It's often useful to break down our expenses and potential expenses into two categories -- things we need, and things we want. The "need" pile might include rent or mortgage payments, food, insurance, medications, and car repairs. The "want" pile might contain dinners in fancy restaurants, exotic vacations, video games, or even your morning cup of premium coffee.
Many of us who want to spend less -- and save and invest more -- probably realize that we'd do well to want less. But that's easier said than done. On our Living Below Your Means discussion board the other day, Fool Community member yddeyma raised this interesting topic: She discovered that though she'd saved the money for it, she no longer wanted a new, big TV. In fact, she realized she now wanted to own less stuff. She then asked, "Now, if I can only figure out how this transformation came about, I could apply it to my entire life."
This spurred a fascinating discussion. Here are some of the highlights:
Really, it's a matter of self-discipline and that gets easier with practice. The fact that your desire for the new TV diminished shows that your self-discipline is growing -- and you didn't even know it!
It's all about time (at least to me) . I've found that months of thinking about buying a TV makes it less ... special. I don't crave having that TV/new computer game/iPod/etc. as much as I did when I was first thinking about it. I think that wanting these things is very much an addiction, in that you get a rush from thinking about owning something new. So if you wait long enough, you will eventually decide it's not as great of a purchase as you were originally thinking.
Dave added that in order to take advantage of this process, "I have gotten into the habit of adding things I want into my Amazon.com shopping cart. Then I can stop thinking about it, because I've already marked the purchase as something I'm going to get."
I tend to evaluate my possessions by the functions they serve. If you buy things because of the functions you need served, (such as the need I have for a cell phone in my business) you can often meet those needs quite cheaply. However, if you are buying for reasons of style, the price tends to be far higher and you need to keep buying stuff new at high prices to remain stylish.
I found that sports and family activity help me want less stuff. When you have a pickup game of soccer or volleyball every day that's one or two less hours a day that you think about stuff. When you take a walk with your dog on a nice sunny day and admire the flowers, it's one less hour that you think about stuff.. I noticed that to want less stuff you have to slowly shift your goals and self-assessment from 'having' to 'doing.' Years down the line nobody will care what car you had 10 years ago, but the picnic with your family you might remember and cherish even then.
In a nutshell
Board denizen NaggingFool offered a well-organized four-step system to help us want less:
Step one: Avoid people who want you to want more stuff.
- Throw away catalogs without reading them.
- Don't watch commercials on television.
- Don't read the adverts in the weekly paper.
- Don't hang out in shopping areas for recreation.
Step two: Realize how much junk you have now, and how much trouble it is.
- Take a complete inventory of your house contents for insurance purposes.
- Do a weekly "27-fling boogie" a la Flylady (go through the house and find twenty seven things that you don't want to keep anymore).
- Visualize moving all of your stuff to a new home, or your heirs going through everything after your death.
Step three: Learn to appreciate the stuff you have.
- Keep warranties.
- Perform basic repair and maintenance.
- Loan things you don't use frequently to other people.
- Step four: Think about what else you might want, instead of more stuff.
To that list, reallyalldone offered a good addition: "Unsubscribe [yourself] from all emails from any retail company." I hadn't thought of this idea, but it makes a lot of sense. At present, I regularly hear from retailers such as Amazon.com, Buy.com, Overstock.com, and Dell, among others. If you're easily swayed to buy, consider cutting down on these emails.
This conversation is not only interesting, but if you want it to, it can change your life for the better. The same might be said for our new newsletter service, Motley Fool GreenLight, which you can try for free for a whole month, including all our past issues. GreenLight is packed with powerful tips to help you save more, spend less, and earn more via investing. You've got little to lose and much to gain -- check it out!
Amazon.com and Dell are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Dell is also a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation, and Overstock.com is a former Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Amazon.com. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.