How to Choose What (and Whether) to Buy

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When you do buy something, do you enjoy it? Feel guilty about? Doubt yourself? Just enjoy it, for heaven's sake!

When I visit my dad in South Jersey, I make it a point to enjoy regional delicacies. Although I get irritated with those who claim it’s my job to uphold the economy by spending lots of money, I do believe in supporting small local businesses.

Or so I said every time I visited a South Jersey custard stand. Rationalization is a wonderful thing.

Here in Seattle, I’m a fan of the farmers’ market, where I’ve spent as much as $5.99 for a pound of cherries. Normally, I won’t spend that much per pound for meat. But I knew that an actual farmer was profiting, rather than an agricultural middleman or a supermarket chain.

I could spend $5.99 on a half-gallon of ice cream (that’s actually become 1.5 quarts thanks to downsizing). Or I could spend $5.99 on something that’s healthful as well as delicious.

Besides, I can afford it because I’m careful the rest of the time. As I’ve said before, my approach to frugality is to save where I can so I can spend where I want.

In other words, I’m willing to soak a lot of pinto beans if it allows me to travel or to shake loose $6 a week during the Washington cherry season.

An uncrowded life

Soaking those beans doesn’t make me stingy. Hesitating over a purchase, whether it’s shoes or a soda, doesn’t mean I’m joyless. It means I’m mindful.

It means I’m thinking about what I currently have and deciding whether it will suffice.

It means I’m not crowding my life with things that won’t make any difference in it.

And often, it means I’m making the decision to appreciate what’s already there.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who spends like there’s no tomorrow. Because there usually is a tomorrow, and it generally costs at least as much as today did.

Of course, this is only partly about wise use of resources. Underneath that mindful mode is simple wariness.

Probably the most useful thing I’ve learned in 54 years on the planet is that life holds no guarantees. Your job, your health, the economy – any or all of it could go south with dismaying rapidity.

Caveat emptor

That’s not the only reason I don’t buy, say, a $3,000 purse. I’m appalled at our culture’s emphasis on acquisition and constant lifestyle upgrades that may not match our ability to afford them.

Buy now, pay for a long time? That just doesn’t sound attractive unless you’re talking homes. I can’t live in a handbag.

So yes, I do think it’s a good idea to decide what, when, or if you should purchase. You may find you can do without. And if you really need something, you may find ways to get it without spending a fortune.

The second-most useful thing I’ve learned? If you do decide to buy something, then for heaven’s sake enjoy it. Even if it’s only a large chocolate custard. You’ll be back to pinto beans soon enough.

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Stacy Johnson

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