In my teens my spending habits were atrocious. I remember that I used to get catalogs from American Science & Surplus and I would peruse the pages looking to put together an order, one which was big enough to sufficiently mitigate their shipping charges. I got some neat stuff, to be sure, and some crap, but it became something of a habit. Sometimes when there was something I wanted to order but it was really too little to get by itself, I would look over the catalog again, and then again, trying to find more stuff I might want to add to offset the S&H. I often succeeded.
The last time that happened the only thing I could find was a kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope. The copy described it with high praise and I’d had my eye on it for some time, but it was expensive. If I bought it, what would I do with it? Well, I thought it might be fun to get baked and look through it. I gave in and added it to the list, wrote the check, & sent off the order.
A few weeks later a box arrived from AS&S and I was somewhat mystified. I’d already forgotten about my order, the kaleidoscope, and whatever else I’d sent away for. Even when I saw the shipping label I couldn’t remember what I’d ordered. Already there was a shadow of consternation crossing my mind. I opened the box and found – the stuff. This. That. The other thing. Why did I order any of it? And then I saw the kaleidoscope.
Yes, the fabulous kaleidoscope. I took it out of it’s box, held it to my eye and pointed it to the overhead light, and sure enough, it was really quite pretty. Probably the best kaleidoscope I’d ever looked through, and this was mine now. Yup, that was some spiffy kaleidoscope alrighty.
I was disgusted. I put it back in the box and then it went directly to a closet shelf. I was never going to use that thing, not even if I got good & toasted could it entertain me for more than a minute or two. What a stupid waste, and I felt foolish and spendthrift.
“Why do I do this?” I asked myself. To make myself happy, but obviously it hadn’t worked. How many times had I bought something, even something I’d eagerly anticipated owning, only to lose enthusiasm and interest after a short time? How embarassing to get that box from AS&S after I’d forgotten about the order entirely; I should have saved my money and been none the worse off. I felt like such a fool. If only I’d waited a day or two I would have forgotten about those things I wanted, never placed the order, and I’d still have the money I’d squandered.
That should be policy, I decided. These spur-of-the-moment impulse buys were foolish and wasteful, and there’s no end to how many things I would buy if I had an unlimited money supply; really, I’d be constrained only by the size of my living space. I resolved to virtually abolish them; the bigger the impulse purchase I wanted to make, the longer I’d have to wait, just to make sure that I really wanted it. Big ticket items had to fix an immediate problem if I was going to spend the money immediately. Little stuff for five bucks or less could happen without too much soul-searching, so long as it didn’t happen too often. However, the habit of spending twenty or thirty bucks a week on crap had to end.
So it did. I came to take some pride in my increasingly thrifty ways, my ability to reduce my consumption, repair broken things, and make do with what I had, but it took a while before I would get used to it. Sometimes, when I get a yen for something frivolous, I’ll remind myself that I need that thing like I need a kaleidoscope. So, “No.” No, I don’t need it. No, I don’t want it enough to buy it. No more kaleidoscopes.
Still, at first I felt deprived. The things I used to casually toss money at were off limits and I felt like I was a pauper, missing out on the things in life I enjoyed. They didn’t exactly make me happy when I was buying them but I sure felt unhappy without them. It was a big adjustment and it took time, but I gradually became accustomed to doing without and making do, and I’m a happier person for it.
I still have that stupid stupendous kaleidoscope; it’s still tucked away on a closet shelf. Every few years I’ll come across it and I softly chuckle to myself and say, “Oh, look at that, a kaleidoscope!” I take it out of its box, look through it, reflect on what it means to me, and then pack it away again.