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Money Principle #1: Don’t Buy Anything You Don’t Absolutely Need

by Kathleen Quiring on February 12, 2010

This is Principle #1 as mentioned in my first post of the series, Money Principles from the Mennonites. Tomorrow I’m going to come back with Principle #2, Do the Work Yourself.

Oh, but before I begin, I want to say this: in my last post, I expressed uncertainty about whether I could consider myself any kind of authority on the subject of money. Well, I had a brief email conversation with money expert Matt Bell from Matt About Money, and he said that looking at my data, my husband and I can safely consider ourselves “financially brilliant.” So there! We are money pros. Matt says so.

OK, so this sounds basic enough: Don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely need. But how do you determine what you don’t absolutely need? I mean, we all need iPods, right? And we need to go out for movies on weekends to maintain our sanity, right?

Well, I can’t give you any universal keys to determining what is necessary and what isn’t, but I can tell you what my husband and I do. So here’s how the above principle plays out in our home:

As far as Ben and I can see, the biggest unnecessary money-suckers are:

1. Gadgets

2. Already-Been-Made Food

3. Entertainment (especially the kind that comes with a monthly charge, like satellite TV).

This may be alarming to some, but Ben and I survive without much of the above three things. Allow me to elaborate.

No Gadgets

money computer

For some reason this computer seems to be stealing American money even though we are Canadian

Mennonites are known for their aversion to technology. My husband and I carry on this tradition, I guess. It’s not that we are so much anti-technology as we are anti-expensive-crap. And for us, gadgets constitute expensive crap.

Ben has never owned a cell phone. I’ve had the same cell phone for the last 8 years. (Well, actually, the phone company voluntarily sent me a new one for free a couple of years ago because the old one was working on a system that had become obsolete. Sweet).

Sometimes Ben thinks it would be nice to have his own cell phone, but then he thinks of the 30-or-so bucks we save a month by sharing mine, and decides, “Nah.”

We don’t own any kind of gaming system, laptop, or any kind of portable media player whatsoever (that means no iPod, iPhone, mp3 player, or anything else you can plug into your ears). The last portable media device I owned was a walkman (which played cassettes) that my sister and I bought together from a yard sale. I’ve never even owned a Discman.

Ben and I have never owned a CD player except for the ones that came in our cars. If we want to listen to music we play it on our shared desktop computer, which we bought three years ago. That’s the same computer on which I do all my writing, researching, and internet browsing. That’s right: every Facebook status, blog post and tweet you see comes from this here computer that never moves.

I admit, some people might conceivably “need” an iPhone or a Blackberry or laptop to do their work or whatever on. If they’re, like, the CEO of a company or something. But the rest of us absolutely do not. For the rest of us, they’re luxury items – ones that Ben and I can do without.

And you know what? As far as I’m aware, no one has ever referred to us as “Ben and Kathleen, those guys who don’t have an iPod, not even a Shuffle.” No one has even noticed that we don’t have any gadgets! It has had no impact whatsoever on our sense of self-worth or other people’s perceptions of us. Some people might consider us hicks but no one has ever said it to my face, so I’m OK with it. And we have saved heaps of money.

No Packaged or Restaurant Food

OK, that’s not entirely true – Ben and I often eat boxed cereal for breakfast, and we eat out at restaurants probably two or three times a month. But otherwise, I try to cook and/or prepare everything else we eat myself. I have given up frozen dinners. I cook dinner every night, and we take the leftovers with us to work and school the next day. I try not to ever cook anything that costs more than $3 per person per meal. It’s not hard at all. Beans, rice, oats and potatoes are so cheap they’re practically free, so I try to include them as much as possible.  Again, we save heaps of money this way. It also happens to be good for our health. Bonus.

Very Little “Entertainment”

Ben and I don’t get cable or satellite TV. We’ve always just had a TV antenna so that we could watch The Office, but now that television has gone digital we have to watch it online. Bummer.

We only see movies in theaters when something really special is playing, because movies are the ultimate money-suck. When we do see a movie, we never, ever, under any circumstances, buy their outrageously overpriced snack foods. We just watch.

So what do we do for fun, then, you may ask? Well, the second principle that I outlined in my earlier post (i.e. “Do the work yourself”) means that my husband and I don’t have mountains of spare time. Ben’s usually busy building or installing or assembling something, and I’m usually cooking or cleaning or writing something. And we like it like that. So we don’t have a lot of time for things like TV and video games.

When we’re not doing these things, we rent DVD’s. We get together with friends. We read books. Oh, and we are crazy about Lost. We spent four months solid last year watching pixelly pirated episodes of Lost on our computer whenever we had a spare moment. Good times, man. I was unreasonably joyful when we found out that Jin wasn’t dead after season Four. This year, not so good. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

So that’s what we do to avoid buying anything we don’t need. How about you? What have you cut out as unnecessary? Is there anything else I’m missing? What else do normal folks commonly buy that could easily be cut out?

Photo courtesy of Don Hankins.

{ 1 trackback }

Money Help: Become a Financially Free Couple « Life Gems
February 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristen February 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm

When we lived in our apartment in the city, where take-out was too readily available, we let so much food go bad or forgot it was in the freezer. If we were lazy, we could just order in. Now that we’ve bought our house and live in the burbs we are much more purposeful in our eating. We still do get take-out (usually a weekly pizza on Friday nights to wind down), but we cook a lot more and try to come up with new ways of using the food we have in the house (ie canned peas and biscuit mix and chicken breasts and soup mix = chicken pot pie). We also try to eat our leftovers rather than letting them go bad, even if we are tired of them. It’s also helpful to make a list on our calendar of what potential meals we have in our house to help us think ahead, rather than coming home and not knowing what to make and then giving in to ordering.

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2 Jake February 12, 2010 at 4:05 pm

JIN ISN”T DEAD?????

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3 Christina February 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I am also a list maker. I make a list of meals I can make in the next two weeks. I don’t decide what meal I’m making until the day of. This way I can decide on that day if I want an easy meal, or one that takes more work. When I shop for groceries, I buy the bare necessities and only things I will need for these meals. Every other week I shop for big stuff (this way I can buy more in bulk). I’ll buy bread and fruit every week. I only have a little over-the-fridge freezer so I can’t freeze in bulk. Trust me, the day we have a bigger house, I am buying a HUGE FREEZER!!!

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4 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Lists definitely help you save money, I think — they help you to not waste your money on stuff you don’t need!

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5 Newlywed & Unemployed February 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I have a hard time making 2 person sized meals – and ones that are inexpensive, but also fit with our weightloss plan. However, we have pared down our monthly bills and happily exist without scads of gadgets. We also buy used as often as possible. We should own stock in Goodwill!

I wish we had more experience with DIY home/yard stuff. It always seems to explode and turn into three times as much work/time/money as it was supposed to.

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6 Courtney February 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Not having internet on our phones or cable are two ways we save SO much money each month (also two things people think we are INSANE for not having!). I also cook from scratch (for the most part), we never throw away leftovers, and we go out to eat MAYBE once a month. I cut coupons from the paper and get them online, buy in bulk when things are on sale and freeze meat, and I shop at two different grocery stores, because one has cheaper produce and meat, and one has cheaper everything else. We don’t buy desserts (except some frozen cookie dough) or food to “snack on” which not only cuts down on costs, but keeps us from gaining weight. I also check freebie websites so I get free samples in the mail – those things add up! I know there are more things we do/don’t do… I’m always on the hunt to save money!

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7 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Um . . . I think we are living the same life. I totally shop at two grocery stores, too — get the best deals from both places. Nice.

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8 Mrs. Levine of Whispered Between Women February 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

This post gave me the giggles — I think it’s because I started off by reading the caption on the picture.

I can save money like a mad thing but I must eat out regularly. Not eating out makes me feel poor and then I spaz out. So he gives in there. I lived through four months of whining before I agreed we could buy iPhones. Technology is where I’ve got to give.

But we don’t have cable either and watch almost everything on the internet. We live in a cute house in a not trendy part of town. We drive our cars into the ground and are unashamed of unrepaired scratches or half busted tail lights (that’s all HIM, btw, haha). Everything we buy has to be some sort of a bargain and almost everything is bought second-hand from our clothes to our microwave. I think it’s a matter of agreeing on where your joint money goes and also agreeing on what you sacrifice.

LOST! So good. So, so good. Don’t you hate having to plug your ears for that whole first day after it airs so no one gives anything away? That’s my only gripe with not having cable.

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9 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Thanks, Mrs. Levine! Yeah, that is one down-side to having to watch everything on line the next day (or two days later). I’m always like, “Don’t tell me anything!”

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10 Stephanie Ferguson February 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I’m going to have to admit that I’m the odd one out here. Not so great at saving money…I buy clothes and plenty of “beauty” products but I don’t have cable–I think that should count! We cook at home because we like the food better and are lucky enough the live in a city with public transportation, and when it’s nice out, I often walk to work. Turns out I am a saver after-all; if I made more money maybe I’d even have something to show for it:)

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11 Holly February 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Well, I’m only 3/4 Mennonite, so I can’t be expected to be quite as thrifty as you. However, we also buy most of our stuff used. We bought my daughter a BRAND NEW book yesterday, because her daddy had promised her one as a treat for being brave. But it almost killed me ($7 for a book??? When I could buy, like, 20 used books for that price!). The kid’s clothes are almost all second hand. For Christmas, my goal was to weed through the kids’ stuff, sell what they don’t use, and use that $ to buy other people’s used stuff. So, we broke even on gifts, and the kids didn’t know the difference.

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12 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Wow, your Christmas shopping technique sounds amazing, Holly! Way to go! I’ll have to do that when/if I have kids.

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13 Holly February 12, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I thought of one more thing just as I was leaving, and was going to post it form my iPhone…but then decided against that :) When we first got married, my husband was in school and I was earning $1200 a month. That’s what we had to live on, and considering our rent was $600, we didn’t have a lot leftover. But you know what? We hardly noticed. We just didn’t spend anything. We were careful with our $, but still managed to have a good quality of life. Now that we earn more, we let ourselves buy more. But, we have never, ever spent $ we didn’t have. We’ve never carried a balance on our credit cards. When it gets near the end of the month, and our account is running low, we stop spending. We use up what’s left in the house, do free activities, etc.

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14 Eva February 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm

People have no idea how much money I saved in college by just drinking water!!!! I didn’t drink alcohol, and pop made me sugar crash, so it was a no brainer. Pina Coladas can be like 8 bucks man!!!

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15 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:49 pm

I know, right!? I forgot to mention that alcohol is the OTHER major money-sucker. Eight bucks for a pina colada?? No thanks!

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16 Adventure-Some Matthew February 12, 2010 at 10:18 pm

My wife and I only got an internet connection about a month ago. The first year and a half it wasn’t needed (now it’s so much more convenient for school). Cable? We don’t even have a TV.

My desire for gadgets has gone down considerably over the last few years. I’ve noticed that when I find something that I “need” if I wait a few days, I’ll either talk myself out of it or just lose interest. I’ve saved all kinds of money by just waiting a few days!

One area we struggle with is coffee shops. Most of our friends hang out at the one near campus, so we find ourselves there frequently. It’s hard not to get something… we’ve cut back on what we get, though. Who needs the large? Tea is half the price of a latte. We do budget for this guilty pleasure, however. :D

If you just want the drink, and not the socialization, it’s a great idea to purchase an espresso machine. We spend some wedding gift money on one, and it paid for itself very quickly. Spend the 2 minutes to make your drink in the morning, carry it with you in a travel mug, and you’re good to go. Just as tasty, much less expensive.

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17 Kathleen Quiring February 12, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Yes, yes, yes. Brewing your own coffee (or whatever) saves loads of money. And waiting a couple of days before buying something is probably the best money-saver ever. Things often don’t seem nearly so interesting the next week. Great point, Matthew!

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18 Terry February 13, 2010 at 5:09 pm

We’ve only recently become coverts to the “Don’t Buy Stuff you Can’t Afford” Club. We love buying used stuff. We do it all of the time, and most of our family’s clothes are used. We have a DIY mindset, which sometimes ends up in expensive flops, but usually saves us loads of money.

I grew up learning to buy low-quality cheap stuff, thinking I was saving money. Then I met Kimberly. While out on a date, she told me she needed to stop in at a shoe store to buy a pair of new sandals. Her last ones had been stolen and she needed them for her summer camp. I figured – hey, no problem. A quick trip to Walmart and $15 bucks and she should be all set. She promptly walked into a specialty shoe store and plopped down $120 (gasp – if that wasn’t a red flag) for a pair of Teva sandals that looked almost identical to my Walmart sandals. I was never so mortified and awestruck at the same time. Silently, I told myself that this will never work. I can never marry up this high. Thirteen years later, she still has the same sandals. In that time, I would have bought no fewer than 13 pair of Walmart sandals at $15, suffered endless blisters, and the frustration of broken straps at inopportune times. I have come to realize that in MOST cases, it pays to buy good stuff and pay once.

With that, I’ll leave you with a favourite Steve Martin video from SNL.
http://consumerist.com/2007/04/snl-skit-dont-buy-stuff-you-cant-afford.html

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19 Kathleen Quiring February 13, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Terry, I was totally going to post that same link in my next post! I think I still will. Great story about the sandals. I was taught to buy cheap poor-quality stuff, too. I have a hard time buying expensive, quality stuff. I try to get the best of both worlds by buying used good-quality stuff. Not always possible but worth trying.

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20 Alisa Bowman February 15, 2010 at 5:56 pm

We’re on an extremely tight budget right now. We each get a cash allowance at the beginning of the week, an amount that must last until the end. It’s amazing what you can do without when you KNOW you are not allowed to pay for it with your credit card. Food is by far our biggest expense (if you don’t count the mortgage, child care and health insurance), so I’ve made a game out of trying to save money at the grocery store. There are a lot of food stuffs that we really don’t need (expensive cheese, for instance).

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21 lee July 4, 2011 at 12:10 am

i’ve lived very extravagantly (first class flights,5 star hotels, branded goods, the whole works) and on a tight budget (not enough food to eat, even homelessness when i first ran away at 18)

after having tasted both ends of the spectrum i can’t emphasise enough the importance of spending wisely. i’ve recently cleared the clutter at home and realised i used to buy a tonne of junk i really don’t need. also had this habit of buying stuff and not finishing it and buying new ones, mainly beauty products.

time to get wise with my spending and saving, get what i only need!

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