For someone addicted to buying stuff as a source of satisfaction going cold turkey on the buying habit, like I did, is not recommended. Indeed, you either need a strong will or a great support network.

Instead I think a solution which works brilliantly as a first step is to buy all your things used(*).

(*) I have the following exceptions: Underwear, socks, footwear, safety equipment and things which I have not managed to acquire in a used condition after several months of trying (usually rare books and tools).

Buying used has the following consequences

  • It sets up a consumption barrier. Since the used market is not nearly as efficient as the new market this often means spending time which again means more time for deliberation.
  • Used goods are cheaper. Often they are just as good. Sometimes they are better because the kinks have been worked out.
  • Buying used typically means buying someone else’s unused things. This takes unused items out of “noncirculation” and reduces the total impact of consumerism. Those who are in the business of producing junk that wears out or must be replaced due to changes in fashion hate this. The environment and your grandchildren (or your friend’s grandchildren) love this even though they are too young to know it yet. Also companies that make solid things appreciate it. You can recognize them when they offer maintenance, parts, or still service 20-30 years old things.
  • Now you may say that buying used puts more money back in the hands of consumers. However, it typically puts less money back than they paid in the first place which cuts down the total level of destruction. The difference in price is conversely what builds up your savings or investment account.
  • It puts you in the loop. Once you start selling you begin to think of ownership more efficiently. Money is just a deposit you pay to temporarily own stuff you actually use. The “rent” is then the difference between what you paid minus what you sold it for. Sometimes you can even make a profit. Unlike a consumer who pays full price and discards his stuff at zero price, your effective price will be much lower. For example, we just sold a lawn mower for $20 which we paid $25 for three years ago. I could probably have gotten $25, but I didn’t feel like negotiating.

This approach works optimally when you go all out and when you detach yourself from the ideas of buying new and from holding on to all your stuff “just in case you’re going to need it someday”. I always think of my stuff as everything being for sale. This means that I continuously think about what things are worth to me. It also means that I usually don’t pay too much to get things in the first place.

Of course you don’t need to go all out. You can start slowly. Next time you need something look on craigslist, ebay, and the used section on amazon (or similar sites — those are just the ones I use) first. Keep in mind that while you may not find a “bid” this week it may be there next week. I usually observe the market for a while until I get an understanding of the price.

My most recent craigslist buy was two 2 ton jack stands and a 3 ton floor jack for $45. I can likely sell those again for what I paid for them.

Maybe you’ll find you just like the thrill of the hunt and the fact that there’s more of a story how you “won” on eBay than how you drove down to the mall and paid $99.95 for a new lawn mower.

Originally posted 2010-05-08 10:29:15.