I just met A_&J_ from Our Take on Freedom on their way south and we spent the morning talking about different extreme early retirement issues. One of the questions, which I answered with an eloquent *mumble mumble*, which is why I should stay away from radio shows, and subsequently thought of a better way to answer was:

“Do I ever feel like splurging?”

It’s a really tricky question to answer, because I don’t actually think about it. It’s a bit like being a vegetarian and trying to answer if you ever feel like having a steak and if no, why not. It’s a reasonable question for semi-vegetarians (the chicken and fish kind), but if you don’t eat meat at all, actually eating meat becomes somewhat of a non-issue. To a vegetarian (I was strict for 2 years), meat becomes to greasy to the palate, kind of rubbery after a couple of months because your frame of taste reference changes. Meat is indeed rubbery and greasy compared to vegetables.

In retrospect, I would answer the splurging question in a similar way. In terms of acquiring stuff(*), it’s like being on a diet. It’s not a diet in the sense of sacrificing to lose weight. It’s more of a diet in the sense of not eating certain things, like vegetarians don’t eat meat, paleo don’t eat starch, warriors don’t eat breakfast and Muslims don’t eat pork. That kind of diet.

(*) I mean this in a wide sense and so this discussion includes buying services, like trips and food.

My “buying diet” generally includes the following rules

  • Don’t buy new unless you absolutely have to. I won’t buy new unless I’ve tried acquiring things used for several months. I do this both for resource reasons (avoiding contributing to the wasteful behavior of consumerism—saving stuff from the landfill or people’s garages and attics) and also to make my holding cost much smaller if I decide I no longer need it and sell it again (to avoid wasting “usage” by keeping it unused.
  • Don’t buy something unless you sold something. This is a looser rule, but generally I will assign specific income streams to pay. Most of my purchases are funded from selling old stuff. I rarely add “fresh money”.

These two rules work for me. Naturally they prevent splurging.

Do I ever feel like violating them. Sometimes yes. However, splurging has consequences namely that I risk ending up with stuff I didn’t really want anyway. By putting limiters in place which go beyond what you’re capable of spending, then first of all, I don’t stress about overspending or having any regret about the things I buy—I did after all “spend” a lot of effort acquiring them. Second, it keeps the inflow of stuff to the essentials, that is, things which I deliberately want rather than things which might be fun but turn out not to be leaving me stuck with having to get rid of them again.

You see, I also have rules for getting rid of stuff.

  • If it isn’t garbage, it can’t be thrown in the trash.
  • I can’t simply hand it over to Goodwill and then have them throw it in the trash.

From these rules follow acquisition rule #4: I can’t buy stuff that turns into trash. This actually excludes most stuff bought at standard retailers — I have to buy the good stuff.

I think these rules maximize my happiness in the long run and they leave the planet in a better shape too.

Originally posted 2010-11-23 15:57:12.