Impulsive, to a fault

July 7, 2008

A pack of gum, a pair of shoelaces, perhaps a paperback novel. These are the things you might consider as impulse purchases. But as economies of scale come into play and the cost of living – as well as the remuneration we receive – goes up and up, our impulse purchases become larger.

Talk to the guy who showed up at home with a 46-inch HDTV. Or the woman who thought the $1200 tennis bracelet was “perfect”. Or even my father who, ahead of his time, bought a house the same way.

The driving force behind impulse purchasing isn’t a dire need for these products (although having a roof over his head made some sense in my father’s case) but a habit of instant gratification.

Why delay the purchase of something that you can begin using and enjoying now?

While walking through IKEA yesterday I thought I might have to strangle someone because it was so crowded. It’s become a pastime for families to go shopping together and businesses are doing nothing to change that attitude.

There’s no reason to spend 45 minutes on the playground with your four-year-old because walking through IKEA for 90 minutes gives the kid exercise and might actually solve some home organization problem.

Are we idiots?

We complain endlessly about the price of gasoline, the amount we pay for health insurance and the 2% raise that we get each year regardless of performance. Then we go soothe ourselves with expensive gadgets, pricey dinners, extravagant toys and unnecessary home improvements.

Maybe the better question should be… When did we stop understanding how to save for large purchases?

If I were of a vindictive and blaming nature, I would have destroyed Citicorp years ago for what they did to me. I was granted a Citibank credit card while still in college and I promptly maxxed it. That credit hiccup followed me through college and beyond until I tried to purchase a new car.

The car dealer said they could help me finance the brand new truck I wanted, but I would have to pay off my Citibank card first. That’s when I realized the true value of material goods and I’ve been pretty responsible since then.

But many people don’t take responsibility for their money or their lives. As a friend of mine says, “They wouldn’t be allowed to live in Smart Town.”

These people live from check to check. They buy groceries and clothing on credit. And they get deeper in debt with each passing day.

It’s gotten so bad (or so good for businesses who want this income) that places like McDonalds are letting people use credit cards at the drive through.

How would you like to be paying 19% interest on your last Big Mac? Insanity.

Luckily, I’ve gotten some of my spending habits under control. Yes, I bought a scooter recently and I frequently find a way to have sushi delivered to the bungalow. But I’m also carrying only house debt and living pretty well within my means.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to live out of a shopping cart or that one Citibank experience was enough for me. But taking responsibility for one’s existence is pretty rare these days and I like to be in the minority.

It also allows me to vocally and loudly judge others who are not so disciplined. And that’s an impulse I don’t care to control.