“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” —Will Rogers
The average American home size has doubled in the past 50 years. Still 10% of households rent offsite storage and 25% of homeowners with two-car garages can’t park cars in them. 76% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. And the average US household credit card debt stands at $15,191.
It appears we have a spending problem. We buy far more than we need.
In every imaginable category (from homes and cars to clothing and technology), we must find greater intentionality in our consumer pursuits.
To accomplish this, I propose we start asking ourselves some very specific questions before making any purchase.
3 Questions to Ask Before Any Purchase (by category)
1. Am I replacing an item of clothing or buying something new? If the item is not a specific replacement, rethink your need for it.
2. Is this something I will wear regularly? If you can’t see yourself wearing the item on a regular basis, rethink the purchase.
3. Is the style one that will last? Don’t believe all the hype of the latest trends, they are manufactured by the fashion industry and change quickly.
1. What problem does this solve? Technology should make our lives easier by solving problems. If a new technology is not solving an existing problem, it is only adding to them.
2. Are there any rumors of new advancements to this technology? Technology is changing rapidly. If your purchase is not time sensitive, it may be wise to double-check if a new release is right around the corner.
3. Is this technology I can afford? Keep in mind the full cost is often far greater than the initial investment.
1. Is my purchase based on a genuine need or a cultural pressure? Am I succumbing to a specific pressure brought on by cultural, peer, or family pressure? Or is the furniture/decor something I truly need?
2. Am I choosing quality over quantity? With furniture, choose quality over quantity. One comfortable place to sit is far better than three uncomfortable options. And one beautiful piece of art decor will provide more life than a dozen cheap ones.
3. Is this style one that will last?
1. Will this entertainment choice result in rest and value? Entertainment moves our emotion, occupies our heart, and exercises our mind. Or at least, it should. Choose to invest your entertainment dollars in places that will.
2. Am I overusing entertainment to escape my life? There is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment. It serves an important purpose. However, it can become a personal and financial burden if we use it as a means to routinely escape our own reality rather than face it.
3. Is there a cheaper alternative? A walk in the park or a hike up a mountain is often more entertaining and beneficial than buying another movie ticket.
1. Will this food add fuel to my life? Unhealthy foods may taste better in the moment, but in the long-run, they detract from our well-being and lifestyle.
2. Are my food decisions contributing to my financial stress? According to statistics, Americans spend 42% of their total food bill eating out. If you are unable to get ahead financially, this is one easy place to start cutting back.
3. Who am I supporting with this purchase? You need to eat. Support your local economy while you do.
1. If purchased personally, have I discussed my options with a health insurance professional? Find professional help with this decision. It is their job to understand all your options (and they are changing quickly).
2. Have I researched the benefits of my existing plan? Am I getting the absolute most out of my current payments? Search dental, vision, and preventive care.
3. Am I pursuing a health-benefiting lifestyle? The most effective way to keep your health care costs at a minimum is to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Accidents and heritage happen, but healthy habits always pay for themselves in the long run.
1. Do I need a new vehicle? If not, why do I want a new vehicle? And is that a good enough reason to spend the resources?
2. How much cash + trade-in have I saved? Always, always buy your vehicles with cash. You won’t regret it.
3. What are the additional expenses associated with this purchase? Calculate insurance, gasoline, anticipated maintenance, and unique circumstances (parking, tolls). Factor these into your decision by comparing several models. Sometimes a vehicle may cost more upfront, but save money in the long run.
1. Am I buying/renting only what I need? Choose shelter based on your needs, not what the realtor says you can afford.
2. What will be the additional expenses included in this purchase? Whenever possible, research the utility costs, insurance, taxes, expected maintenance, and HOA fees of your new purchase—especially if you are transitioning from a rental.
3. Will this arrangement bring freedom or burden into my life? Your home should bring you security and stability—not stress. Wisely consider also the impact of potential economic downturns on your home value and ability to make future payments.
1. Is this a pet I can afford? Consider all costs associated with your pet: feeding, licensing, housing, cleaning, grooming, pet-sitters, and medical expenses.
2. “Will this animal or pet keep me from pursuing other important goals like travel, hosting others in my home, or financial independence?”
3. Will the benefits an animal brings to my life outweigh the extra work and expenses? Am I able to articulate the exact reason why I am taking on this responsibility?
I am very open to this being a fluid list. Are there any spending categories you would like me to add? Or do you have any specific questions for the categories above you have found particularly helpful? Let us know in the comment section below.