Living Purchase to Purchase

While others live hand-to-mouth, I live whatever the opposite is.
Thursday, September 29, 2005

Please forgive me for appearing snide, but this is just a fair observation about my life. I don’t consider myself rich, but I earn enough to be comfortable. I don’t think about when my next paycheck will arrive and how that money will be split up between rent and food, and I don’t wonder if I will have any left for entertainment. This style of living is in sharp contrast with a lot of Americans; according to AC Neilsen, 28% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Two of my good friends who own a house in San Rafael and just bought a Subaru Outback are definitely on the edge, as they put strong consideration into each purchase they make, trading off one purchasing decision for another. But I lead a different style of life, a style I call “living purchase to purchase.”

I distinctly remember that as a kid I never really wanted anything. I rarely asked for toys; I had little interest in new clothes; and my father practically had to beg me to let him buy me an ice cream every now and then. Part of this was probably because my parents took good care of me and made sure I had toys and clothes. And part of this was probably because I had a strong sense of frugality (pretty damn serious for a kid, don’t you think?). Sure, every now and then I would really like playing with one of my friend’s toys, like G.I. Joe’s Sky Raven, and want one of my own, but I didn’t beg my parents for it.

As I have grown up and earned my own money, my frugality and desire for things has changed. Now that I can spend my own money, I feel much more free to do so. In fact, I have noticed a pattern in my life dictated by my purchases. For the first few years I was out in the working world, I made roughly one significant purchase a year. I say “significant” because the purchase wasn’t necessarily expensive, but it was at the very least well thought out, researched, and mostly unnecessary.

I bought a mountain bike, a DVD player, and a digital camera. Then at some point my purchaes became more expensive and sometimes more frequent. I decided I needed a new computer. Then I wanted a car (I live in San Francisco, and survived perfectly fine for three years without one, but now that I have one, I could never go back). Then I bought a road bike. So far this year, I bought a triathlon bike and a new digital camera. On an impluse, I purchased an iPod Shuffle, thinking I could use it on the couple of trips I was planning to take (I almost purchased a Mini, and am thankful I didn’t now that the Nano is out).

Since then I have contemplated whether my current 3-year-old laptop needs replacing. I’ve been searching on Craigslist for a bike I can use for commuting and not care too much about. The thing with these purchases is that each one brings me happiness for shorter and shorter periods of time, which creates a terrible spiral. At some point a couple years ago, I recall telling myself that I wouldn’t make another significant purchase that year. I don’t think that worked. I wonder how I can break out of this spiral. Maybe a new iMac will do it.