November 26, 2012

Applying Reason to Our Spending

ReasonableMy parents certainly made some mistakes when I was growing up. Forcing me to attend church with them for the first 15 years of my life comes to mind. But they also did some things right too. One of the things for which I am especially grateful concerns the values toward money and material possessions they instilled in me. They helped me learn to apply reason, skepticism, and critical thinking to shopping, and this has served me well over the years. Sure, I have made some embarrassing mistakes when I set these skills aside and bought something on impulse, but this has been a rare exception.

Some of the lessons that have stuck with me over the years include:
  • Learning to distinguish between needs and wants and making sure that genuine needs take priority over mere wants.
  • No matter what the price is, it is not a bargain if you don't really need or want it.
  • People who have lots of material possessions are not necessarily any happier than those who do not.
  • Take the time to research products in advance to buy more reliable items at reasonable prices (i.e., good values).
Most helpful of all is the admonition to slow down and think through one's decisions before rushing into anything. Today, I take the time to research almost everything I buy that is not a basic necessity. This way, I end up feeling much better about what I buy because I know it is a quality product. And more often than not, I realize along the way that I can do without the product after all.

To my parents' lessons, I'd add one of my own that I have learned the hard way:
When it comes to certain electronic items (e.g., home audio, computer, appliances), it may be better to buy a quality item known to be reliable the first time rather than gambling on cheap alternatives that may not last.
How's that for a relevant consideration on Cyber Monday? On multiple occasions, I have ended up spending more money over time on repairs and replacements when the cheap item breaks than I would have if I had bought a higher quality product first. Sometimes this was unavoidable because I could not afford the higher quality product, but most of the time, it was just a matter of me being cheap.

The skills many of us have developed that led us to atheism (i.e., reason, skepticism, critical thinking) have many applications in our daily lives outside of religion. For me, shopping-related decisions is one such application and one that has produced tangible benefits over the years. Skepticism can save you money.