…but whatever you buy has to last your entire lifetime.
Today we’re re-running last year’s Black Friday post by Mr PoP since we have so many new readers since then. Enjoy!
A Thought Experiment For Black Friday
Mrs. PoP and I have never had a TV in our house, we usually listen to NPR or CD’s in our cars, and seldom read the newspaper. All of this means we’re pretty insulated from consumer advertising. But even we couldn’t help but notice that this Friday a ton of people will be blowing some serious dough on “things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.”
At the same time, I can’t pretend I’m Tyler Durden or a modern day Ralph Borsodi. The fact is Mrs. Pop and I really do enjoy buying things! Over the last couple of Black Friday’s I’ve gotten a tool chest, and a few years before that was when I got an espresso maker and grinder, and another couple years before that it was a guitar. So what gives? How can I defend spending money on things that make my life easier and more enjoyable, all the while looking down my nose at the consumer massess on Friday?
Easy. Before I spend more than $50 on an item, I ask myself “Is this the last XXX that I’ll ever purchase?” If the answer is yes, then I’ll pull the trigger, if its no, then I’ll likely re-consider why I’m spending money on something that is disposable and will cost to get replaced a few years down the road.
How Does This Change Your Spending Habits?
This sort of thinking seems to break our spending habits into two polarized sections-items we spend lots of money on, and stuff that we spend next to nothing on. It makes sense-if you know you’ll only ever have one guitar, you’ll save your money until you can get the one that you’ll be happy with forever. You tend to end up with a very small number of “things,” but those things tend to be classics of very high quality. On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I purchased any non-work clothes because I know that because they are disposable. Instead, I am mostly naked when not in the office (Just kidding! I just wear the work shirts, pants and jeans that have holes or stains and are therefore ineligible for the M-F rota).
One thing that I realized after reading Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme blog is that if you purchase the best possible item you can afford, the difference between new and used is relatively small and the item depreciates very slowly, if at all. This even goes for consumer goods like furniture! Check out the e-bay prices between a new and used Eames recliner-they’re the same price after shipping, despite the used one is about 20 years older! The same goes for many consumer goods, from mechanics tools, to kitchen utensils, to jewelry, to musical instruments and audiophile equipment. [Mrs. PoP here – the Eames chair is a really expensive example – for a more “every day” example, check out our old post on the ChefMate vs KitchenAid where our $6 mixer depreciated its entire value in a matter of seconds.]
Repair vs. Replace, Low Wages, and the Environment
Every time you ask yourself “Is this the last XXX that I’ll buy?” you are forced to think where you will be 10, 20, 30 years down the road. This sort of long-term thinking is a gut check and helps you keep your mind on long-term goals. In the next couple of years I plan on buying a wrist watch; when I am through using the watch the year will be at least 2050. I’ll be done with my career, my parents will have passed away, and I will be an old man! If i know in my heart that someday I will become old and die while the next generation inherits what I leave, it makes me plan for the future at the same time that I lead every day more fully.
Of course, many of the items I buy need to be serviced or repaired. The watch needs to be lubricated every 5 years, that Eames chair may need to be re-stuffed every 30 or so, you get the idea. But what happens when we repair instead of buy a new one? Creating a new low-quality consumer product generally involves harvesting some sort of natural resource (wood, petroleum, iron ore, etc), hiring somebody for low-wages in the 3rd world to assemble the widget and then schlepping the finished item back to the 1st world. The environment surely doesn’t win here, the jobs are low-wage and in another country, and eventually the item will end up in a land fill in your back yard anyhow. Its lose-lose.
When I choose to have something repaired, it is generally better for the environment because the resource stays in the ground, and the item out of the landfill. Also, either I acquire the skill necessary to repair it (Always a good thing), or I hire a local tradesman to do the same.
The idea of asking yourself if you are “Buy it for Life” is far from perfect (if somebody can find me socks that will last me 50 years, let me know!), but is far better than the hedonic treadmill of buying the latest gizmo, using it for a year, and then discarding it because it no longer gives us that consumer high. So this shopping season, ask yourself if what you’re buying is meant to be discarded in a year, or if you’ll use it for many. If you’re just going to discard it in a year, do you really need it anyway?
This post dedicated to Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme-his site and book are an inspiration to me! Additional info on the BIFL concept can be found here, and here are some links about consumerism’s effect on happiness.
If I’m the only one out there asking “Will this be the the last one of XXX that I’ll buy?” they’ll call me crazy. But if there are two of us, they’ll think its an organization. And if there are hundreds of us…well they’ll think its a movement! Does anybody else out there ask themselves if they’ll be buying their last XXX this Black Friday?