How To Make Good Purchases — Part I of II

By Sunday, June 1, 2014 4 0

My new dress: bike-worthy! Work-worthy! No ironing! It meets all my needs.

When we buy a new item – whether a skirt, a couch or a car – we have a lot of choices, sometimes an overwhelming number of them.

We think that our choices are along the lines of price, style, color, size, accessories and so forth.But happy purchases don’t ride on the details of the objects we are buying.

Happy purchases ride on our understanding of our needs, and how we intend to meet those needs.

Today’s post is the first of a two-part series on how to ensure happy purchases. Incidentally, to find out which Diamond-Cut Life subscriber won my giveaway of a signed hardback copy of “David And Goliath”, see here.

What’s our need that’s driving our purchase?  Warmth? Entertainment?  Higher social status? Transportation? To feel attractive? To feed ourselves? To overcome Sitting Disease?

The more aware we are of our needs, the happier we will be with the purchases we make.

Yesterday I set out to buy a dress to wear to the Green Empowerment event here in Portland. I needed something I could stay cool in all summer.  Some of you will empathize that I wanted something a bit like my favorite halter dress that I lost on a bike ride last month. It needed to be bike-worthy, since bicycling is much of my summer transportation. The new dress should be work-worthy, if I add a sweater, and not be needy, itself, of irritating things like ironing. And like any woman, I needed to feel pretty in the dress.

Lots of needs, I admit. I only had 1 1/4 hours to shop once I got to the store, but I kept my focus on what I needed, and I found my dress. It’s wash and wear rayon, halter-ish and is bike-worthy with leggings. A cardigan sweater will make it fine for work. I may not buy another dress for years. That makes me very happy.

The bigger the purchase, the more crucial it is to be clear on our needs. In 2008, Thor and I decided to buy a new car, to replace our Nissan Sentra that was well into its teens.

Since we care about sustainability, we needed high miles per gallon. Since we’re not mechanically gifted (I verge on being a car abuser), we needed low maintenance. Since we’re  thrifty and we live below our means, we wanted a reasonably low price.

What did we not need from our new car?  We didn’t need it to be big. We didn’t need it to haul a boat or a trailer, so we only needed four cylinders. We didn’t need it to entertain or thrill us by going fast. We didn’t need our car to enhance our social status.

Naming our non-needs made our choice easier, by shortening the way-too-long list of cars that are out there.

Since we’re a one-car household, my husband and I needed our new car to meet both of our car needs — but not all of our transportation needs. Which leads to Part 2, which I’ll post next Sunday.

Here is the car we chose, after much research. It has worked out pretty well for the six years we’ve had it. We’ll probably keep it for ten years total, until 2018. Every month we put aside money for our car’s eventual replacement. We extend its life by using it sparingly — we bike and carpool to work, for example.

Valuable, little-known information: a car sitting in the driveway (because you are using transportation options) can be a secret watchdog that leads robbers to bypass your house, because they think you are home. And are you aware of the ways in which a car is like a condom, i.e. why public transit is such a pleasurable choice?

Wow, I got kind of carried away there. You can tell I work in transportation. OK: the main takeaway of Part I is that when we get crystal-clear on our needs, we make good, happy purchases. 

In Part II next Sunday I’ll post on how to find the best strategy to meet our needs (sometimes it’s a purchase, but sometimes it’s not). To receive that post and my weekly posts in general, subscribe here. 

Easy to unsubscribe with a click any time. I will never share or sell your email address.

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4 Comments
  • Dana Whitson
    October 13, 2014

    Good blog…good points about your car shopping approach.
    Very nice pic, btw.

    • Alison
      October 14, 2014

      Thanks, Dana!

  • Colleen
    June 3, 2014

    When it comes to purchases, I’m far from perfect on crystallizing my needs (and wants), but I think I’m slowly getting better. I recently bought a skirt (at a re-sale shop, in perfect condition) that I didn’t *need* per se, but that I know I’ll wear often. The fit is flattering, with a striking floral print, plus fun, creative pleating and slits in the back. For purchases like skirts, that I know won’t get much “hard wear,” I opt for re-sale. Obviously, the previous owner didn’t wear it out, and likely neither will I. Another recent clothing purchase was a “need,” unfortunately borne out of poor planning. I was biking and doing other outdoor activities all day in Southern California, and despite many layers of sunscreen, my tank top wasn’t cutting it. My shoulders and back were burning. Before cycling home, I knew I had to cover up, so I stopped and bought a t-shirt. I wasn’t my proudest moment (as I have *plenty* of t-shirts already), but I did what I had to do for my skin. I found the prettiest-yet-cheapest t-shirt I could find, so it would get repeat wear. But … the better thing would have been to bring something in my little backpack in the first place.

    • Alison
      June 5, 2014

      Colleen, I think you’re being hard on yourself, and that you were clearly right to buy what it took to prevent more sunburn.

      What frustrates me is that so many people in the world aren’t able to buy or otherwise obtain what it takes to prevent sunburn, hunger, disease, pain, thirst, etc.

      I also want to admit I bought another dress yesterday, so I was wildly inaccurate in my sentence above: “I may not buy another dress for years”. I was in Grants Pass Oregon and stopped at Consigning Women, a resale shop. I found a summer dress I love for $20; I’m wearing it right now. I think I’ll need to integrate the fact of this indulgence into my follow-up post next week — it’s about looking at the whole range of options we have for meeting our needs — buying an object is only one of the options we have, but it’s certainly the prime option that our consumer culture encourages us to take. Sometimes that path makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t.

      Thanks for writing, Colleen. I appreciate the story, and especially your depth of thought.