Buyer Beware

Calling myself "thrifty" is a nice way to say I'm a cheapskate. I'm a firm believer in the saying "a penny saved is a penny earned". For me this attitude toward my finances has more to do with being aware of what I consume than it does with finding a good deal. It also stems from an effort to continually evaluate why I buy what I buy. If I see a coupon for something that is 1/2 off for an item I don't really need, I try to resist the urge to buy it. I will be the first to admit that I can be enticed by a low price. However, having a good understanding of what I feel is important for my own life and happiness ensures I don't buy things I don't need and can't afford. 

I am not a fan of buying on credit. When I say "buying on credit" I mean paying interest in order to have something immediately. I don't mind using credit cards while staying up-to-date on payments to avoid interest. Credit cards are convenient at checkout and some offer excellent reward programs.

The type of "buying on credit" I try to avoid is for big stuff like a car. The salesperson always asks the same question, "What would you like your monthly payment to be?" They automatically assume I plan to finance. Why shouldn't they? It seems most large purchases are bought on credit now; furniture, appliances, homes, vehicles, just to name the biggies. I try to keep in mind though that when I start talking about financing terms with a salesperson, that's an indicator I'm buying something based on desire not necessity. Of course they want to know what I'd like my monthly payment to be. They can alter the financing terms as needed to make things work with my monthly budget. If I commit to financing they're collecting interest and I'll probably end up buying a more expensive car than if I were just purchasing it outright. Buying on credit means the consumer gets what they want when they want it. The problem I have with this is that it never really forces me to think about what those purchases afford me or cost me in terms of real happiness. 

Advertisers like us to believe that buying their product will make us feel good. They do this by connecting their products to our identity. I feel a good example of this is the "droid" commercials.

"Turning you into an instrument of efficiency" 

"It's not an upgrade to your phone, it's an upgrade to yourself"

By connecting the idea of productiveness and efficiency to a product and then suggesting that same product is as much a part of our being as our DNA, Droid almost ensures a consumer won't be thinking rationally when they buy their $300 smart phone and sign a 2 year contract at $60 per month. I know that these commercials are a little over the top and weird, but I used them just to show how advertisers are skilled in their tactics and in our heads way more than we realize.

I do feel it is okay to want things. I just think it is important to understand why we want what we want. I've found that a lot of times when I buy a material good, I'm buying because I want something other than the good itself. Buying a new guitar is not going to make me an awesome guitar player. Diligent practice will make me an awesome guitar player and I shouldn't need to spend $1,000 to develop good practice habits.

My point in all of this is that when we make financial decisions based on our perception of the experience the item will bring us, our judgement becomes clouded. I simply want to be a good steward in this life. That is why I feel I should take my buying decisions seriously and be critical when I do decide to buy.

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