Spend a minute and think about the last several non-essential purchases you made. Maybe you bought a magazine at the grocery store. Maybe you stopped at Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Maybe you downloaded a new album.
Now, ask yourself this:
In light of all of the things you already have in your life, did this purchase improve your life in any tangible way?
Most of the time, the answer to that question is “no.” However, we have a strong tendency to be defensive about it. We’ll aruge that we got some enjoyment out of it. We’ll argue that it didn’t really cost much, so it’s no big deal.
We’ll find all sorts of reasons to tell ourselves that it’s fine to spend our money on something that doesn’t really improve our life.
I certainly do this, too, but I find that I’m happiest when I’m close to being able to honestly face that question about every purchase.
If I can look through my grocery receipt and know that every purchase on that receipt was one that’s either covering a basic life need or actually something beneficial to me (a healthy food, for instance, or a true bargain that will drive down the cost of a future meal), I feel really good.
If I can look through my credit card statement and know that each purchase on it was one that will either cover the basics or lead to a better long-term life, I feel really good.
Over time, this becomes a source of pride, at least for me. Purchases that don’t improve your life slowly begin to seem really silly, even nonsensical. At the same time, purchases that do improve your life seem like the right decision. They feel empowering.
This leaves just one little problem: what does it mean for something to improve your life?
It means something different for everyone, because it’s intrinsically tied to what you value. What do you truly consider to be a better life?
It’s a question that I reflect on regularly, and it’s one that I’ve yet to find a complete answer to. At the same time, I’ve found that the more I think about it, the more clear the priorities in my life become, and the less important many of the unnecessary things quickly become.
What is your idea of a better life? How many of your non-essential purchases are in line with that idea? It’s something well worth thinking about.