Learn to Want Less

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The only way to acquire wealth is to spend less than you earn. This is why one of the most common topics in personal finance is how to save money. It’s why there’s an abundance of articles floating around online with titles such as:

“50 Ways to Save More This Year”

“5 Ways to Reduce Your Phone Bill”

“How to Save 25% on Your Next TV Purchase”

“10 Ways to Pay Less for a New Car”

And while these articles are helpful, there’s an even more effective way to save money that very few of these articles mention:

 

Want less stuff.

 

Taking a Step Back

The common way of thinking about saving and spending is:

I need items X, Y, and Z. Now how can I be a smart consumer and save as much as possible on X, Y, and Z?

There is a flaw in this mindset. We are looking for ways to save money on items before even considering if we truly need these items in our life.

A better way to approach the saving/spending question is to take a step back and ask ourselves a simple question: Will purchasing X, Y, or Z add a huge amount of value to my life?

By thinking about saving and spending this way, we force ourselves to think about how to maximize well-being as opposed to minimize spending.

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Do I Need That?

How can we know ahead of time if a purchase will actually improve our quality of life? Try this exercise: starting from the moment you think of something you want – whether it’s a major purchase like a car or a minor purchase like new headphones – attempt to go thirty days without buying this item.

Over the course of these thirty days, if you find yourself wishing you owned that specific item because it would make your life significantly easier, it might actually be a purchase worth making. On the other hand, if you find that life goes on as usual and you have no immediate need for that item, it’s likely something you don’t need.

Absence has this effect on us. When we’re forced to live without something for an extended period of time – whether it’s a car, new headphones, a cell phone, or cable television – we quickly find out whether or not the absence of that item makes our life considerably worse or not. 

You can also use this trick for items you already own. Try going thirty days without watching television. At the end of the thirty days, if you find yourself missing the entertainment value the television provides, then keep it. But if you find other ways to pass the time – reading, writing, exercising, spending time with family – you may consider getting rid of the television entirely.

This exercise can be as extreme as you want. If you live in a city with extensive public transportation, try living without your car for thirty days. You might find that it’s difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient – if this is the case, switch back to using your car.

On the other hand, you might find that it’s less stressful than fighting traffic each day. You also might decide to get rid of your car entirely and discover that it significantly improves your financial situation since you no longer have a car payment, insurance payment, or the need to pay for gas or maintenance.

The Benefits of Less

There are countless benefits of owning less.

One obvious benefit is the fact that owning less stuff means you own more time.

Instead of spending time coupon clipping, deal-hunting, and driving to stores for sales, you bypass these activities entirely by deciding to live with less.

The more stuff you own, the more time you have to spend maintaining, repairing, and cleaning. By choosing to own less, you are choosing to spend less time on upkeep. You’re choosing to place more importance on your time than on consumer goods, which is a decision that yields high returns.

There will always be more consumer items, more manufactured crap that comes out year after year, but time is a finite resource. Once it has been used, you can never get it back. By owning less, you have more time to actually do things, travel places, have experiences – all of which have been shown to bring more happiness in the long-term than any consumer purchase.

The second obvious benefit to owning less is purely financial: by owning less, you spend less. By spending less, you achieve financial independence sooner. Choosing to own less is always a better financial decision than coupon clipping, deal-hunting, and bargain shopping. The individual who chooses not to buy a new gadget is always better off financially than the individual who buys the gadget for 50% off. 

Instead of looking to save more, look to want less.

Feature photo credit: trees

I strongly suggest using free financial tools like Personal Capital to track your net worth, spending habits, and cash flow to help keep an eye on your money. The more you track your finances, the better you get at growing your wealth!

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16 Replies to “Learn to Want Less”

  1. This is definitely key to anyone trying to be financially successful. It doesn’t matter what you make, there’s always more stuff that can be bought. If you can’t train yourself want less stuff, it’s always going to be difficult to get ahead financially.

    1. Well said – there will ALWAYS be more stuff to buy. Wanting less is such a simple hack to reduce spending, but it can be hard to embrace if you’re not used to it. The good news is, the more often you choose to own less, the easier it becomes to say no to impulse purchases.

  2. I’m a minimalist at heart. I don’t like acquiring things at all. I have given up my car. I’ve gone months without TV. I even gave up the smartphone! Yes, I went back to a flip phone and I love it. Now, I am more engaged in the real world and not online all the time. I once read that a CEO of a tech startup gave up his smart phone for this same reason.

      1. I share a very similar mindset – to me the greatest benefit of owning less is just owning more of my time. I don’t have to keep tabs on all my stuff, clean my stuff, repair my stuff, etc. Less stuff = less upkeep.

  3. So very true! I started on my journey to financial independence just over a year ago now. We weren’t huge spenders to begin with but living with the deliberate mindset of buying/consuming less to reduce spending, it’s really opened our eyes up to a new way of living. It’s been a process but we’re finally at the point now where we just don’t really want anything and anything we do buy is a deliberate purchase. Like you say – it’ll help us reach FI all the sooner! Great article.

    1. That’s so great to hear! It truly is a joy to realize the benefits of owning less and practicing mindful spending. It’s not about having a goal of zero spending, it’s about being intentional with our spending habits. Cheers to you guys for being deliberate with your saving and spending 🙂

  4. I try to avoid getting into the next tech thing, because if I never used it, I don’t know what I’m missing. Same for other random things. I only watch shows I want to watch, not ones everyone is talking about like GOT or Breaking Bad. It helps takes cravings away!

  5. I have about 20 items on my Amazon wish list and everytime I am on there I go through them and weed them out. Sometimes I wonder what the heck I was thinking wanting it in the first place – I am certainly glad I didn’t buy it in the impulsive moment I thought I wanted it. 🙂 I will often walk through Target and gather things in my arms before going and putting them all back. I figure if I didn’t know it existed 5 minutes before I walked in why do I feel the need to have it? The mind can play funny tricks on you if you let it.

    1. I think the Target scenario is pretty common for most people haha – I think part of it is because it’s literally someone’s job to design the store layout in a way that makes you buy more stuff than you had initially planned on buying when you walked in. And great point, most impulse purchases don’t really add any value to our lives, they just seem like good ideas at the time 🙂

  6. I don’t think the key is to want less. Rather, success depends on wanting more! The more you want material things, the more you’ll be driven to work hard.

    However, the key is delayed gratification instead of instant gratification.

    1. I think it’s possible to be driven to work harder without wanting more material things. For me, I’m not interested in acquiring more stuff, I want more freedom over my time. This is what drives me to work harder. I do agree with you that delayed gratification is the key to getting almost anything you want – a long term focus almost always trumps a short term focus.

  7. One of my goals in 2017 is to donate more clothes and more useless stuff I have sitting in my attic. I already got 2 medium sized trash bags of clothes and need to schedule a day to drop them off.
    My wife and I went to the store the other night, and for the most part, I just kept my head down and didn’t focus on ANY merchandise, lol. I’m going to try to make this a habit and whenever I do need something, experiment and see if the lack of it is really affecting my life. Thank you for an eye-opening post!

    1. That’s a great goal for 2017 – I’m also planning on giving away clothes and other crap laying around my house that I rarely use. It’s actually amazing how much I realize I have laying around that I never use once I make it a priority to own less stuff haha

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