The Mustard Seed
Economics by The Book
"I gotta have that -- now!" That's the little voice inside our head that urges us to buy things we suddenly want, but we will never need and we may never use. Sometimes that voice is a bit more honest but no less tempting: "I think that this thing would be something nice to own, and some day I may need it. Here it is, so I better get it now." That little voice speaks to you when you are browsing at your favorite "toy" store, where you regularly feed your hobby. It speaks to you when your eye catches a full-page magazine ad, or your TV remote gets stuck on the shopping channel.
I confess that I have given in to the urge to buy something on impulse -- an electronic part from Radio Shack, or a tool from Home Depot. After many years, that electronic part is still in it's original package, and that tool is still waiting for me to use it.
Folks who have a serious problem with buying useless stuff on impulse simply can't stand saving money in the bank. If they have a dollar in their pocket, they will think of a hundred ways to spend it that same day. And they wonder why they are always broke.
Even high-income people fall into financial bondage when they forget how restrain their urges to buy things that they neither need nor can afford. I heard about a highly paid medical doctor who went to a Christian financial counselor for advice on how to get his debt under control. The counselor told the doctor to cut up his credit cards and get a second job mowing lawns! The counselor was serious, and the doctor took his advice. In doing so, the doctor learned an important lesson. Later he reported that once while he was driving through town he saw a boat for sale which really appealed to him. He felt the old familiar urge to buy it right away, before someone else got it. Then he pictured in his mind how many lawns he would need to mow to pay for it -- and his desire instantly vanished. He was cured.
The financial counselor who reported this story confessed his own weakness in this area -- tools for car repair. How did he get his urge under control? He resolved that any time the impulse hit him ("I must have that tool, because some day I will need it"), he would wait at least one week before deciding to buy it. If he got an urge to buy something really expensive, he would wait longer -- a month or more. During that time, he could evaluate his need. Usually the urge faded in a couple days, and he could see that he can live very comfortably without owning that thing which had beaconed him. Or when, in consultation with his wife and his family budget, he decided to go ahead and buy it, the time to make that decision allowed him to shop around, compare prices and quality, and make a wiser purchase than he would have made the day his impulse hit him.
Another way to curb impulse purchases is to shop with a list, and buy only what is on the list. I have observed two kinds of shoppers -- grazers and hunters. Hunters go to the store for specific items. If they don't find what they are hunting for, they leave without buying anything. Then they either go hunting at a different store, or they return home. Grazers go shopping without a real plan. They go shopping to see what appeals to them. They become prey for snazzy store displays and aggressive sales associates who work on commission. And they come home poorer people.
Proverbs 21:5 says,
"The plans of hard-working people earn a profit, but those who act too quickly become poor."
Jesus reminded us to keep our priorities in perspective when He said,
"Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." (Luke 12.15)
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