Friday, June 13, 2008

Gen X Finance: Coping With Consumption Urges

I am by nature a spender.  I can get positively starry-eyed about opportunities to spend money.

That said, I don't spend much of my income on disposable things. An exception would be wine, but I'm hoping a pregnancy and early parenthood might help with that. Or maybe it will make me want to drink more. We shall see.

I am much like MP Dunleavey. I recognize myself in her words:

I have an ambivalent relationship with frugality myself. Some days I aspire to a life of financial purity and austerity -- one in which I rise above all my earthly cravings, drive a 20-year-old Volkswagen and die with the words "secret millionaire" carved on my tombstone.
The rest of the time I fantasize about being Paris Hilton -- while forcing myself to be as financially prudent as I can be in the real world.

So what do I do when the spendy little devil on my shoulder starts influencing me?

Well, it depends. I'll be honest, sometimes spendy-the-devil wins. Yes, I'm talking to you, cute little peep-toe shoes on my feet. But for the most part, I win against the forces of shoe marketers and other purveyors of temptation.

Here's 5 things I've done to make the urge to shop less powerful

1. I limit my exposure
I'm still working on cutting off the catalog valve, but I rarely go to the mall or stop by a store just to look. The way I see it, the fewer stores I enter, the less goods that I will desire.
I'm taking baby steps on the catalog front - I have so far called two of the twenty bazillion we receive to get removed from the mailing list. Not only do they tempt me, it's really environmentally wasteful for all that junk mail to be sent to me.

2. I make my savings automatic
Retirement savings gets pulled out of my check before I see it. A set amount each week gets put into savings automatically. I do have to manually transfer other money to savings, but the more automatic it is, the less likely I am to spend it.

3. I limit eating out
Eating out is a great way to waste money, and wow, does it taste good. But I can make something just as good at home, and for far less money. Having a meal plan is key here. Try the menu planner at

4. I go shopping in my closet
So admittedly, this only works when I want to go shoe or clothes shopping. It doesn't help when I'm salivating over teak outdoor furniture. But still, it's a great option. I up the ante by packing away my off-season clothes, so everything is new to me when I unpack it. But I'm constantly amazed by what I find in there. I'm trying to declutter my closet, but that's another post.

5. I go to yard sales
I love yard sales. It's a great way to shop without the guilt of the environmental production costs of a new item, and typically prices are about 10% of the cost of new as well. Sure, there's lots of junk. Really, you can't expect there not to be. But I've gotten some great stuff at yard sales, including furniture. Check your local paper for all the yard sales some weekend, pick a few to check out, and go. Even if you have no luck the first day, keep trying. I once bought a $250 handmade wooden ride-on airplane (the kind with wheels that allows kids to scoot along the floor pretending to be Charles Lindbergh) for my nephew for $3.00. Yes, $3.

The urges to spend are hard to overcome, and there's a vast modern marketing machine out there to make us think we'll be smarter, better, sexier, or more competent and valued by buying stuff. But that's marketing, not reality. You can turn off the marketing machine, but it will take concerted effort to do so.

It's worth it though. Your wallet will thank you.

If you have been reading for a while, you've probably noticed by now I'm a big fan of MP Dunleavey over at MSN Money. You can check out MP's article on this topic here:


o2bnva said...

Thanks for the great link to Cindys Porch. Also, I like your blog, keep up the good work. (From a Generation Y-er)

uncannycanuck said...

Take care of those catalogs all at once. ;)

I absolutely agree with avoiding... every time I look, there's something I didn't know I needed. I have to not look to not want.

Anonymous said...

I also delete sale emails as soon as they hit my inbox. I don't even let myself open them because the temptation is too strong!