Monday, May 16, 2011

Saving Change by Changing How You Want Things

I've often heard people say that happiness is being able to afford what you want.

What I've noticed, though, is that once someone has everything that he or she wants (say, a new car, a cell phone with internet capability, and a house with a garage), it is not happiness that follows. Instead, what follows is just more wanting (like maybe a car that parallel parks itself, a cell phone that streams live TV, and a house with three bathrooms instead of two.)

The problem with wanting stuff is that it is a vicious circle: the more we want, the more money we spend, and the more in debt we tend to go. Telling yourself not to spend as much money on things is one way of tackling this, but then you might perpetually feel like you're punishing yourself -- you see things you want, and then tell yourself, "well, I can't have that thing because I can't afford it. If only I had a better job/richer family / etc..." which really doesn't seem like the road to happiness at all. Actually, it sounds pretty unhappy, doesn't it?

But what happens when you go straight to the source and change the wanting? What happens when you don't buy things right away (just because you want them), or train yourself to want different things? What happens when you reduce the amount of things you want altogether?

I live walking distance to a Dollar Tree store, which right now has a plethora of awesome flamingo themed stuff. I'm very into birds (flamingos included), so I'm pretty interested in some of this merchandise. My favorite is a pack of 18 bendy straws - there is a folded-up paper flamingo on each straw that pops out when you unbend them.I thought they were cool when I saw them and they made me laugh in the store. Now, that packet of straws is, of course, just $1. However, I did not buy the pack. Instead, I waited, and I'm still waiting, for the want to simmer and to see how much I do want them. When I go back to the Dollar Tree, it will be with absolute certainty that I definitely want those 18 festive flamingo straws.
So what, right? It's just a dollar, either way. But this type of training can be really helpful in the long run.

A frozen credit card thawing.
I had a teacher in high school who told us she used to have a problem buying things from the Home Shopping Channel. She finally decided to put her credit card in the freezer. Whenever she wanted to buy something, she would have to wait for the card to thaw before she could call  to order -- and more often than not, by the time she could read all the numbers on the card, she'd realized she didn't really want whatever she was going to buy, and had simply been caught up in the moment.

Re-training yourself on the types of (non-essential) things you find yourself wanting and buying can also be a way to save some money. For instance, let's say you buy a lot of clothes. Count up the number of clothing items you bought last month - shirts, pairs of shoes, etc. Let's say it's around 15. Next, tell yourself that this month, you aren't allowed to buy any clothes, but can buy the same number of songs online as you bought of clothing items last month - 15. Since mp3s can be bought online generally for about $1 each, you'll only be spending $15, rather than however much you spent on clothes (probably at least ten times that much.) Space out what you buy throughout the month, or buy songs at the same time you would normally go to the mall. At the end of the month, think about how the experiment went - did you feel like you were being punished, or do you feel satisfied with what you got instead and with the money you saved?

Finally, simply wanting fewer things overall can alleviate some financial burden and also stress. This can take lots of time and effort, but learning how to change the way we think about wanting things can actually be pretty great. Check out this article: "How to Want Very Little" on zenhabits and also the 100 Thing Challenge (a challenge to live for one year with only 100 possessions).

Here's to another money-saving week, friends -- and to that packet of flamingo straws, waiting to be brought to their new home.


  1. I've GOT to have those straws!!!! I wish Dollar Tree was open now, so I could go over there and get them. Oh wait---I think I missed your point....

  2. Ha ha. Those flamingo straws are what you could call the "hook"! Looks like it did the trick and got people reading!