Screenshot of Monty Burns looking at a dollar bill.

In these millennial times, “FOMO” is all the rage1. If all of your techie friends are buying $400 noise-cancelling headphones, and then raving about them, you’ve gotta wonder if you’re missing out. But $400 is a lot of money to spend!

Here’s my approach. If I see a shiny new gadget, which sounds really cool, I’ll give it a play. Then decide if I like it. For instance, I yearned for an Apple Watch for months, before chatting to a friend who didn’t use his any more. I hired it off him for a couple of months for $50, so I could see how it integrated with my daily life. Unconventional deal, sure, but we were both happy with it.

In that case I decided the watch’s fitness tracking was worth it, and bought one from eBay. In many other trials, I’ve decided against the shiny toy.

This approach also works great on cars. A $400 driving experience gave me a day of great fun and heavily sedated my desire to own a $60k Golf R, because now I know how much of an upgrade it would be. It would not be worth $60k.

This try-before-you-buy approach leads to the real meat: try instead of buying.

1: Do I four-hundred-dollars want this?

Take the new iPhone X. Very sexy design, some neat features. I saw a few ads for it, lusted over it a little, thought about upgrading, then went into the Apple Store and pawed their merchandise for a few minutes. I want this, but I don’t six-hundred-dollars want this.

It’s usually very effective at quelling desire - I know exactly how much I want this thing, and I know exactly how much it costs, and I know it’s not worth that.

I don’t sixty-thousand-dollars want the Golf R.2

Now that we’ve discussed pricing your desires, let’s look at the other side of the ledger.

2: I’d be happier with the dollar.

I have a catchphrase stolen shamelessly from The Simpsons: “I think I’d be happier with the dollar.” Never mind that in Monty Burns’ case, it’s about a scam, rather than a legitimate purchase; here, it’s just trite enough.

Having a healthy savings account is a relief. Choosing when not to spend money helps that right along. So you can reframe “buy the gadget vs don’t buy the gadget” as “buy the gadget vs grow your savings account”.

To me, at least, keeping that number high is a reward, not just a chore.

Compare this to having lots of toys but being worried or uncomfortable about your account balance. See what I mean?

So it’s easier to spend when you do want to.

Thinking this way makes it easier to not spend money, but for some reason, it makes it easier to spend. When you make a decision in this framework to buy something, you have much more justification for your purchase, and I wind up free of guilt. Yeah I spent $400 on headphones, but they were a great help all through my degree and even at work years later.

I’m naturally frugal, and this helps me put constraints on that so I can actually spend money on things I’ll enjoy.

NB: This blog post is not about “needs”, it’s about “wants”. Food, clothing, shelter are all pretty necessary, whether or not you really want to spend $160/wk on a bedroom.

  1. “Fear Of Missing Out” 

  2. I might twenty-thousand-dollars want it, but that’s safe enough.