Friday, 15 February 2013

RULE # 3: Don’t buy something you don’t need

When a new product comes out, we often think that our lives are incomplete without. We become entranced with new products, and then we start to think “how could I function without this smartphone?” “how could I travel without my GPS?” or “I just wouldn’t have felt myself if I wore that dingy old thing one more time. I’m glad I bought this new one.”

Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff, suggests that we are all (by "all," I mean North Americans) victims of a phenomenon called “perceived obsolescence.” Perceived obsolescence is when we think we need something to be in sync with the crowd, but it is really just falling for the latest trend. Perceived obsolescence is the addition of that new, shiny, chrome button on your blouse when last season’s in-style metal for buttons was gold, and we “gotta have it”. It is the difference in shoe length for men - yes, the longer and pointier shoe - because we all know that makes their feet look bigger, and men just want their feet to look bigger!  But are their feet really bigger?  I think we all know the answer to that.

Many of us believe we will be better humans for succumbing to the pressures of magazine ads and human-mannequins that flaunt the latest fashions. It is subconsciously drilled into our brains that those who do succumb to this pressure become “more than human” because their newest technology allows them to do things no other human could. As a culture, it is pretty common to shudder with disgust at the prospect of “old” in preference for “new.” But this mentality does not benefit us as consumers, it drains our pockets! Perceived obsolescence is really a mentality that renders us all slaves to the market, instead of becoming free agents of our own lives.

Really, I know it seems simple, but again, I reiterate: don’t buy something you just don’t need. I mean, do you really need it? or do you just think you do?


  1. I feel like this is one of those lose-lose situations in our society. If we give into this "perceived obsolescence" then we are doing damage to both our wallets and even our sense of self, but if we resist, we are open to the criticism of NOT jumping on the latest bandwagon and becoming a "hipster." I guess the important thing is to just not care what people think and try to live the most responsibly.
    I try to think back to, Is this necessary for me NOW? (Opposed to, "could I maybe possibly need this in the future?") seconded by asking whether or not it is good for the environment if I purchase it. More often than not, the answer is "No" and I try and put whatever it is back on the shelf.

  2. This is a really good point. When the newest items come out I always try to wait at least a month before I even think to buy it (especially with electronics). I find that after that month I don't feel the "need" as much and just pass it up.

  3. whenever the topic of 'don't buy stuff you don't need' comes up I always think back to Christmas 2001. I was 11 and i DESPERATELY wanted a Bratz doll. I don't know why. But I reallllly wanted one. I think all the girls in my class had them or something. My dad thought they were ridiculous (how smart he was in hindsight) but I wanted one bad. And then I got it for Christmas and I remember looking at it like 'THIS? I wanted THIS? whyyyyy? It doesn't even do anything!

  4. We are always using money that we don't have to buy shit we don't need... but in some cases, the payoff is quite enjoyable. I think the "Don't Buy Something You Don't Need" rule is an archaic and completely unreasonable answer to modern society's problems.

    I occasionally purchase things that I don't need: wine, guitars, good books, bad mp3s... but they all enhance the enjoyability-factor of my life and break the sometimes inescapable mundanity of our "student-in-debt" reality. I will make no apologies for these purchases. Obviously, some restraint must be exercised when purchasing items. I agree, we cannot frivilously buy everything that strikes our fancy. But a dogmatic rule about not buying things we don't need feels stale, preachy and unnecessary. Don't worry, I still love you Deanna :)

    1. Thanks for bringing this up. Entertainment is definitely necessary for our happiness as people. All of the things you listed, music, good wine with good friends, and books are arguably things we do need to stay healthy and happy. By no means was I suggesting not to buy things that entertain us - that would be absurd. Budgeting for entertainment is an important part to living in the moment, as well as thinking about the future.

    2. Graham, I agree that buying things we don't "need" isn't something to be always strictly followed when you're trying to enjoy your life. I don't need to go to the movies every week, I don't need the the latest trend in jackets, and I don't NEED to spend money on gas when I could take the bus for free. But it's about looking at the payoff - sometimes those things ARE worth it to make this miserable life more enjoyable.

      But when you're TRYING to get out of debt or save your money, this rule is KEY. Maybe if you're privileged and have never experienced poverty or trying to balance the mortgage and still putting food on the table, it's not a problem. But if you're really trying to save your money, this "dogmatic" rule should be No. 1 not no. 3.

      This is neither "preachy" or "unnecessary,' but rather SOUND advice.

  5. I am definitely an impulse shopper. I see something I like so I buy it, but almost every time once I get home I completely forget about my new purchase or I experience buyer’s remorse.

  6. I always purchase things I don't need and don't really give it a second thought until the time comes when I have to look at my bank account, doing this usually scares me to death and makes me more responsible with my money at least for a short time.