How to determine if a purchase is worth deliberating over

If you cut down on time spent making decisions on things that don’t matter, you will have more energy for the decisions that do.

As you make more money, the way a certain amount of money will feel will change.

$2 will always be $2. But how $2 feels will change.

I was a total nerd as a kid, and I remember in eighth grade saving up for a modem for my computer so I could go on BBSs and talk with my friends. I believe that modem (at the blazingly fast speed of 1200 bps, for the nerds out there) cost me $40. And it took ages to save up for.

Meanwhile, last week, I went out with some friends and spend more than $40 in a single evening on food and drink, and didn’t even think twice about it. (I also didn’t use a credit card.)

Putting inflation aside (yes, that modem would have cost more today), it’s the same $40.

But it feels different.

It’s worth looking at how purchases feel, so you can know whether it’s worth expending energy on debating it, or just going with it. Because not everything is worth your time deliberating.

Your maximum thoughtless spend

What is the largest purchase amount that you would undertake without hesitation?

You may never have thought about this before. But try it.

You might have a global value ($2 say), but most likely, it depends on the kind of category the purchase fits in.

So pick a few areas important to your life. Here are a few ideas, but come up with your own.

  • Restaurants
  • Books
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Plane tickets

Here are some examples from my life:

I love records (vinyl). I listen to them every day, and have a small but growing record collection. Many of the records I covet are in the $40-$60 range, and I have trouble rationalizing that. A $10 record though? I’ll buy it without thinking.

Meanwhile, if I find a good pair of shoes and they are $200, I won’t hesitate. I don’t buy shoes that often, and that’s a price point that feels good to me, a good enough of long-lasting and high-quality. I wouldn’t spend $1,000 shoes without hesitating, as that is a lot for a pair of shoes, given my life and my priorities.

But you may spend $1,000 on shoes without blinking, and that’s totally fine.

The largest amount of money that you would spend without hesitating is going to be very different for you depending on the category.

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Verify your limits and act on them

Once you do this for certain categories, you may wish to look at the whole list and see if everything feels right to you.

Not everything needs to be in conflict; your willingness to spend $100 on jewelry without thinking and your hesitation at spending any more than $10 on a meal is all fine.

But when you look at this list, you might think, “why do I hesitate at spending any more than $10 on a meal?” Knowing where these limits come from is very helpful.

Once you know your limits, the next step is to act on them. So if your limit for books is $10, and you find a $5 book, you need not deliberate anymore. Just get it.

Knowing your explicit money limits can save you lots of time. Because not every purchase is worth deliberating on.

These limits will change

Don’t expect these numbers to stay the same. As your income grows, purchases that felt harder before will feel easier. And should your income go down, the reverse will happen.

That’s why it’s important to revisit these numbers periodically, otherwise, you may find yourself agonizing over a purchase that isn’t worth agonizing over. You may be dithering over a $10 purchase, but that’s based on how $10 “felt” at a much different income.

It’s not totally linear, but it’s not unreasonable to think that if your income doubles, purchases will feel half as expensive.

So if you think it’s okay to spend $10 on a book without thinking, and your income doubles, you might revise that to $20.

Why bother

We have so many decisions to make in a given day, and many of those decisions are financial in nature, from a $4 coffee to a $400 plane ticket. If you are able to come up with shortcuts to cut down on time spend making decisions on things that don’t matter, you will have more energy for the decisions that do.

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