I wish I had a quarter for every stupid purchase I’ve made in my life. I’d have a big pile of quarters.
My financial faux pas have been remarkable in both quantity and quality. I’ve made some real doozies.
Take the above-ground swimming pool. The “a la carte” price was bad enough. Then, adding everything required, but not included, took it past barely reasonable to absolutely ridiculous. First, there was the heater and filter. Then a cover, chemicals and test kit. Of course we needed search and rescue equipment (this was one monstrosity of a pool) and a few necessary pool toys.
If I’d had the courage to consider the consequences of such a major purchase before making the decision to buy, I am quite certain we could have avoided a five-year industrial-strength headache and saved a lot of money. I’ve since learned how important it is to keep a simple self-test handy. A checklist clears away impulsivity and invites good sense to prevail.
DO I NEED IT? If the honest answer is no and you do not have oodles of discretionary income, case closed. You’ve just saved yourself from a foolish purchase.
CAN I AFFORD IT? If you have to go into debt to make the purchase, you cannot afford it. Forget it.
DO I ALREADY HAVE SOMETHING THAT WILL DO? An honest assessment of all the stuff you already have could easily produce an affirmative answer to this question. End of discussion.
CAN I WAIT? Have you ever noticed that you require your children to be patient but rarely put the same requirement on yourself? The bonus with this question is that while waiting, the need often disappears.
HAVE I FOUND THE BEST DEAL? It takes time and effort to comparison shop, and that also makes for breathing room. When making wise decisions, time is a valuable ingredient.
AM I WILLING TO WAIT? A false sense of urgency brought on by overwhelming desire — or a sale — can really skew your otherwise good sense. Simply getting away from the situation for a couple of days has a remarkable way of clearing your mind. If the purchase is right for you today, it will still be right a few days from now.
WHAT IF I DON’T? Make a list of what will happen if you don’t make the transaction. If it’s paying the rent you’re questioning, that’s simple. The consequence is eviction. You must proceed. But if the subject is buying another pair of shoes, a faster computer or season tickets to the symphony, the consequences of not making the purchase will be quite different.
WHAT IF I DO? Here’s where the rubber meets the road. What will be the exact consequences of going through with this transaction? Don’t cheat on yourself. Don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer.
If you don’t know the true costs, you are not ready to make the decision. So you think my pool fiasco was a financial disaster? Truth be told, that purchase was relatively mild compared to impulsive acquisitions I’ve considered since then. No one is more grateful than I — my husband being a close second — that I’ve learned to consider the consequences first.
Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 23 books, including her 2012 release, “7 Money Rules for Life.” You can email her at email@example.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.