We were at an Apple Store when my wife noticed me staring at a pristine-looking MacBook Air. Weighing only 2.8 pounds, I was obviously in awe of how light, thin-looking, quiet, and fast the machine ran.
“You’ve been staring at that item for well over an hour!” she teased.
“I’m buying this for us,” I replied. “For real??” she asked. I gave her a nod and quickly went to see the salesperson.
Her jaw almost dropped. We’ve been through the same situation a hundred times before, only to walk out empty-handed.
Not sure about you, but it could still take me 15 minutes to buy a discretionary item worth over $100. And that excludes the time I would spend researching the product and its competition.
I have to ask myself these five questions to avoid impulse buying.
1. Can I really afford it?
Regardless of how valuable the item is to me, if I can’t afford it, I won’t buy it. Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for. I wouldn’t want to waste this precious commodity on something too costly.
After taxes, I make around $50 an hour or $400 a day. This laptop with a fruit logo costs $800. So I’ve essentially spent two days of my life working for this MacBook. Not an issue considering how useful the device has been to me. Not to mention how relatively easy my desk job is!
Being able to pay for something is not the same as being able to afford it. Think about the ridiculous payment options available to consumers today. Nowadays, a 72-month car loan is a norm, whereas a decade ago, that would have been outright irresponsible for a fast depreciating asset.
Many purchases have hidden costs. For instance, we may have the money to buy a Lamborghini, but the cost of maintenance would flush our early retirement dreams down the toilet.
2. How often will I use it?
By definition, a discretionary item is something that you don’t need. As long as the purchase satisfies a want, I know I’m not pouring money down the drain. I don’t BS myself by asking deep questions like, “Will it add value to my life?”
Last year, I built a fancy basketball court in my backyard. It’s one of the best discretionary spendings I’ve made so far. Believe it or not, my boy and I have been using it even on the coldest days of winter (as long as it’s not windy).
Shooting hoops has brought us happiness and joy. Not to mention the exercise we need to keep ourselves fit when most people are stuck at home watching Netflix.
Glad I didn’t listen to my neighbor, who firmly believes a pool is a better investment.
3. Will I be able to resell it?
The older I get, the less I want stuff. Sure, there are things that I cannot live without. But beyond that, they eventually become just clutter.
I wish I could get rid of the stuff that’s collecting dust in my garage for years and years. It comes to a point that I would sometimes throw stuff in the garbage when I knew I could resell it or give it to someone else.
For larger purchases, it’s worth thinking about the resale value of the stuff you plan to buy.
Most people think of resale value in relation to cars. In general, a used Subaru or Toyota has better resale values than other brands, for example. But if you’re in for the long haul, the resale value wouldn’t matter much.
I usually rent the tools or equipment I seldom need. But what if the tool costs $150 to rent per day, and sells for $300? Suddenly, it becomes tempting to buy and just resell on Craig’s List or FB Marketplace.
4. What’s the opportunity cost?
I bought 1,000 shares of Bank of America (BAC) in 2011 for around $7 each. $7,000 that I originally earmarked for a basketball court. It was a decade-old dream to shoot hoops in my backyard, which recently became a reality.
Fast-forward to February 2020, I sold all 1,100 shares (including dividend reinvestments) for $33. That’s almost $30K in profit before taxes. That’s money I used to pay off my mortgage shortly before the Covid-19 lockdowns. It gave me tremendous peace of mind when most people were afraid of losing their jobs.
Had I built my basketball court 11 years ago, that opportunity would not have presented itself. Besides, we couldn’t enjoy the court as much as we do now that my son is old enough to play, and I can work from home. Delaying gratification certainly has its benefits.
I try to think about investment opportunities before I part with my hard-earned money.
5. Is there a better time to buy?
Every day, we are bombarded with advertisements designed to make us buy, and buy right now (like the Amazon ad on the right, or below if you’re using your phone).
How often have you seen an “only x left,” notification when buying or reserving a hotel room online? Scarcity is an effective marketing technique that fooled many consumers, including yours truly.
I knew the Apple Store wasn’t the best place to buy Apple products. Yet, in a moment of weakness, I decided to buy. I couldn’t wait to replace the crappy laptop I bought on Black Friday of 2017 for $150.
However, the salesperson told me the item was out-of-stock, which was a bummer. There was extremely high demand, and the unwritten rule is you’re supposed to preorder online.
Fortunately, it turned out for the best, as we got a much better deal from an authorized reseller a week later.