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Why Do You Buy the Things That You Buy?

by Miranda Marquit

Lately, I’ve been trying to add a little more introspection to my spending choices. Asking myself “why” is a big part of that equation. It can be easy — especially during certain times of the year, like the holidays, or when you’re on vacation — to just spend money without really thinking about why you’re doing it.

We recently had our flooring redone throughout the house. As part of the process, we decided we wanted the rest of our home to look good, too. We realized that there’s a lot of unnecessary clutter, so as we moved everything to make way for the flooring installers, we sorted through our possessions and ended up taking a couple of car loads of things to the thrift store as donations.

This process forced to find a place for everything in a way that kept our home attractive, and it also encouraged us to start thinking carefully before buying things. We don’t want clutter to overtake our home again.

What are the Motivations Behind Your Purchase?

Why do you buy things?

Will a new car help you achieve your financial goals?

Look for the motivations behind a purchase you are making. Do you really want a bigger TV, or do you think that you are “supposed” to have one so that you can impress the neighbors or your relatives when they come over? Do you really want to load up on all that junk food? Or are you hungry right now, and vulnerable while grocery shopping? Do you really want that new shirt? Or is it something that looks like it would be fun to have right now?

Often, when we buy something without thinking through our motivations, we come to regret it later. There are a number of things that I have that I don’t particularly care for, and that I wish I hadn’t bought. If I’d thought it through a little bit, I would have realized that I was just temporarily interested.

Really examine why you are buying something. Figure out whether you are making a purchase because you really need it, you think you want it, you’ll really enjoy it for a long period of time, or because you are trying to impress someone else. You might be surprised at how often you only think you want something because of a short-term fad, or due to a passing fancy that is likely to disappear after a couple of weeks. You might also be surprised, when you really get honest with yourself, how often you make purchases because you want the status that comes with certain items.

Remind Yourself of Your Priorities

The best way to combat the tendency to buy things you don’t need — or even particularly want — is to remind yourself of your priorities. Before you make a purchase, consider the following:

  • Will this purchase help you reach your long term goals for your finances?
  • Will this purchase actually enhance your life? Really improve your quality of living?
  • Can you even truly afford it?
  • What will you have to give up in order to make this purchase?

The first two questions are especially important if you want to make sure that your spending matches your priorities. Look to your future and decide what you want out of life. A lot of the spending choices you make now can affect your situation later. That expensive SUV might be fun to drive around, and it might help you look good in front of your friends and family, but the cost of it can trap you. Additionally, the fact that you had a fancy vehicle now will be little comfort when you don’t have enough money to travel as much as you would like during retirement.

Really think about your purchases, and really examine the “why” behind your purchases. Then figure out if the reasons match up with your short term and long term goals for your finances and your life. Once you start thinking this way, it will be easier to make meaningful purchases, and avoid buying things that put your future at risk.


Published or updated December 12, 2012.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Timothy Mobley

Really good points! Behind every purchase is a psychological motivation. It would be good to stop and think about it. We may just avoid a lot of trouble. It’s actually true not just with purchases.

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2 krantcents

Reflecting on your decisioins is always a good thing. I tend to think about my successes and failures in order to improve the next outcomes. I do the same on goals as well. I think it is worthwhile and improves your judgment and decision making.

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3 Lena @ WhatMommyDoes

Too funny! I just wrote a post today about how I buy things that I’m CONDITIONED to buy, not necessarily what I NEED to buy. I think you hit the nail on the head with the status part – if I’m being honest, I’d say I buy many things due to the status connotations associated with them. Everyone likes to fit in. :)

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4 Grayson @ Debt Roundup

I used to purchase things without thinking about it and then came across the dreaded buyer’s remorse. Now I think deeper about why I want to make the purchase and sometimes wait to see if I will come across reasons not to buy.

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