Editorial Policy

Don’t let financial weaknesses be a money suck

Allie Johnson

March 12, 2014

Knowing your financial weaknesses can help you think twice before buying something that might be a money suck. One of my big weak spots is making big purchases that I think will improve my life, then not using them.

Recently, I came across a product I thought I had to have, but it was very pricy: over $1,000. After thinking about my weaknesses and carefully considering my options, I came up with a free alternative that has been working great.

The item? A treadmill desk. Recently, I’ve been reading about the dangers of sitting for prolonged periods of time. I’m a writer. For me, working equals sitting.  I learned that getting up once an hour and moving around for a few minutes might be as good, or better than, using a treadmill desk. Since I’ve added the extra activity to my daily routine, I feel healthier and more energetic, and I can focus better on work.

If you’re thinking about dropping a chunk of money, look at whether your desire to buy is triggered by a financial weakness, and ask yourself if there’s a cheap or free way to get the same results.

Of course, each person’s must-have items will vary. But, here are some “must haves” I’ve bought or seen my friends buy, along with cheap or free alternatives:

Must have No. 1: A CSA (community-supported agriculture) share

Cheap/free alternative: Grow the veggies you love and trade with friends who also garden.

Must have No. 2: A gym membership

Cheap/free alternative: Walk or run, do yard work, deep clean your house, wash your car or do volunteer work such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

Must have No. 3: Dinner at fancy restaurants

Cheap/free alternative: Start a monthly gourmet dinner club with your friends where each person brings one course.

Want to avoid buying a “must have” that’s really not? Here are some tips:

  • Pinpoint your weaknesses. If you don’t already know your financial weaknesses, take time to identify them. Personal finance blog Girls Just Wanna Have Funds recommends looking at when you get a momentary rush out of spending, then feel bad later.
  • Think about the why behind the weakness. David Ning, the blogger behind Money Ning, writes that eating out at restaurants is a weakness for many of his readers. His advice (which applies to just about any weakness): Think about the reasons why you’re tempted. Is it convenience, peer pressure, laziness or something else? I realized that the items I want to buy (or do buy) represent some change I want in my life. Once you understand the why, you can brainstorm ways you can get the same benefit for less.
  • Make sure you’re thinking straight. As Ning points out, it’s harder to avoid temptation and make good decisions about spending if you’re frazzled, overworked and generally not taking care of yourself.
  • Do your research before you buy. Learn more about the product. Read reviews. What do other consumers say? You might stumble on a cheap or free alternative that will give you the same results. One example: When I was researching burr coffee grinders, I learned about hand-crank burr grinders, which typically cost less than $20 — other burr grinders cost $100 or more. So, that’s one more cheap/free alternative to a “must have” item.

Make a game out of spotting your financial weaknesses: Look for more cost-effective ways to get the thing you’re after. Your wallet will be better off, and so will you.