Buying things is great. It can bring you immediate joy and also help you maximize your lifestyle structure for long term returns on happiness. But sometimes we all buy things that bring us only a small amount of immediate joy, and don’t actually contribute to our lifestyle for long term happiness. What you need is a “buying practice” that helps determine what’s worth buying and what’s worth skipping.
1. This isn’t advice on how not to spend
A “buying practice” isn’t a way of not spending money. Sometimes it will help you not purchase a certain thing, but it’s always because there is a better thing to purchase. A buying practice isn’t a replacement for budgeting and financial literacy, it’s a way of handling spending money such that you get the most short-term and long-term joy from the spending money which you do have.
2. Keep a dream list
Keep a list of specific things that you’re on the hunt for. Don’t write down generics like “clothing,” “makeup,” or “home goods.” Your dream list needs to be specific products or usable things. Instead of “clothing,” write down “black bomber” or “white sneakers” or “dad hat.” Instead of “makeup” we’re looking for “beauty blender,” and instead of “home goods” you want to put “espresso machine.” Give yourself enough definition so that you’re not just purchasing clothes for the sake of purchasing clothes, yet leave enough space so that you can be surprised and inspired in stores. What can go on the dream list? Anything you buy! Products are the obvious choice, but you can also list food items and restaurants, drinks, subscriptions to streaming services, and even apartments and cars!
3. Refine the dream list
Hopefully the dream list is a note on your phone or something you can take with you into the wild. While out and about, refine the dream list. Instead of impulse buying things that look cool, but the thing on the dream list and wait to see if you still want it later. When something goes on the dream list, it enters your happiness vocabulary for buying practices. If it stays on the list long enough, it will probably change and evolve. You may realize you can get a cheaper model, a different color, or you don’t need it at all.
4. Refer to the dream list when shopping
The dream list is your guide to buying practices–not because you can and should only buy what is on the dream list, but because it helps you determine the value of that super cute unicorn pillow or fresh succulent you discovered in the store. If you see something in a store, and realize it will bring you more short-term and long-term joy relative to its cost than the other things on your dream list, then it’s a good purchase! In fact, most of the reason you have a dream list is to locate the relative value of the things you spot while shopping. A dream list can also transform the way you eat out, encouraging you to try new foods and new restaurants which have entered your vocabulary and imagination.
5. Rinse and repeat
Walk around your house and ask yourself about the objects that are there. Did they bring you long-term and short-term joy? How much did they cost? Use what you learn from your reflections to update your dream list and refine your buying practice. Remember, it’s not about not spending, it’s about spending smarter and spending happier.
Letting a dream list inform your buying practice is all about taking control of your lifestyle and taking back your imagination from advertisers who prefer that you float in an ocean of products on the tides that they create. Be your own influencer, be your own visionary, and be your own CFO. Have a vision for where your own brand is going, and let it be defined enough to guide your actions but fluid enough to change and improve over time!