Do You Really Need that Stuff? Think Twice Before You Spend

Americans love their stuff.  We can’t get enough of the latest doodad, the latest hot new product on the market.

We love stuff so much, research has been conducted on our behavior.  According to Boston.com, a team of archealogists spent 4 years studying 32 middle class Los Angeles families for their new book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century.  What they found was fascinating and depressing.

According to the study, ” The rise of Costco and similar stores has prompted so much stockpiling — you never know when you’ll need 600 Dixie cups or a 50-pound bag of sugar — that three out of four garages are too full to hold cars” (Boston.com).  And it’s not just the parents.  “The study found kids’ stuff everywhere, crowding out their parents’ possessions to such an extent that even home offices and studies (more than half of the 32 households had rooms dedicated to work or schoolwork) were crammed with toys and other child-related objects” (UCLA Magazine).

All the while, many Americans are swimming in credit card debt, which may be a direct result of the need to have more and more stuff, even as the stuff leads to less life satisfaction.  In fact, stuff creates stress for many people.

If you feel the need to buy more stuff, keep these things in mind:

The More Stuff You Have, the Less Satisfaction You Have

Do you really need all that stuff?We often think that if we get the latest and greatest item, we’ll be happier or life will be easier, but that isn’t often the case.  In fact, having less stuff leads to all sort of important changes.  If you have less stuff, you can live in a smaller space.  Live in a smaller space, and you pay less for rent or your mortgage, and utilities are also less expensive.  You may need to work less to afford your lifestyle, and instead have more time to enjoy life, which brings greater happiness.

The New York Times states, ” New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.”

Tammy Strobel, the blogger behind Rowdy Kittens, downsized her life, and now she and her spouse live in a tiny house with minimal possessions.  Because of this lifestyle change, she was able to quit her job and support herself and her spouse when he was in school on just $24,000 a year that she made as a freelancer according to The New York Times.

Your Stuff Is Worth Nothing

Besides considering the improved life satisfaction you will have without more stuff, there is another important reason to curb your consumption of stuff.

While stuff can cost you dearly in out of pocket expense, once you have it, making any money off of it, should you choose to downsize your life, is very difficult.  Yes, you can sell your stuff on Craigslist or Ebay or have a garage sale, but in general, you only recoup 10% or less on the original purchase price.  How is that for depressing?

Just visit a garage sale in the summer and see the huge spread of stuff to be sold.  How much money does all of that stuff represent?  That is money that is just gone, never to be recouped.

If you want to improve your life and your financial situation, just stop buying stuff.   You’ll be amazed how much better you feel when you have less stuff in your life to manage.

Source image credit:My Dad’s a Hoarder, By Simon Scarfe, on Flickr

Take Advantage of Super Bowl Sales to Save Money

Super Bowl 2013 is on February 3, only a week away.  If you’re a football fan, you’re probably counting down the days and planning your Super Bowl party.  Your whole day, indeed your whole weekend, may revolve around the Super Bowl.

However, if you’re like me, you aren’t a big football fan.  In fact, I have no idea which teams are even heading to the Super Bowl this year. (Ed. note: 49ers vs. Ravens)

Still, fan or not, the week before Super Bowl is the perfect time to save some money, and lots of it.  The Super Bowl is a national, cultural event, and many sales revolve around Super Bowl viewing “necessities.”

Here are some things you may want to buy and stock up on while they’re cheap during the week before Super Bowl:

Super Bowl SavingsTelevisions – If you’re in need of a new television, you’re likely to see the lowest prices now, the week before the Super Bowl.  The prices now are often even better than those on Black Friday.  Of course, if you don’t need a tv, this isn’t a good deal, but if you’ve been thinking about replacing yours, now is the time to do it.

Cable/satellite packages – If you don’t yet have cable or you want to switch providers, now is the time.  Cable and satellite companies hope to snag new sports enthusiasts during the big game, and some cultural Super Bowl events, such as the notorious Lingerie Bowl, can only be seen on cable (as well as the much more benign Puppy Bowl).

NFL apparel – Get your favorite team’s jersey at a significant discount this week.  Even Victoria’s Secret gets in on this by offering discounted pink NFL gear.

Beverages – If you’re a family of soda drinkers, don’t buy your pop at full price.  Stock up during Super Bowl and buy enough to last you through the next big soda sale, which usually happens around Memorial Day.  Bottled water is also often on sale.  We only buy bottled water for our car trips when driving to conferences, but it’s nice to buy it when it’s at rock bottom price.

Snack foods – If you have a teenage boy or another member of the family who can’t get enough of snacks like nachos, chips, and cheese curls, now is the time to buy them while they are cheap.  True, you may need to hide them from your snack monster so they’re not devoured in a few days, but again, you can stock up and save for the next several months until they go on sale again around Memorial Day.

Don’t forget that other condiments like ketchup, mustard, and salsa may also be on sale now.

Foods you can freeze – You’ll also likely find chicken and ground beef on sale, as well as cheese.  Don’t forget that you can freeze these items, so stock up and feed your family for the rest of the winter with meat that you got on sale.

Whether you’re a Super Bowl fan or not, this week is the perfect week to stock up on some basics and buy some luxuries at a steep discount.

What is your favorite item to buy during Super Bowl sales?

Are You a Patient Purchaser?

Conventional wisdom, at least in frugal personal finance circles says you should wait several days (or even weeks) before making most purchases.  Especially large purchases.

Personally, I’m usually a pretty patient purchaser.  I hate paying retail for most things. When I decide I need something (or even want it), I usually start my search on eBay.  Only when the price on eBay is pretty close to retail, or when I just can’t get something at a discount will I purchase it through a retail outlet.  And even then, I generally wait for a sale.

Patience is a Virtue

The main reason that experts suggest that you wait on a purchase is that, after thinking about it for a few days, most people will decide that they don’t need the item, or that they don’t want to spend the money on it right then. It also prevents spontaneous purchases.  I seldom find that to be true.  Well, not entirely, anyways. There have been a few cases where I’ve decided that I really didn’t want the item.  I’m also frugal to a fault, and rarely make a spur-of-the-moment purchase.  If I see something that I want, I’m off to research it and find the best price for it.

Limited Time Offers

LTOs are my downfall.  Because of their limited timeline, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until I can do the same amount of research that I normally do.  I still have a hard time purchasing the item, but have been known to buckle under the pressure and pull out my card.  (That’s a debit card, thank you.)  And, that’s the reason that retailers will have LTOs.  Put under the pressure of a deadline, people will often put off doing the research they should and purchase on the spot to take advantage of a great deal.

How I Practice Patient Purchasing

Patient purchasing has probably saved me thousands of dollars over the years.  Here’s the method that I generally use.

  • Decide on the brand and model that you want.  This can be the super heavy duty research part of the purchase.  I’ll spend time shopping for the item, and then looking online at retailers to find a brand and model that I like as well as get an idea of the average price of the item.  e.g. when I last bought a pair of shoes, I first decided on the brand that I wanted to buy (New Balance) and then on the model.  Deciding on the model took the most time as they have many models that are built for different strides, pronations, etc.  I also found that the full retail for a pair was about $125, but that there were discount retail outlets that regularly sold them for about $100.
  • Set up a search on eBay.  I like eBay.  It gives me the ability to fine tune a search and then save it.  I also very rarely find that the price that I can get something for on eBay is more than what I can get it for at a retailer.  Most of the time it’s quite a bit less.  I usually start with a pretty generic search for the brand and model of the item I’m looking for and then fine tune it based on the other qualifications I’m looking for.  e.g. in the case of the shoes, I started with a search for “New Balance 757″ and then refined the search with the shoe size, width, and maximum price I was willing to pay.
  • Exhibit Patience.  This is the part that some people find to be really hard, but that I find comes pretty easily.  I wait.  I check the saved search every two or three days (auctions can be run in 1,3,7, or 10 day lengths, but I’m willing to miss a few of the 1 day auctions) and add items that look like good possibilities to my watch list.  I then sort my watch list by the auctions that are ending soonest, and will place a bid on the first one for the maximum that I am willing to pay.  That usually involves figuring out how much shipping will be, subtracting it from the max I’m willing to pay and then bidding the remainder.

Using that method, I can usually get an item that I want at a price that I want.  Being patient is key though.  Sometimes it can take me weeks to finally win an auction.  In the example I used above (shoes), I think it took me about 3 weeks to get a pair of shoes that I wanted at the price I wanted.  In the end, I paid just under $60 (including shipping) for a pair of shoes that I would have paid about $125 for at a retail shoe store.

Is the savings I got worth the time I put into it?  If you break down the savings and figure out an hourly savings based on the amount of hours I put into getting the shoes, it would probably not be a very good rate.  Below minimum wage for sure.  But, for the most part, the time I spent on it is time that I likely would have wasted on watching TV or something anyways.  In other words, it was non-productive time and therefore had little monetary value associated to it in the first place.  I got a new pair of shoes, and saved money doing.

Are you a patient purchaser?  What are your methods for buying bigger ticket items?

img credit:gemb1 on Flickr