Balancing my Consumerism

This is a guest post by Dave, who is also looking to retire no later than 45, but unlike Tim has no kids and doesn’t want any. Dave is from Ontario and is working towards his CGA certification.

I really wish I was less of a consumerist than I actually am. I wish I could say that I never buy anything, I dumpster-dive for everything I own and invest 100% of my paycheque. The problem is, I like “stuff” just as much as the next person. I attempt to limit myself to consumables, otherwise I store it for a while and eventually have to throw something out. My impulse buys tend to focus around booze and food – both of which I will happily consume (in moderation).

Last week, I went with a friend to “Golf Town”, which is a store I like because I can see all the golf infomercial gadgets seem like they would cause significant injury when used (has anyone else seen the driver that has a hinge halfway down the club?? – that thing is a weapon). My friend had a bunch of credit card points he had accumulated and was thinking about using them to buy a new set of irons, which retail between $300 and $1,000. He was wailing away with about 4 sets he’d read about in various golf magazines and had probably hit about 100 balls before narrowing his decision down to 2 brands. Before buying them though, I asked him how many shots per round the new set was going to save him. He thought about it, and came to the conclusion that it really wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Personally, the last time I replaced my clubs was because it was going to cost more to get them re-shafted (due to safety reasons – one of them had snapped off while playing and could have killed my playing partner) than it would be to buy the 3-seasons-old new set that was on sale at “Play it Again Sports”.

I bought my commuter bicycle (well, my only bicycle) for work for $30 off of Kijiji. The furthest distance I will ever probably use my bike for is about 10km to get around the city, so it’s not like it needs to be an engineering marvel. I look at the extra work of peddling a heavier, less efficient bicycle as an added workout. I’ve ridden this one for 3 years now, about 50 days per summer and haven’t had any problems so far.

These are a couple of examples where I try to be efficient as possible with money, where spending more isn’t really going to change my level of enjoyment of an activity I’m taking part in. I try to balance this kind of decision with “Waffle Maker Decisions” that I will regret because I cheaped out on a lower-quality product, as I have previously done with the aforementioned waffle maker, cell phones, or computer parts (long-use, and don’t make sense to replace constantly to me).

How do you decide where to spend money and when not to? Have you been burned before trying to cheap out?

5 thoughts on “Balancing my Consumerism”

  1. I struggle with this too. The way I try to balance it is in these few ways:

    1. I think about how long I will use it

    E.g. a car — you’d think I’d use it often and buy the best quality, but I only needed it to get to work and back. I usually take the bus otherwise, and a fancy car makes no difference to me or my life. So I bought a cheap secondhand car for $1900 and never regretted a penny (it made me back about 1000% in return for the income I earned)

    2. I think about the value it has to my life

    A mixer is a good example. I bought a Kitchenaid mixer for $300 but if it doesn’t work well, I’m going to buy the professional one for $1000.

    The only reason why I am not skipping straight to the pro mixer is because it’s 3X as large and twice as heavy, which is a pain in the butt to move with.

    You’d think a mixer has low utility in my life, but I use it to make cakes, bread, etc. It does a lot more than just mix things — it saves a lot of time and hassle.

    In this area, I’m willing to spend the best, so long as I can keep it for a very.. very… long time. 10 years at a minimum.

  2. It needs to be something that is going to be around and used regularly before I invest in quality. Still I will look for used versions first because some of the stuff on Kijiji/Craigslist can be pretty good quality stuff.

  3. I have a couple ways to restrain myself. One is to look around my house at the crap that has accumulated. Helps me realize this current purchase will be a fleeting joy as well. Also by restricting my cashflow (by investing all possible money first), I trick myself into thinking I have less money than I have.

  4. “How do you decide where to spend money and when not to” – for the past 3 years I have been constantly reducing expenses and possessions, so lately the answer has always been “if it’s the thing I have targeted next for reductions, don’t spend”.

    I wasn’t burned by being cheap, but I bought a high-quality waterproof jacket as something I’ll keep for a long time. However, it’s not breathe-able and I probably could have realized that. So I ended up keeping it, but having an all-but-waterproof, breathe-able alternative.

    I’m also trying to make a strategic purchase for a smartphone (no data plan). My existing one has lasted 4 years now before finally feeling sluggish with modern software, and I’d like to have the hardware to run software made in another 4, sensors included. So I’m focusing on getting one with NFC, front/rear cameras, HSPA or LTE antennas, 802.11n, reasonably-up-to-date bluetooth, etc.

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