Buy Whatever You Want

McLaren 12C Can-Am Edition Racing Concept

“I Want Very Little”

I recently finished listening to an interview on zerototravel.com with Anita Dhake, author of the blog thepowerofthrift.com. Anita retired in her early thirties and has been traveling the world ever since. The entire interview can be found here.

At one point during the interview Anita discusses how she manages to keep her expenses reasonably low while traveling and she said something that made me hit the pause button:

“I buy whatever I want, whenever I want. The trick is that I want very little.”

When I heard this I couldn’t help but think how those simple words encompassed an entire philosophy on life.

Unique Wants

I think that deep down we all simply want happiness in one form or another. This is a shared desire by everyone on this planet. It’s also a desire that dictates almost all of the actions we take on day to day basis.

But outside of happiness, the wants and desires from one person to the next may vary greatly.

Consider Person A who wants a large house, several luxury sports cars, a full wardrobe of clothing for each season, new jewelry every month, and whatever other consumer items may be out there. Then consider Person B who simply wants fulfilling relationships and freedom to do work they feel strongly about without the desire to purchase excessive consumer luxury items.

car
Very rare luxury sports car Person A wants so badly

Neither Person A nor Person B is inherently wrong for having their unique wants, but the difference is that Person B needs to spend a lot less money to fulfill his wants. As a result, Person B has a much higher likelihood of reaching financial independence sooner than Person A since their expenses are much lower.

Spending Isn’t Inherently Bad…

One of  the hottest topics within the personal finance and early retirement community is the topic of minimizing spending. In fact, it’s almost taboo to suggest that you should spend money on anything you don’t absolutely need.

I agree almost entirely with this train of thought, but I think it’s also important to remember that the ultimate goal in life is not to optimize your finances, it’s to optimize your happiness and fulfillment.

With that said, I sometimes find myself getting into the mindset of feeling guilty if I go out to eat too often with a group of friends or spend more than $5 on a movie ticket. My expenses are much lower than the average person my age, but yet I still have a hard time spending money on things I don’t absolutely need.

This is one flaw I’m working on fixing as I journey along slowly towards financial independence. I am beginning to realize that it’s OK to spend money as long as that money is bringing me a ton of joy.

I go to Chipotle several times per month with both my family and friends, but if I tried hard enough I could easily cut this expense out of my life. But the real question is not can I cut this expense out of my life, but rather: will cutting this expense out of my life result in greater net happiness?

In this particular situation the answer is a resounding no. I love eating Chipotle almost more than any other food and the time I get to spend with family and friends during our meal brings me a ton of joy.

chipotle
A logo that makes me smile just from looking at it

…As Long As It Makes Your Life Awesome

On the other hand, over the past couple years I have greatly reduced my shoe purchasing habit. I used to get a new pair of gym shoes roughly every 2-3 months simply because I felt a need to have the latest and greatest sneaker to add to my shoe collection.

After stumbling upon the early retirement community I immediately cut the shoe spending habit out of my life and I have not experienced less fulfillment or happiness because of it.

This brings us to an important point: Don’t just cut down on your expenses for the sake of spending less. Find out what expenditures enhance your life and also what expenditures are wasteful and unnecessary.

When you learn to cut out spending that doesn’t enhance your life, you give yourself the power to be OK with spending on things that do add value to your life. It allows you to not feel guilty about spending on certain things.

If a person finds tremendous value in buying new clothes on a weekly basis then there is nothing wrong with that. But if that person is completely honest with themselves and actually critically questions whether or not those purchases are bringing them joy and happiness I’d be willing to bet that the answer is no.

But it doesn’t matter what I think the right answer is, all that matters is whether or not the person purchasing the clothes finds tremendous joy and fulfillment in those purchases.

Buy Whatever You Want

It’s vitally important to understand what brings you happiness in life and then exclusively limit your purchases to those things that make you happy. So when Anita said “I buy whatever I want, whenever I want. The trick is that I want very little.” that’s a pretty good indication that she has found what does and does not bring her happiness and fulfillment and she spends her money accordingly.

One of the greatest benefits of actually being honest with yourself about what makes you happy is that you’ll likely find you need very little. One way to implement this in your life is to cut out a certain expenditure for a couple weeks and see if your life is noticeably worse because of it. If your life is worse, just bring that spending back.

I think you’ll be greatly surprised at what you actually miss when you cut out certain spending. When you learn to optimize your spending to meet your desire for happiness, you’ll begin to spend less on what doesn’t matter and more on what does.

Feature Photo Credit: McLaren

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14 Replies to “Buy Whatever You Want”

  1. Dogs are considered an unnecessary expense but I realllllyyy want one. I can’t wait for the moment when I can get one! My idea of reaching financial independence doesn’t involve living in the middle of nowhere with a bare bones budget. I’ll optimize in other ways.

  2. I’m kind of the same as Anita. I don’t want that much (outside of growing my wealth to achieve FIRE). My family hates it around Christmas time. There just isn’t a lot of stuff I want. I’ve found that achieving things in life makes me much more happy than buying a new TV or the latest tech gadget out there.

    Great advice. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this concept lately too. Over the last 2 years I sought to optimize our spending. I think we are down to about $50,000 per year for a family of 2 parents and a baby. I’m happy with this. Sure I could cut our $300.00 per month on going out to restaurants, coffee, ice cream, but the enjoyment we get from those outings is substantial.

    I think as you embark on the road toward reducing your spending, it’s a gradual unlearning of things you thought make you happy.

    Cheers to everyone on this path.

  4. This is a very noteworthy observation when it comes to personal finance.
    My take on this, and something I always tell my spendthrift brother, is that “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want”.

    I like the version you presented in this post better than my version… but, my version seems to drive the point home for most people I talk to… even though you really can have everything you want – just not usually at the same time. Unless, as you say, you want very little.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  5. What a great motto to live by! I love thinking of life as one big science experiment where I try a bunch of different things until I find what works best for me. I’ve found that I usually make better decisions by having an overall mindfulness and awareness of the decisions I’m making.

  6. This is a fantastic life philosophy. Once I saw it, I realized I’m living that way to, I just hadn’t created that combination of words yet to describe it. My wife and I also look at our spending choices as if we were to die tomorrow, would we regret not making that purchase? That instantly helps us put our purchasing decisions into perspective. We buy the thing’s that makes our life on this earth the happiest and most complete without guilt or regret. Everything else we pass on. Thanks for sharing these words.

  7. I love the power of thrift. I think a lot of Anita’s material is helpful and quirky. I hate that a lot of people believe that spending is bad, and frugality is a constant battle against spending. In my mind, frugality is just focused spending. I have a friend who thinks I’ve been trying to convince them not to eat out every Thursday. In reality, I’ve been trying to persuade them to evaluate the value of eating out. I’m sure this is bad communication on my part as much as it is on their part. Today I got a message from them saying that they did go out and realized that it wasn’t worth it, the food made them feel sick, and the company wasn’t worth it. I think sometimes we have to judge what we want to spend money on with emotion, not logic.
    I enjoyed this post, and I’m glad I came across through Rockstar Finance.

  8. I really enjoyed your article as it fits within my Buddhist life philosophy – the key is in understanding that things and stuff can give you momentary relative happiness. But absolute happiness can only come from the development of character and personal growth.
    I think now I’m more likely to buy those few things that I really do want~ Even if I don’t need them.

  9. It was one of those weeks so I grabbed lunch from Panera with a gift card. Sometimes the lack of stress by having a back up plan, and not getting down on myself for not cooking, while eating vegetables instead of something fried is ok. I realized where my schedule is off from normal, and see what I need to do to improve it – crock pot on Sunday, with the option to freeze some for a week like this. 🙂
    All things in moderation, including moderation…right?

  10. Great post. I’m with you I used to but a lot of shoes and stuff, nothing terribly expensive but $30 here $50 there adds up. Since finding the FI community I find myself “shopping” online and putting things in my cart…but not buying it. I really think twice as far as “do I really need another black dress”? What I want more specifically what I want to spend money in has changed… a lot.

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