Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Avoiding Post-Shopping Guilt: Money Can't Buy Happiness... Unless...

Now that Christmas gift shopping craziness is over and we get a few sober days before the January sales, I decided to reflect a bit on the significance of shopping and spending in our lives. You know, to arm you for January!

January Sales: For people who don't mind stocking up really early for next Christmas.
Photo from Reuters

Have you played SimCity before? In that game, you create cities and assign spaces for industrial, commercial and residential buildings. And you could lose major happiness points from residents if there is an imbalance between the three. That's right, the city people become sad and might even leave if they don't have enough good places to shop. At first, I found that really weird if it's meant to be based on real life tendencies! But that's probably partly because I'm more of a DIY kind of person. I try to make things if I can, instead of buying right away. Unless it takes too much time and effort, or worse, when it's more expensive to buy the materials needed to make them than to just buy them in the store! But then I realised that those commercial spaces probably include not only places to shop for things, but maybe arcades, restaurants, spas, basically consumerist spaces where the Sims can buy not only things, but experiences, too. And science supports the idea that for most people, spending on experiences is the way to get the most happiness from your money.

That being said, I genuinely do enjoy spending money on things. But only if they meet a certain number of requirements that ensure that the act of buying them wouldn't infringe on things I find are more important to me, personally. I find that we are happier when our actions successfully represent our personal ideals, and that encompasses our shopping habits too, as trivial as it may seem!

One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, wrote in her book The Happiness Project that money can't buy happiness, but it sure influences it a lot. When we are able to put our money where our real interests are, or where we truly believe it is needed, or into things that make us grow as people, or even simply towards things we truly enjoy and use, then money can really help make us happier people.

All that being said, here is the mental list of requirements I usually find myself weighing in my brain whenever I am faced with the option to buy something:

1. Is the value it will add in my life proportional to its price, relative to the current amount of money in my possession?

There are three things there that need consideration there, and in equal amounts.

It's not as simple as just asking myself "is it worth the price?". I need to make sure I'm getting something I want, and to look at how much money I have at my disposal, and not get swayed just because something is cheaper than it usually is! For example, look at this large collection of stylish footwear for women at ZALORA. There is a very thoughtful option at the top to browse discounted items, or to arrange them by price. Use things like that to your advantage by using it to filter things that are outside of your current budget, rather than aimlessly browsing anything that's cheap! The value it adds to your life is as important as how much money you're saving by getting something at a lower price point. Remember that the things we buy stay with us for a long time, and so we need to keep this in mind when we get something on sale. A slightly more expensive shoe that gets a lot of usage and love in its life is a far better buy than a cheap one that doesn't suit any of your clothes or is uncomfortable. Just make sure you won't go broke buying it.

2. Am I going to use it enough to justify the space/effort/maintenance it may require?

There are things that seem like a good idea, until you have to build a shed in your garden to store them. Or until you realise how easily it can be damaged by humidity if you don't keep cleaning twice every other full moon under midnight dew. As much as our consumerist ways as a species makes us believe that we need a separate peeler for a specific vegetable, or five different black dresses for different types of parties, there are very few things we actually need in life, and the rest are mere wants in varying degrees. These degrees vary from person to person, and it's important to know yourself well enough to know when you actually want something enough that you wouldn't randomly stumble upon it a year from now wondering why you forgot about it and which lucky person in your life you could hand it down to. So that they can be the ones abandoning it in a shelf somewhere.

"Now where the hell is that yellow cherry tomato bisector"
3. Do I need to buy it now?

There are things we will eventually need to buy, but not right now. We will run out of toilet paper one day, but we don't need to keep 30 packs of nine at all times. Or, we will need to get a nice dress for our cousin's wedding, but maybe not while he is still 13 years old. There is probably going to be another nice dress to find down the 15-odd year long road. These are severe examples, but just remember to consider timing whenever you feel like splurging on a deal that feels like it's once-in-a-lifetime. There is only so much space in our houses, and when they get cramped, our brains get cramped too. Also, the excitement of acquiring things tend to wear down with time. Best to be able to use things we buy right when we still feel great and excited about them!

And if the answer happens to be yes, then of course, JUST!!!!! DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is Shia LaBeouf and he approves of you buying the thing.

This is my personal list, based on my own priorities. Feel free to make your own! Just make sure that you make your money work for you, and not the other way around.

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