicted reading that! The comic loving part of me had a stomachache, the money loving part of me started calculating the possibilities. But I didn’t ever collect like JD did, I only bought or asked for books I really wanted to read, and around ten or twelve books a year. That still adds up to a heck of a lot of books though.

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4 The Giving Budget June 7, 2017 at 6:06 am

I agree I think most of the stuff I buy and then regret later was because I saw it and thought dang that was cool, thren purchased it on the spot!
I am currently with you in the buying a house and wanting to wash our hands of it. I like the house but I get so tired of keeping it up and the large monthly bill that goes with it!
Now whenever I want to make a big purchase my wife and I agreed I should wait 1 week. If it is still there and I still think it’s cool and we have the money. GO FOR IT!

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5 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:42 am

Excellent idea :)

And yes, renting has been AMAZING the past few years – you would love it. Just the other day we caught a water leak in our ceiling dripping into our basement and my first thought was – “Ack, our stuff!” And then once I saw it was all okay my next thought was, “Damn i’m glad I don’t have to pay for this.” :) So lots of pros and cons for sure, but if your biggest priority is peace, I gotta say – not owning is pretty peaceful.

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6 Mrs. Groovy June 7, 2017 at 12:34 pm

I was about to comment earlier and my doorbell rang. I hoped it was not a Jehovah Witness now I wish it was.

Our neighbor is listing his home and can’t pass inspection due to structural problems on his porch. His contractor went up and down the street and all of our homes have it. #BeGladYouRent

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7 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Oh no!!!!

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8 Budget on a Stick June 7, 2017 at 6:31 am

Im not sure if I’ve hated a purchase, regret maybe but to me I still will find a use or get rid of it.

I hear truck owners hating their trucks because of gas prices…but unwilling to change their situation.
I’ve also had a friend with a boat who moved down to North Carolina just for wakeboarding. He hated every boat he owned because of cost of ownership. He had to own something he hates to do something he loves.

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9 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:43 am

Hah! The best days of owning a boat right? The day you buy it and the day you sell it :)

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10 The Tepid Tamale June 7, 2017 at 6:42 am

There is definitely a euphoria when you buy something, there is no denying that. It’s important to recognize that, and realize that it is very short term. Afterwards you are left with the crap you bought and without the money you used to buy it!

P.S. Did you ever wonder where the term ‘under the bus’ came from? Did people used to actually throw people under a bus? That would be horrible. I Googled it once, and couldn’t pin it down. I guess the internet does not have all the answers :)

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11 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:47 am

Hilarious!! I’d be afraid to google that one, but I did just learn yesterday from my friend that Chicago was dubbed the “Windy City” not for it’s actual weather (although it IS windy there!), but because of their bragging politics. Wouldn’t have ever guessed that one!

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12 Sarah Li Cain June 7, 2017 at 7:32 am

I think people like to place blame on others or some other circumstance so it just makes them feel better. I own the fact that I bought hundreds of Pez dispensers, so much so that it became part of my identity. I recently spoke to a high school friend and he was shocked and literally said “it’s part of who you are!”

At the end of the day, I learned what my values are and moved on from that experience. I’m pretty anti-shopping these days, but I guess I do need to buy food ;)

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13 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:00 pm

HAH! They need to go to a PEZ museum!

(Or better yet, create your OWN museum and then charge an entry fee to recoup all the costs ;))

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14 Apathy Ends June 7, 2017 at 7:38 am

I did have avocados on a toasted sandwich with a side of guac this weekend (that is what happens when you have two ripe ones and don’t want to risk wasting them)

But yes, own your decisions, it’s ok to like cool shit :)

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15 Unconventional Sustainability June 7, 2017 at 7:40 am

Interesting post. I know everyone is different, including what brings us happiness. However, when it comes to buying things, I don’t think a lot of people spend money mindlessly without even realizing it. And perhaps those of us pursuing FI or FIRE are different, but a lot of the people I interact with in my daily life are spending money in ways that they assume will make them happy. But the reality is at the end of each month they often regret making a lot of their spending decisions.

I completely agree that we shouldn’t feel bad about spending our money. However, delaying some of our purchases may help us make better purchases. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of having something in our lives without fully thinking through whether we even want or need it. I’ve found that by delaying nearly all of my non-grocery purchases (partly due to living without a car and not being a huge online shopper) has stopped me from buying a lot of things I would have ended up not using or wanting.

Jason Zweig book Your Money and Your Brain has a lot of great insights and research on this topic. For example, the way our brains our wired means we get a lot more excitement about the idea of acquiring something than we do once we get it.

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16 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:03 pm

YES! Just heard a quote this morning actually on that – “An object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit.” – Pliny the Younger

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17 MK June 7, 2017 at 7:49 am

On the flip side, have you ever NOT made a purchase & later regretted it? Apparently the itch wasn’t big enough to shell out $$ at the time & when you finally decided you did want the item, it was not available anymore? I guess it’s a gamble every time you think “Do I want that?” For me, it’s gone both ways – regrets at buying & regrets at not buying. I do my best at dealing with whatever my decision turned out to be.

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18 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Oh yeah! But mainly with *opportunities* than things. I.e. vacations, experiences, certain stocks at certain times, that kinda thing ;)

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19 Amy @ Life Zemplified June 7, 2017 at 7:54 am

I agree we are our own CFO’s and we make our own choices but I also believe we buy $hit for some not very smart reasons. I’m all for less stuff and more savings.

And yes, thank you to the Joneses here for all your financial wisdom. :)

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20 Miss Mazuma June 7, 2017 at 8:01 am

I don’t know. I myself have bought things, like upgraded my car, because I was worried what others would think of me (granted I was in real estate and driving clients in my hooptie).. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t just about what you buy but about feeling inferior to those around you. One way to cure that (and one I wouldn’t recommend) is to buy things to match them. It doesn’t matter if they can afford it and you can’t, the feeling of “wanting” because someone else “has” is still there. BUT, you are correct, no one is holding a gun to your head…especially not the Joneses. They are far too busy living it up on the lake at their beach house!! ;)

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21 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:05 pm

…. and taking instagram pics of it pretending their lives are perfect ;)

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22 Cath @ Get MoneyWise June 7, 2017 at 8:04 am

We are suckers for buying toys for the kids and then regretting it later. Expressly the super noisy or messy ones. They conveniently “go missing” when the kids aren’t looking.

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23 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:07 pm

Haha – yeah, that’s the trouble I’m finding w/ yard sales actually now.. .Everything is SO CHEAP and we’ve got them now interested in coming along with us, but the flip side is that now we’re on toy overload! So I’m trying to implement a “one thing in, one thing out” policy and asking them if they want this new thing bad enough to get rid of something else, but at 3 and 4 years old i’m not sure it’s sinking in yet :)

So pretty much things will “go missing” very shortly in this household too, haha…

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24 FullTimeFinance June 7, 2017 at 8:14 am

very true about not bein so hard on yourself or blame others… but.. my post today really sums up a big driver imho. The pursuit of material goods presents somewhat of an allure onto itself. Sometimes your just driven to buy regardless of whether you want or need.

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25 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:09 pm

I loved your article this morning – I was reading it during my Rockstar curating ;)

And actually just quoted the quote in it up in the comments above! haha…

“An object in possession seldom retains the charm it had in pursuit.”

I totally agree.

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26 The Luxe Strategist June 7, 2017 at 8:17 am

THANK YOU. It’s been tiresome lately to read how everyone thinks you buy stuff because you’re insecure and want to keep up with the Joneses. What if someone genuinely loves art, or cars, or raw denim? What if they live and breathe it? Curated purchases have nothing to do with the Joneses. I think people like to blame it on the Joneses because they don’t understand WHY someone would buy something they wouldn’t. The Joneses are an easy scapegoat.

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27 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:08 pm

*Fist bump*

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28 Ryan @ Just Another Dollar June 7, 2017 at 8:51 am

We had a good mentality shift before we moved across the country last Fall. Ended up downsizing and selling/donating/gifting about half of our stuff. Now we buy things intentionally and rarely feel guilt as a result. We know plenty of people who shop all the time and come home to a cluttered house, and we decided that wasn’t going to be our life.

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29 Mike Collins June 7, 2017 at 8:56 am

You always need to keep an eye out for those Joneses, they’ll try to get you to spend, spend, spend. When I got promoted to a manager role a couple people said “Oh, you’re making the big bucks now. What kind of car are you going to get?”

I’m fine with my old, reliable Camry for now, thank you very much.

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30 Paul June 7, 2017 at 9:19 am

CAMRY FTW!!!!!!!!!! Ive got an 08 SE and at least to me it still looks nice and fairly modern. My neighbor drive a Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover. I could afford those but I don’t want them. They probably think I’m poor but I really could care less. What I am saying is that spending and keeping up with the people around you usually is a result of some combo of immaturity, low self-esteem and/or just plain getting caught up in the hype.

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31 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:11 pm

I gotta say though… driving around in a Range Rover?? SEXYYYYYYYYYYY.

I’m going to get one one day, but not until I’m in (Multi?) millionaire status :)

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32 Paul June 8, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Meh, I really don’t see the appeal. Maybe its just because I’m a big dude but I’d rather have a suburban or Yukon XL. Really I’d rather have a Ford Raptor SVT but that just seems like a ridiculous choice in a vehicle, fun, but ridiculous.

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33 Mrs. Picky Pincher June 7, 2017 at 9:06 am

I actually laughed out loud on this one. :) It’s true though! There’s something very gratifying about buying stuff. The only difference is that after I buy *anything* I begin to question myself. Did I make the right decision? Is it too late to return this? Did I just sabotage my monthly savings goals? That’s why it’s important to implement a 30-day rule. It used to be the 3-day rule, but that wasn’t enough for me, so now it’s the 30-day rule.

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34 Joe June 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

Yes, I like stuff too and I’ve regretted buying plenty of time. It’s been better over the last few years, though. I’ve got some strategies to prevent that kind of regret. Namely not buying so much stuff and delaying purchases whenever possible. I find that if I buy right away, I have a good chance of regretting it.

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35 Paul June 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

Once we realize the thing we want is the emotion behind the purchase and not the purchase itself it helps mitigate stupid purchases. That being said I’m human and still get caught up from time to time. For instance, I almost bought a 65″ OLED LG 4K TV a few weeks ago, after 2 days of deliberating I was finally talked out of it BY MY 9 YEAR OLD SON!!! He said “Dad I dont understand why we would buy a new TV, the one we have works fine and its not broken. We should use it till it breaks and then get a new one. Thats what you always say to us.”

My heart sank, realizing I was not practicing what I preached. The boy was right. After that I could not in good conscience buy a new TV. I have to lead by example and apparently the kid is listening to me when I preach fiscal responsibility. Makes me proud, if he keeps this up till adulthood he may be retired before me.

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36 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm

I think we’ve got a future $$$ blogger on our hands :)

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37 Paul June 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I could see that boy opening a Roth IRA at 16 when he gets his first W2 job…..I can see it mostly because I will make him. I just wish I could find a way now to get my children some W2 or 1099 income right now so they could enjoy 50-60 years of compounding. I don’t have enough balls to hire them from my own company for advertising…

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38 J. Money June 21, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Yeah, I don’t mess around with “hiring” my kids either to try and game the system… I wouldn’t fare too well in jail :)

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39 Dave June 7, 2017 at 9:31 am

Great post. There really is nobody to blame other than ourselves for how we spend our money. As you stated, we live and learn from our spending experiences along the way. Some spending adds happiness and value. Other cases when we spend money Might be a mistake.

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40 Lily @ The Frugal Gene June 7, 2017 at 9:43 am

I’m not a fan of stuff. Where are people getting this euphoria thing? I think I’m just cheap…the buzz after I buy only occurs if I found a bargain on it. I only have a problem with eating out. It’s pointless to fight it & I’m willing defend myself for it…like real true pigs. Pig life y’all.

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41 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Haha…

Stuff also = trips or experiences or coffee or anything else that needs money in return for it. The main point is that we all buy something at that given moment of time because we really want it. Even if it changes or we regret it the next day (or maybe we keep it forever?).

I think “experts” like to theorize a little too much ;)

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42 Dads Dollars debts June 7, 2017 at 9:47 am

Good point regarding how experiences turn out influencing your future. If you had made mad money on the house your entire perspective would be shifted.

We do buy things for joy. Many of the favorite quotes such as “you only live once”, “siege the day”, “you can’t take it with you” are both about experiences and I think more lately consumerism.

For me it is time tough. Give me time and the ability to spend how I want without stress. That is true freedom!

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43 Primal Prosperity June 7, 2017 at 10:03 am

I agree with you that we should own our purchasing decisions. Some will bring a lifetime of joy and others will be tough lessons learned. :)

This post reminds me of a 20 minute video “Story of Stuff’, by Annie Leonard. If you haven’t seen it, you might really enjoy it. It is free online. Your kids might be old enough to enjoy it as well, as it is half cartoon-ish.

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44 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Cool! I’m always looking for things to watch during Netflix binge breaks – I’ll add it to the list :)

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45 Ms. Montana June 7, 2017 at 10:21 am

The pattern I see a lot with my spendthrift friends is spending focused solely in the moment. They never really consider what the bigger dreams in their life cost, and end up spending all that cash on take out lunch (you know, because they were hungry right then). I had a coworker whose biggest dream in life was to see Paris. And never had. And maybe never will. Not because it’s too expensive, but she just spend 100% of her available income as soon as it hit her pocket. I suppose it’s finding that balance between what we want “right now” and what we really want out of life. Trying not to bankrupt either. =)

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46 Kristy June 7, 2017 at 10:49 am

Ms. Montana you are so right about spendthrift friends. I had a friend so like that. Years ago, we would hold yard sales together — and I was always amazed at the amount of stuff she would purge from her house — I couldn’t believe how much she accumulated over a year or two & would then offer it on a yard sale!

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47 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:21 pm

And then she used that $$ to fund her dreams hopefully??? :)

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48 Ms. Frugal Asian Finance June 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

I generally don’t like stuff, but I do like clothes that make me look pretty (@_@). I’m usually good at keeping check on what I buy, but there were times when I bought 2 expensive dresses more than a year ago that I still regret until this day. But I try to think of them as reminders that I shouldn’t repeat that same mistake again.

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49 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:22 pm

Do you wear them, or can’t even stomach to look at them? :)

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50 Brian June 7, 2017 at 10:40 am

I can’t recall ever purchasing something to one up someone else. It has been more about feelings of wanting or deserving. As you said some of those purchases turn out well, others not so good. I’m certainly more aware of those feeling now taking better control of my money, and find I’m less likely to impulse buy.

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51 The Savvy Couple June 7, 2017 at 10:44 am

Great post.

Everyone values different things in life and should not be judged (although some are stupid hahaha). We value experiences and traveling which is where we spend most of our money. We save year round and drive old cars so we can spend money on what we prioritize.

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52 Linda at Brooklyn Bread June 7, 2017 at 11:06 am

This is great. There are definitely things that we all buy that give us pleasure, whether anyone else ever sees them, and it is annoying being preached to all the time that every ill-advised purchase equates to something we do to impress other people, and pretend our lives are just as good if not better than theirs. That’s what Instagram is for.

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53 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Hahahhaha… #TRUTH

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54 Sandy June 7, 2017 at 11:21 am

My way to get over buying stuff I like is that I pick up what I like in a store, and I walk around the store with it. In my mind I am buying the item on that shopping trip, I convince myself the item is already mine. Usually if I walk around for about 15 minutes or so with the item around the store, feeling I own this item right now, it looses the grip it has on me and suddenly I don’t like it as much. It is the feeling of owning something, the feeling of “this is mine” that makes me lose interest in the item. The same way that when we buy an item and bring it home, suddenly it is not as important and it sits in a corner without much attention after a day or so. So, I just come to that feeling without buying the item just by walking around the store with it for a while.

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55 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:28 pm

I like it :) And I imagine sometimes it IS worth taking home with you too, right?

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56 Sandy June 7, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Less often than you might think. I rarely buy things just because I like them, I buy mostly because an item has a purpose. I love my freedom too much these days. Managed to retire a couple of weeks before I turned 40 and I never want to go backwards.

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57 J. Money June 8, 2017 at 9:49 am

BOOM!

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58 JoeTaxpayer June 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm

The real question is where that spending fits into one’s budget. If it’s creating debt, just pile on to the credit card bill, that’s pretty awful. That’s when I ask, “Do you know, that beautiful $2000 huge TV is costing you $400/year in interest, and the debt will last longer than the TV?”

On the flip side, if it came from money set aside in advance, and results in fewer $100 movie nights, in the long run, it might be a worthwhile purchase. There’s nothing like asking friends to watch the big game, each offering to bring something, and when it’s all done, they’ve effectively catered the barbecue at your house. No bar tab for you.

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59 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:31 pm

It seems like you have some good experience with this! So where the heck is MY invite to your bbq??? :)

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60 Amanda @ centsiblyrich June 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm

My house is one of those things…and the Joneses aren’t to blame. It’s definitely my choice. I love my house, I love my yard, and I love my location. We talk (frequently) about selling and downgrading, but realize we are just spoiled and not willing to let it go at this point (with full realization it is a choice and we may be sacrificing time to FI!).

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61 J. Money June 7, 2017 at 6:32 pm

No shame in that! Knowing yourself is just as important as it is sexy :) You guys keep living it up over there!

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62 Yaz | The Wallet Moth June 8, 2017 at 12:10 am

Laying down some truths here :P

I love buying stuff, I’m not going to lie. I walk past clothes shops and my eyes linger for far to long. I just have to remind myself that I’ve got literally no room in my backpack for anything else..!

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63 J. Money June 8, 2017 at 9:50 am

It’s good to have barriers like that stopping us sometimes :)

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64 ZJ Thorne June 8, 2017 at 12:22 am

I like good coffee. That’s why I buy it. There are no Joneses I’m trying to compare myself to.

Buying itself also feels good, which is why I’m trying to remember that buying assets counts as buying. There’s a childhood of deprivation that demands I take care of myself properly and not unduly deny myself.

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65 Mr. Hammocker June 17, 2017 at 11:28 pm

I definitely agree that we can’t blame others for our financial mishaps. There are no good excuses. But Amazon and Costco continually trick us. It takes practice to avoid the marketing traps. The trap that gets me is: “It’s on sale! Buy now before it’s too late.” We must remember that we always have the choice. Delayed gratification is critical to achieving any significant wealth. Great insights!

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66 Josh June 19, 2017 at 10:15 am

This is exactly why I Anti-budget. Save my intended savings goal off the top, then have no worries about where every last dollar is spent. If I don’t spend it all by the next (monthly) paycheck, toss it in savings or brokerage and start fresh in a new month.

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67 J. Money June 19, 2017 at 5:21 pm

An excellent strategy indeed!

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68 EL June 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

IT is easy to blame others, but before you do who’s name is your debit card? Exactly so save often and don’t blame the joneses cause they don’t control your money.

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