If I had a dollar for every stupid purchase I've made in my life, I'd be a wealthy woman. My financial faux pas have been remarkable in both quantity and quality. I've made some real doozies.
Take the above ground swimming pool. Its a-la-carte price was bad enough. Adding everything required but not included took it past barely reasonable to absolutely ridiculous.
First, there were the heater and filter. Then a cover, chemicals and test kit. Of course we needed search-and-rescue equipment (this was one monstrosity of a pool) and a few necessary pool toys. Oh, and let's not forget the cost of eventually getting rid of the albatross. Let me put it this way: There is not a lively secondary market for this kind of thing.
If I'd had the courage to consider the consequences of such a major purchase first, before making the decision to buy, I am quite certain we could have avoided that five-year industrial-strength headache and saved one huge pile of dough.
I've since learned how important it is to keep a simple self-test handy. A checklist clears away impulsivity, forces me to consider the consequences and allows good sense to prevail.
This process allows for no feelings-based answers. Nothing that includes "I feel" or words like happy, disappointed, sad, guilty or afraid. This exercise is about facts, not feelings. Feelings are fickle. They trick us, but worse, they change like the wind. When it comes to making wise financial decisions, feelings cannot be trusted.
Do I need it? If the honest answer is no and you do not have oodles of discretionary income, case closed. You've just saved yourself from a foolish purchase.
Can I afford it? If you have to go into debt to make the purchase, you cannot afford it. Forget it.
Do I already have something that will do just as well? An honest assessment of all the stuff you already have could easily produce an affirmative answer to this question. End of discussion.
Can I wait until I find a cheaper, more reasonable substitute? Have you ever noticed that you require your children to be patient but rarely put the same requirement on yourself? The bonus with this question is that while waiting, the need often disappears.
Have I found the best deal? It takes time and effort to comparison shop and that also makes for breathing room. When making wise decisions, time is a valuable ingredient. It allows you to change your mind.
Am I willing to wait? A false sense of urgency brought on by overwhelming desire — or a sale — can really skew your otherwise good sense. Simply getting away from the situation for a couple of days has a remarkable way of clearing your mind. If the purchase is right for you today it will still be right a few days from now.
What if I don't? Make a list of what will happen if you don't make the transaction. If you're questioning paying the rent, that's simple. The consequence is eviction. You must proceed. But if the subject is buying another pair of shoes, a faster computer or season tickets to the symphony, the consequences of not making the purchase will be quite different.
What if I do? Here's where the rubber meets the road. What will be the exact consequences of going through with this transaction? Don't cheat on yourself. Don't accept "I don't know" as an answer. If you don't know the true costs, you are not ready to make the decision.
So you think my pool fiasco was a financial disaster? Truth be told, that purchase was relatively mild compared to impulsive acquisitions I've considered since then. Trust me. And no one is more grateful than I am (my husband being a close second) that I've learned to first consider the consequences.
I have a handy flowchart I created many years ago that I taped to the outside of my wallet that held my checkbook, cash and credit card. I still have it and it's ragged beyond recognition. While I know the questions by heart and can whip through them in a heartbeat, I still find comfort in knowing a printed copy is now tucked away inside. It's my financial security blanket.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.