I’m about to do something rare: I’m going to give you some financial advice.
I know. What? Does she have any background in that? Not really, although I’ve been reading some awesome books on it. But as far back as 2009, I’ve been sharing this one rule with people who promptly laugh at me, then stop to think about it, and usually end up telling me it really works. It is one of the tools I am using to become free of consumer debt by March 3, 2016. (Now you all have to hold me accountable to that goal, okay? Thanks!)
When you want something but you’re not sure if you should buy it, there are many tried-and-true methods to determine whether to get it or forget it.
David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, suggests stopping to figure out how many hours it took you to earn the price of the thing you want, and ask yourself if it’s worth that much of your time. Rapper Xzibit said in an interview for VIBE Magazine that if you can’t buy three of whatever it is you’re considering, you shouldn’t buy it, and I think that’s brilliant (yes, even for huge purchases like houses).
Where the hours-to-buy-this rule fails me is that my cash flow is often sporadic, things like royalties and residuals make it hard to say what my hourly wage is, and many of my purchases are things that contribute to my money-earning capacity. Xzibit’s rule is awesome for medium and large price tags, but when the small buys add up — “Oh, these earrings are only $9.95 a pair, of course I can afford three” — you can be fooled into thinking you’re a smart spender when you’re really bleeding to death by pennies.
So what do I do? I look at the price and forecast how many times I’m going to use the thing. The amount of times I will (not might) use it needs to be equal to or greater than the amount of dollars I pay. (NOTE: I realized after writing and editing this piece that Gail Vaz-Oxlade, whose work I admire, has touched on this rule and published it before I did. But my version of the rule, while similar, is better *sticking my tongue out* so keep reading! And if you’re familiar with Gail’s “‘how much per use’ calculation” keep reading anyway, because I’d love to hear how you think this stacks up against it.)
A dollar per use. It’s so simple, but it works. Say there’s an all-white party coming up and I see a gorgeous white clutch. It’s on sale for $19.99 and there’s no tax. Should I get it?
“Well, I’ll wear it to tomorrow night’s party for sure. And maybe to one more all-white thing this summer, and I have a couple of other outfits it could go with” … If I cannot see myself using it 20 times before it gets dirty, lost, ruined, whatever, it goes back on the shelf.
Not only does this curb impulse shopping, it helps you focus on quality over quantity of stuff. Shopping for fall boots on a budget? Don’t get the adorable expensive suede ones, because you can’t wear them on wet or muddy days and they’ll be back in the closet before you know it. Shopping for winter boots instead? Here in Toronto, you can easily wear those 100 times in a year, so you don’t have to be as frugal — especially if they’re good enough (waterproof, warm, comfortable, the heel doesn’t wear down easily, etc) to last you several winters. If you’re buying a new piece of equipment, seriously considering how many times you’ll use it before you upgrade again. It might be worth getting the better model now, especially if you make money with it and you’ll soon receive from it more money than you paid to get it.
Honestly, how many of you have closets full of clothes you’ve only worn once, drawers full of gadgets you never use, things you bought to go with other things that ended up just draining your bank account? Stop it. Your money is worth more than that.
If you’re shopping for children, I advise using this rule even more. Sure it’s back-to-school season and everybody wants new stuff, but will she grow out of that jacket before she wears it enough times to make it worth the purchase? He asked for this game for his birthday, but does he tend to get bored with new games after a week and never play them again? We’re all going to spend and we’re all going to shop, but if we do it more carefully we can feel better about it after.
I’m a big fan of dollar stores, especially since adopting my rule. Most things there work just as well as their other-store counterparts. When my designer classes case got really beat-up from living in my purse, I found a new one at Dollarama. Cost: $1.13, taxes in. Uses: 760 and counting.
As with all rules, there is an exception. When pictures are going to be taken, or video, you have no way of measuring how many people will see you wearing or using that purchase, so go nuts. I plan on getting married once; I don’t expect to find a wedding dress for $1. But I think you’ll find if you use my rule regularly, you’ll also get better at not going over-the-top when it comes to your other spending.
Now, my dollar-per-use rule does have a serious flaw when it comes to buying food and buying experiences — clearly most meals are only eaten once (although I adore leftovers) and I don’t have the knowledge or the desire to figure out how many different muscles and organs will “use” a plate of food; and how am I supposed to know whether the trip to Puerto Rico will be worth that special sale price? These are times when David Chilton and Xzibit’s rules will probably serve you best.
But I do advocate this from years of personal experience. The amount of times you will use it should be equal to or greater than the amount of dollars you pay. (Convert from other currencies if necessary, lol.) Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes!