3 Questions Method that makes Everything you buy more meaningful

Dated: August 10 2022

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“Should I buy it or not?”

In fact, this is a vastly overlooked issue. Every year, the average American spends $18,000 on non-essential items. We also spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than higher education. In a nutshell, we:

  • Waste money on things we don’t need.
  • Clutter our lives with meaningless stuff.
  • Sacrifice time for meaningful activities to go shopping.

If that sounds familiar, this 3-question method might help. It’s based on everything I’ve ever learned about minimalism and money. Using this tool, I stopped dreading the “should I buy it or not” dilemma — everything I buy now carries meaning and worth.

All it takes are these questions:

  1. Why am I discontent with what I already have?
  2. How will this thing help me flourish?
  3. Would I take the cash instead?

Let’s break these down in detail.

1. Why Am I Discontent With What I Have?

Every purchase you make is a reaction to discontent. Think about it — our goal of spending money is to live better. But, of course, it’s not that easy. We get sidetracked.

This is because our consumer behavior isn’t rational (even though that’s what we like to believe). In reality, most things we buy are purely based on emotional impulses. We make a subconscious decision and then invent reasons to justify it.

The solution?

Figure out the root cause of your dissatisfaction. Why do you feel like your current situation is not good enough? Here are three common triggers:

  1. Manipulative marketing. In a neighborhood I used to live, the streets were plastered with ads for a fitness studio. They pictured an attractive woman looking over her shoulder and sticking out her butt. The message was clear: “If I sign up for that gym, I’ll look like her.” Many marketing schemes are like this. They trigger a lack of worth. This tricks you into thinking you’ll finally be happy if you just buy that thing.
  2. The need for approval. We all play status games, even if we’re oblivious to them. And what’s one of the easiest ways to channel our status in the modern world? Shiny things. Ferraris. Villas. The rise of social media has poured gasoline over the bonfire of status because suddenly, everyone has an audience. It’s never been easier to shout, “Look at me, I have all these new things!”
  3. Filling the void. When we’re lonely or depressed, we’re much worse at managing our own behavior and emotions. We become far more likely to smoke, eat fast food, and… buy meaningless stuff. What’s worse, we can feel bad about these things afterward, which sends our mental health into a downward spiral.
  4. The antidote to these three problems is the same: Awareness.

Once you notice the itch to buy something, look deeply at the trigger of your discontent. I’ve found it helps to fire a shotgun blast of questions at your monkey mind:

What is it you hope to attain with this purchase? What gap does it fill in your life? Is this just a quick fix to make you feel better? Is it a boost for your ego? Is there any chance the marketing scheme manipulated your emotions?

When you know your motivations, you can control your intentions.

Example

I recently felt the urge to buy a new laptop. Initially, I reasoned I needed one because my current laptop had felt too heavy. Too clunky. But when I looked deeply at my discontent, the uncomfortable truth emerged:

  • I needed the approval to look stylish, smart, and trendy. I could already envision it: I sit in a fancy cafe, hammering into the soft keys of my designer laptop, feeling like a million bucks.
  • It had been a while since my last big purchase. Also, I’d been feeling lonely, and in a strange way, I thought a new laptop could fix that.
  • The more I stared at the beautiful images of the laptop, and all the benefits explained on the company’s homepage, the more it won me over.

This “should I buy it or not” debate was purely emotional.

Now, the goal is not to suffocate your emotions. A new laptop might actually be a good idea for me. But only if I base the purchase on rational arguments, not emotional impulses.

2. How Will This Thing Help Me Flourish?

When thinking seriously about the question “Should I buy it?” we often swap it for a simpler one: Do I need this or do I want this?

The approach of substituting questions is good. But questioning our needs is wrong.

Why? Because we’re deeply confused about our needs and wants. As we’ve seen, it’s easy to justify a need when your emotions are in charge. Conversely, needs can snare us in modesty. (“Yeah, it crashes whenever I make calls, but overall it still works, so I don’t need a new one.” — A humble friend on his 10-year-old phone.)

This is not productive.

Here’s what we should ask ourselves instead:

How will this thing help me flourish?
How can this help me reach my full potential in life?
How good will it be to have this in 1/3/5 years from now?

If you find it hard to answer these questions, it might be a sign that you don’t know your real objectives in life. And that’s completely normal. Finding what matters to you is a constant process of discovery.

Whenever I feel insecure about my priorities, I find these two reminders helpful:

  1. Double down on the basics. These are the things that help you thrive on a daily basis: sleep, nutrition, exercise, work, and relationships. Almost every investment I made in these areas was worthwhile.
  2. Identify bigger themes. Looking back on the past years of your life, what things brought you long-lasting joy? And is there a theme among these things? I recently discovered that painting, playing the piano, and web design are more absorbing than I originally thought. The theme here is creativity, and it’s worth pursuing.

Think of it like this: everything you buy should pay long-term returns that improve your life. That’s also why tell-tale signs of meaningless purchases are feelings of emptiness and hunger. They mean that something didn’t help you flourish.

Blog author image

Franchesca Duarte

Born and raised in El Salvador, I’ve lived in Texas for over 30 years and can’t imagine calling anyplace else home. Relocated from San Antonio to Fort Worth almost in April 2019 and I love....

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