Stuff lust

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and worked as a financial adviser before retiring at age 35. He is married, has three kids and has returned to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

Most people seem to love buying stuff. Whether it’s to complete a collection, to feel control over their environment or to compensate for some insecurity, we all have moments when it just feels good to acquire something new. I view myself as fairly restrained, but I really like gadgets. And Apple has announced some really cool gadgets lately. I watched the iPhone 5 announcement and I also watched the iPad mini announcement. Those are some shiny toys, and I would really like to own them. I can see myself enjoying the faster connection and faster processor of the new iPhone, but my current iPhone 4 works just fine. Until it’s broken (or at least off contract), I can’t really justify replacing it. I can see myself reading more ebooks on the iPad mini, but I don’t need a second gadget. And I can think of lots of other things I could do with a similar amount of money.¬†Well, my iMac backup drive and the internal hard drive both filled up recently. So, instead of buying an expensive new gadget, I bought a relatively cheap external hard drive. Now I have a project of moving backup files and media files and resetting up my media player. That’s enough to scratch my particular budget itch.

I used the same trick with my son. Money burns a hole in his pocket and he can’t be happy until it’s all spent. He’s been saving up for an iPod Touch and he’s just about there. On Saturday, we went to the mall to meet a friend from out of town for lunch. The kids each brought their piggy banks and we stopped in Toys R Us for my other son to use the rest of the gift card his grandparents gave him for his birthday. Well, my son got caught up in the excitement of being in a toy shop. He suddenly decided he doesn’t want to save for an iPod Touch anymore, he’d rather spend all his money. Worse, he wants to buy stuff that I know he won’t use more than once or twice. For example, he wanted to buy a crayon melter / recycler that reforms old crayons into new crayons. It’s a neat idea, but he’s eight and doesn’t draw with crayons anymore. He had about $3.50 in change, so I suggested a crazy carpet.

So now he still has his $159 in his bank account, he spent almost all his change that he brought, and he took his crazy carpet to the hill and had a lot of fun on it. He was able to spend some money, get something new, and not derail his savings plan. He still talks about buying a crayon melter instead of an iPod Touch, but we’ll see if we can refocus him on the longer-term goal. After all, we wanted him to develop the ability to set a long term goal, work toward it and be patient until he achieves it. And if distracting himself with a cheap new sled helps him reach his goal, that’s a useful ability to have.

Do you sometimes need to satisfy short-term urges in order to focus on long-term goals? How do you keep short-term desires from crowding out long-term plans?

2 thoughts on “Stuff lust”

  1. while it’s only directly applicable to a minority of people, I find stoicism helps when dealing with such urges. I honestly don’t think it makes sense to expect a child to understand the true importance of things with such a limited world view. One helpful thing could be letting the child fail and fail early, but also making sure to remind him/her of the decisions later should help add perspective.

    One thing someone I know did is to take a recording of the kid showing off the new, short-sighted purchase and also ask *why* it was purchased. You can also ask questions like “how often and why do you think you’ll use XYZ”? Looking at one’s own actions with hindsight can be very powerful.

  2. Sometimes I look at why I want something. Is it because it’s a new gadget, or does it service a larger need? The first glace of a crayon melter is cool, but is it showing that your son wants to start playing with more “grown up / dangerous” stuff? Something that can show him he has impact on something else?

    I had an EZ Bake oven as a child, the refills for that set are killer expensive. For me, it wasn’t the toy that was fun, it was the baking and decorating and frosting I wanted to do. Closely supervised, my mother started allowing me to make full size cakes in her oven, and do all the frosting etc myself. More cake for less money, plus it took longer (kept me out of her way) and I had a sense of accomplishment.

    I don’t know how much a crayon melter is, but I’m sure a similar activity could be done with your help in the kitchen, using items from the recycle bin to mold the finished product?

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