Choosing what — and whether — to buy.

While visiting my dad recently I enjoyed a whole bunch of regional delicacies. Although I get irritated with those who claim it’s my job to uphold the economy by spending lots of money, I do believe in supporting small local businesses.

Or so I said every time I visited a South Jersey custard stand. Rationalization is a wonderful thing.

Here in Seattle I’m a fan of the farmers’ market, where I’ve spent as much as $5.99 for a pound of cherries. Normally I won’t spend that much per pound for meat.

But I knew that an actual farmer was profiting, rather than an agricultural middleman or a supermarket chain. I grew up in a farm region and know how hard it is for small growers to make a living.

I could spend $5.99 on a half-gallon of ice cream that’s actually become 1.5 quarts thanks to downsizing. Or I could spend $5.99 on something that’s healthful as well as delicious.

Besides, I can afford it because I’m careful the rest of the time. As I’ve said before, my approach to frugality is to save where I can so I can spend where I want.

In other words, I’m willing to soak a lot of pinto beans if it allows me to travel, or to shake loose $6 a week during the Washington cherry season.

An uncrowded life

Soaking those beans doesn’t make me stingy. Hesitating over a purchase, whether it’s shoes or a soda, doesn’t mean I’m joyless. It means I’m mindful.

It means I’m thinking about what I currently have and deciding whether it will suffice.

It means I’m not crowding my life with things that won’t make any difference in it.

And often, it means I’m making the decision to appreciate what’s already there.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who spends like there’s no tomorrow. Because there usually is a tomorrow, and it generally costs at least as much as today did.

Of course, this is only partly about wise use of resources. Underneath that mindful mode is simple wariness.

Probably the most useful thing I’ve learned in 52 years on the planet is that life holds no guarantees. Your job, your health, the economy – any or all of it could go south with dismaying rapidity.

Caveat emptor

That’s not the only reason I don’t buy, say, a $3,000 purse. I’m appalled at our culture’s emphasis on acquisition and constant lifestyle upgrades that may not match our ability to afford them.

Buy now, pay for a long time? That just doesn’t sound attractive unless you’re talking homes. I can’t live in a handbag.

So yes, I do think it’s a good idea to decide what, when or if you should purchase. You may find you can do without. And if you really need something, you may find ways to get it without spending a fortune.

The second most useful thing I’ve learned? If you do decide to buy something, then for heaven’s sake enjoy it. Even if it’s only a large chocolate custard. You’ll be back to pinto beans soon enough.


22 Comments

  1. Now I want cherries. Man…

  2. Well said. This should be included in every newly-wed’s card envelope. karla

  3. I’m with you on the enjoyment! But I am offended by your dissing of the humble pinto bean. We love pinto bean cuisine and would choose a burrito over many other things.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Frugal Scholar: I currently have 25 pounds of pinto beans in my kitchen. Far from dissing them — I rely on them. My point was that a departure from the everyday ought to be enjoyed to the utmost.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. Donna, I’m being a big old copycat today, but I did leave a link. :)

    Great post!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Iamtheworkingpoor: Thanks! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. ;-)

  5. $5.99 a pound. I hope they were Rainier cherries – they are definitely something to behold here in Washington….I wait every year for them to come out and then pay whatever the going rate is just to enjoy.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Susan: Yep, they were Rainiers. Worth every bite. And I’m having pinto-bean chili all this week, so I’m back on the wagon after summer and South Jersey.
      Where are you in Washington? I keep thinking I should organize some kind of meet-up for readers of this site and the MSN Money stuff. I’m having one in Chicago when I’m there for the conference in a couple of weeks. Hope somebody shows up! It’s like planning a party and wondering if anyone will be there.
      Thanks for reading.

  6. LOVE THIS Donna! You are speaking my language. It’s only taken me 48, almost 49 years to figure it out…if only i knew this when I was 20? I’d be rich indeed, and not just because of wealth. I would have know what truly makes us happy, and it’s never stuff. I hope you enjoyed your custard!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sharon: Thanks. And yeah, it was pretty tasty stuff. Now all I have to do is take off the weight I put on thanks to custard, cheesesteaks, Herrs potato chips, Tastykakes….All the stuff I can’t get in Seattle, and got too much of in New Jersey.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Great post! The part that really grabbed me was “And often, it means I’m making the decision to appreciate what’s already there.”

  8. LovesACat

    I really liked the phrasing, “I’m mindfull, not joyless.” Good way to express sit.

  9. “Besides, I can afford it because I’m careful the rest of the time. As I’ve said before, my approach to frugality is to save where I can so I can spend where I want.”-We need shirts made with this on it or maybe something embroidered.

  10. Donna, My hometown has custard too. A little shack at the beach with lines a mile long all summer. Thinking about it. Yum. How about custard with cherries on top? Now that is a gift made for the gods.

  11. ImJuniperNow

    Thank you for this piece. I’ve just spent 18 months “away” from my version of frugality, which turned out to be deprivation. You can get pretty depressed and resentful of others when you think you can’t spend anything and that’s being frugal. So I bought pretty much what I wanted when I wanted it, and you know what I found out? I STILL funded my retirement accounts, STILL used coupons and looked for bargains, STILL gave to charity, STILL put gas in my car, even though I spent $1.25 on a bar of peppermint soap at Whole Foods that lasted me three months, and the world didn’t end.

    Now, about that $7,000 Prada bag my office manager has that I can’t stop drooling over . . . . .

    Where in South Jersey were you? We have custard in North Jersey, too.

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: I was in Cumberland County, way down near the Delaware Bay.
      I’ve also found “custard” in Wisconsin and recently in Seattle. It’s not soft-serve. It’s “soft scoop.” I refrain from further comment.
      And I’m with you on making the purchases that are right for you — I just want to avoid mindless consumption.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. average or less

    keep the pintos.
    i prefer aduki (red) beans.

  13. bone65536

    Hi Donna,

    Been reading your MSN work for a while, just subscribed to your web posts. Wife and I have good earning power, but like to live as you do. Debt free, we buy what we need, a few things we want, and always for value. Our filter for any purchase is “Will it make my life better?”. Don’t use credit cards, contribute to our community, have great grandkids, and scour like maniacs your advice on how not to pay more than necessary for anything we give our hard earned money for.

    Keep up the good work.

    Pat

    • Donna Freedman

      Pat: Thank you so much for your kind words. Your life sounds wonderful: You have each other, and you have enough.
      I’m honored by your comment.

  14. eemusings

    enjoy your holiday! A well deserved one, I’m sure.

  15. While I cannot abide pinto beans, I am crazy for black eyed peas and navy beans. Okay, I do like Great Northern beans and never feel I am eating poor or being denied when I get a craving for either. Actually, I don’t think I had ever HAD to eat them because I could not afford anything else. However, I am always mindful that they are relatively cheap and nutritious. Life is really full of good things if we close our minds to voices that make us feel poor. When I have had plenty of money, I have chosen to cook a pot of beans. That’s living rich.

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  2. DONNA FREEDMAN | | thebrokewivesclub.com - [...] http://www.donnafreedman.com/2010/10/28/choosing-what-and-whether-to-buy/ Donna FreedmanDonna Freedman has been a college dropout, a single mother, a newspaper journalist in Alaska and Chicago, …
  3. Could you live well on $30k a year? | Surviving and Thriving - [...] Choosing what — and whether — to buy [...]

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