How to Spend Less Money on Things You Don’t Need

Although I’m always trying to spend less money, I’ve recently been struggling against the temptation to buy things I don’t need. I’ve spent time looking online at tablets, at new smartphones, wondering at what price point I would take the plunge.

Thankfully, I’ve got through this patch. What it took was a simple mental reframing. I no longer ask myself: can I afford it? Rather, the key question is: can I afford not to have it? If you want to get better at not buying things you don’t need, this post is for you.

I’m currently in the privileged position of being financially secure. I’ve made good on my New Year’s Resolution to save up enough money to live for a year without income. My living expenses have been minimised. And income keeps coming in!

With this new found money, I’ve quite deliberately decided to do things that I haven’t previously done. I’me more generous toward those that I care about, and it’s rewarding to be able to use such gestures to show people my love for them. I’m also more free about spending money to facilitate pleasant experiences – on dinner with friends, or perhaps a stage show. Finally, I’ve deliberately invested in my own self-care, spending money in ways that safeguard and improve my well-being. So I’ve got a safe and nice bike, I can read easily on my Kindle, I have a separate work computer. These costs are all costs I’ve knowingly, willfully, and happily incurred.

But there’s still some surplus cash kicking around and something inside says: wouldn’t it be easier if you had the Samsung Galaxy SIII? Think how easy jamming would be if you had a tablet….” They can’t be ignored. I thought perhaps they had a point. But then I found the argument that silenced these voices.

My laptop. While it is heavy and has poor battery life, I can spend less money on things by realising that I can afford not to replace it.

My laptop is a bit heavy for my liking and the battery life is getting worse. But I can afford not to replace it.

While I can afford to buy a new smartphone, I can afford not to have one. The lack of dual-cameras or 16 gigabytes of internal storage is not debilitating. My HTC Desire, which I’ve had for almost two years (and I got it second hand!) is going strong. Really, I’m fine on the phone front. I can afford to leave it this way.

In contrast, I can’t afford to have no phone – it’d be too great a barrier to my working or socialising. Further, I can’t afford not to spend money on minor luxuries like ginger beer or raisin toast that help me to love myself and unwind after a hard day. I can’t afford to grow apart from my Adelaide friends merely to save a bus fare. The things I do spend money on are worth every cent.

I realise I’m writing this from a particular vantage point – I abhor consumerism and materialism. For me, avoiding expenditure is just as much about social justice as economic rationalism. You may not have the same motives. My intention here isn’t to change that.

However, I feel that anyone can benefit from a detachment from material possessions. And not just financially – the more of your needs that can be met without having to buy stuff, the free-er, happier, deeper your life will be.

So, even if you don’t think that Capitalism is fucked, try this thought experiment. Next time you’re tempted to fork out for something, whether it’s the latest flashy gadget or an upgraded ukulele, stop telling yourself you can afford it. Instead ask: can I afford not to have this? In very, very many cases, you can.

Click if you also want to know how to spend less money on food.

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