“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call ‘life’ which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I’ve discovered a few fool-proof strategies for myself to reduce my ‘stuff’ buying, and Mr. Thoreau’s quote sums the first one s it up perfectly.
1. Don’t think about how much something costs in dollars, but in life
What if, instead of thinking of that an item as costing ‘$X’ dollars, we think of it as ‘X’ hours of our life we need to work in order to earn that money? Let’s try an example: Let’s say a jacket we want costs $84.
We make $18 an hour at our job (after tax that’s probably like $14 cash / hour)
$84 / $14 = 6 hours of our time.
That means that jacket doesn’t really cost $84, it costs 6 hours of your life! Is that amount of time worth something you maybe don’t need? We’re paying for ‘stuff’ not necessarily with money but with ‘life’ we needed to earn that money.
This is how many people get stuck doing jobs they don’t want to do- they get on the consumer treadmill where they trade life for stuff and then need to commit more life to pay the bills. If can just simply avoid buying excess stuff, we don’t need to work as much.
2. Take money out in cash for purchases
Credit cards create a disconnect in our minds between buying something and the hard-earned money we gave up time in our lives to make.
3. Remember the power of after-tax savings
You know the phrase “A penny saved is a penny earned?” Well a penny saved is worth way more than a penny earned because you paid tax on that earned money! For example, if you have $10 cash in your wallet, you had to make about $13 at your job to get it there. Not to mention, any product you purchase may require maintenance, storage, replacement, repair and/or cleaning. So at the end of it’s life it may have cost well over what you paid for it.
4. Consider a No New Stuff challenge
My wife Andrea and I are trying a ‘No New Things’ challenge for 8-months. I have everything I need in my life, so there is no reason I would need to buy any material items. That being said however, we are allowed to replace something that has worn out. It works great so far: I wanted this beauty pair of shoes last week, but Andrea said to me “if you buy those shoes are you willing to throw away your old ones?” My shoes still have lots of life in them and I hated the idea of throwing perfectly fine shoes away, so it instantly stopped my desire to buy the shoes.
It’s a great feeling- once you stop buying stuff you immediately appreciate the stuff you have more, and you almost feel silly for falling for the evil corporate marketing people that make you want to buy stuff you don’t need.