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Ask Yourself These Questions Before Every Major Purchase

Published January 20, 2021

6 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

Even the most frugal of individuals can face those almost impossible-to-resist spending temptations. Whether it’s an incredible sale on the big screen television you’ve been eyeing or a once-in-a-lifetime vacation opportunity, the importance of frugality can be very hard to remember. Especially when your inner child is screeching “but I want that!”

Take me, for example. I recently gave in and bought a 27” monitor this past Christmas. The screen was glorious. I’m happy every time I look at it, whether I’m working or playing games on my laptop. Still, it was an expensive gadget that replaced a perfectly capable 24” monitor. The old one was a decade old, but there was nothing really wrong with it.

Are you finding yourself wanting to get something awesome for yourself? Before you cave to temptation, take a moment to ask yourself these four important questions. They will help you determine if you’ll end up loving (or regretting) your decision to splurge. I know these questions helped me.

How am I going to pay for this?

Some of you can pass by this question without stopping — other than to deciding whether to put it on the Visa or the Mastercard. However, you really need to think about where the money will come from for your big purchase. Are you using savings? You emergency fund? Or going into more debt for it?

It’s fine if you recognize that you can pay for your coveted purchase only if you give something else up. However, you have to actually give up the other item. For example, let’s say you’ve been saving up money for a new computer. Then, your friends invite you on a weekend trip to Vegas (when things go back to normal). You need to book now and prepay because there are tons of deals and hotels are dirt cheap. There’s nothing wrong with using your computer money for the getaway. But you have to face the fact that you won’t be able to buy the computer too.

Making Sacrifices and Doing Math

This isn’t question number two yet. However, it’s still worth mentioning in this section. When I bought my monitor, I chose to eat out a bit less to cover some of the costs. I don’t really know how to cook and my wife has been overseas taking care of my father-in-law. This meant that I was home with two kids. So I’m responsible for making sure everyone is fed. The easy way is to just buy takeout. However, I’ve been slowly learning to cook instead. That was I don’t spend like crazy on UberEats, making the decision to spend all my money on a monitor much easier.

If, on the other hand, the only way you can afford this purchase is through some “creative accounting,” then you simply can’t afford the purchase. If you’re putting the item on your credit card and plan to pay it back over a number of months or years, calculate the interest you’ll pay. That item just got a lot more expensive. Don’t buy it, as the move will cause you much more stress and heartache in the long run.

Why do I want this?

They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing. Shopping can really feel good. The thrill of a shiny new thing triggers the good chemicals in your brain. But it can be too easy to get into the habit of buying your way out of a bad mood. So if you are thinking about buying something, stop and think for a minute. Consider whether the purchase is still going to feel like a good idea next week, or whether your mood is affecting your buying habits.

Another pitfall to look out for is shopping as camaraderie. I have some friends who I hesitate to catch up with too often. These particular friends always rush to brag about their latest acquisitions. That inevitably ends up tempting me to buy things to match their purchases.

Just the other day, a couple of my friends bought the newest iPhone. I don’t need one at all, since the new iPhone will do basically everything my current (slightly older but not ancient) model does. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to buy the new one anyway, though. It really pays to examine your motives for making any purchase. Then determine if those motives reflect how the item will improve your life in any real way. It’s possible those motives are only really about trying to make yourself feel better in the moment.

Is this the best time to buy?

This question forces you to wait on a purchase so that you can do some research. You’ll want to learn about sales, read reviews, and compare prices. If you have already done your homework and know that you won’t find a better price by waiting or going to a different store, then you’re ready to buy. On the other hand, if you never even thought of buying an electric power drill until you saw one in Home Depot, think again. You have no idea how much they usually cost, which brands are the most reliable, or how often they go on sale. Spend some more time thinking about the purchase.

Unless it’s an emergency purchase (like your furnace dying in the dead of winter), you can probably wait for things to go on sale. High end electronics typically get cheaper for Back to School and Black Friday. Televisions get dirt cheap ahead of the Super Bowl. That cordless drill you saw at Home Depot? Wait for Father’s Day to roll around for a discount. Most companies will use any excuse for a sale (Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, whatever). So being patient can save you a bundle.

Do I need it and/or love it?

Deciding whether you truly need a particular item should be a simple task. However, sometimes we can delude ourselves into thinking we need something when it’s really just a want. Maybe we’ve already got a product that basically serves the same purpose or we’ve gotten along just fine without such a product so far.

This is particularly true when it comes to technology. We already talked about my lust for a new iPhone. And what about an iPad? The tablet certainly looks shiny and exciting. But will it serve any particular purpose in my life that I can’t already cover with my iPhone and laptop? What will I gain with this purchase? How often will I even use it?

As for loving an item, sometimes we can talk ourselves into believing that we love something just because we really want to buy it. Figure out if you truly love something with this thought exercise. Imagine you come back to the store the next day to buy it, but the last one just sold. Would you be devastated? Or simply think “C’est la vie” and move on with your day.

A Personal Example

So I wanted to buy a PlayStation 5. I’ve never really thought about getting one until I kept seeing social media posts about how they keep selling out minutes after being available. I got caught up in the mania. I even managed to log onto BestBuy’s website once as new consoles became available.

Unfortunately, the farthest I got was being able to put one in the website’s shopping cart. For some reason, it wouldn’t let me actually pay for it. Then the website dropped my item entirely, and I was left with nothing. I felt bad for about five minutes. Then the feeling of disappointment just… went away. I didn’t really need a new gaming console. In fact, I haven’t really touched my PS4 in months. Plus, there aren’t even any new games on the PS5 that I can’t use my PS4 to play. Why was I so damn anxious to give Sony my $500?

I moved on and my life is still the same. C’est la vie, indeed.

The Bottom Line

No big purchase should be made on the spur of the moment. Instead, take a little time to figure out whether your splurge fits in with your life and your financial goals. Answering that question as a whole involves answering the four smaller questions we just talked about. Answer these questions honestly, and you’ll find yourself avoiding those expensive bouts of buyer’s remorse.

Since we’re on the subject of buying things, here are some tricks to watch for that retailers will use to get you to spend more money. Here’s a piece about being wary of “free” offers. And here’s why it almost never makes sense to “lease” that new big ticket item. Finally, here’s what you need to know about those “Buy Now, Pay Later” deals that are becoming more and more common everywhere you shop.

Buying expensive items


David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.

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