The retail sector and the media love to sell us “stuff” to solve our every problem. They even try to manufacture “problems” just so they can sell us stuff. (I tend to think the no-touch hand wash system falls into this category. It dispenses soap without you having to touch the dispenser so you don’t get germs on your hands. But if you’re getting soap to wash your hands, what difference does it make? Your hands are going to be clean after you wash them, so does it really matter if the dispenser is pristine or not? You won’t touch it once your hands are clean.)
The financially successful person realizes that many of these problems and their solutions are just marketing hype and instead finds other ways to solve life’s problems without running to the store every five minutes. Here are some suggestions for dealing with “problems” without shopping.
Many items can be repaired when they break. While you have to evaluate whether or not the repair is cost effective, many repairs are simple and will prolong the life of the item.
Maybe you don’t need to buy a gift or new item for the house. Maybe there’s a way to make what you need. Even if you have to buy some materials, it might be cheaper than buying a store bought item.
Before buying a new item, many frugal people look around to see if there’s something already in the house that can serve the same purpose. Need something to corral those do-dads in the desk? Try some old plastic-ware. Need a gift box? Maybe you have an old shoebox that will work. Before running to the store, check to see if you already have something that will work.
Sometimes you can find a reasonable substitute for what you need. This is common when cooking or baking. If you look in the pantry and find you’re out of a certain ingredient, see if there is anything else that will work before you dash to the store. You may discover a better way to make something.
Make Do Without
Before rushing to the store, ask yourself if you really even need whatever it is. Maybe you broke your favorite soap dish, but you’d only ever used it for decorative soaps that hardly got used. Do you really need another one, or can you do without those decorative soaps sitting on the counter? If your TV goes out, do you really need another one or can you view this as a good time to try the TV-less life? Before you shop, stop and think about whether or not you really need to buy or replace whatever it is.
Rather than buying that special tool, you might be able to rent it or borrow it from the neighbor. Maybe you need a leaf blower twice a year. See if you can work a deal with a neighbor to use his in exchange for some beer. Get books from the library and rent movies. Your money goes a lot further when you rent things rather than buy them.
Find The Free Way
Let’s take your health or weight for an example here since this category is flooded with “retail solutions.”.The retail world wants to sell you all kinds of equipment, special food, gym memberships, pills, and shakes. But the best way to lose weight is free: Reduce the calories you eat and burn more than you take in. All you need is a pair of sneakers to get some exercise and you probably have those at home already. It’s the same with anti-aging products. The cosmetic companies want you to invest in their creams and injections, but some of the best ways to look your best at any age are free. Eating better, drinking water, exercising, and quitting smoking can all go a long way toward improving your appearance and are free. Germ avoidance? Rather than buy all the expensive germ killing products on the market (which have been proven to make things worse, not better, in the form of resistant super bugs), wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, eat well, keep hydrated, and, where possible, avoid large crowds and sick people.
Not every problem is real and, of those that are, not every problem requires a store-bought solution. Store bought solutions sometimes make things worse or they don’t even work (think Thigh Masters and crazy kitchen gadgets that are advertised on late-night TV). If you always default to the store-bought solution, you may end up with a house full of junk that didn’t even solve your problems. There are free ways to deal with many “problems” but they may require some effort on your part to find and implement. Hit the store only as a last resort.
(Photo courtesy of Patrick Hoesly)