5 Ways to Know the Difference Between a Useful and Frivolous Purchase

Whether from social media scrolling, podcast listening, browsing the internet or watching the evening news, you are exposed to thousands of advertisements every day. All of the companies paying to win your attention have one goal in mind: persuade you to buy. While today’s world is filled with many useful and time-saving products, all too often it’s easy to succumb to purchases we don’t need.

Hebrews 13:5 reminds us not to love money and to “be satisfied with what you have.” This is often easier said than done in an age where you can order almost anything online and have it shipped directly to you within a matter of days. Instead of buying things solely for the emotional gratification they can offer, we can use wisdom to spend our dollars on necessities and long-term investments. Here are five ways to know the difference between a useful and frivolous purchase.


What is the desire behind the desire?

Most of the time, products or experiences aren’t an end in and of themselves—it’s the feeling we get by making the purchase that we’re after. For example, you don’t buy a home fitness course simply to watch and be entertained by the videos. You buy a home fitness course because by using it, you will lose weight, thereby benefiting from the intended result.

Ultimately, everything we purchase is in some way a reflection of our deeper desires. Apply the same thought process to the impulse buy you’re considering. If you want a new article of clothing to look sharp at work, is there a less expensive brand you can afford while still looking great? If you want new headphones so you can get immersed in music you love, is there a way to enjoy said music without a new purchase? Seemingly small adjustments like these protect you from wasteful spending.


Does this meet my necessities for basic living?

Another test to run your purchase through is whether or not it fulfills your basic requirements for living. Food, clothing, and housing are three of the biggest expense categories that can get muddied up by frivolous thinking. Let’s say you have a pair of shoes that have recently given out and you absolutely need new ones. While you really want to use it as an excuse to buy a $300 pair of snazzy kicks, you could easily find quality shoes for less than $100 that perform the same function.

As another example, you may enjoy eating out at a particular restaurant that has incredible food but a price tag to match. Instead of going to that restaurant every week, try going to it once a month as a special treat. You can still enjoy the restaurant, but you aren’t spending excessive amounts of money on it when making meals at home meets your basic necessities. It all comes down to a simple self-accountability check and asking yourself if what you want is actually what you need.


Does this strengthen an existing long-term investment?

Continuing with the big three expense categories from above, knowing how to evaluate what’s useful versus frivolous can sometimes be a gray area. To start, your home is a long-term investment. As such, it’s reasonable to make purchases that contribute to the long-term functionality of your home, especially if you’re planning to live in your current house for years to come.

If you’re considering new exterior siding because your existing material is breaking down, this is an example of a wise purchase. Replacing your siding keeps your home intact and prevents the risk of costlier repairs in the future. If, however, you’re itching to buy new furniture because the pieces you already have don’t reflect the latest trends, this should be reevaluated. If your furniture (or anything else) is still serving its intended purpose, there should be no need to replace it.


Will this purchase only exacerbate a bad habit?

Sometimes, what started off as a low-cost impulse buy slowly snowballs into a larger habit. If you love purses but have started buying them to match every outfit, you may be burning through money faster than you realize. If you love golfing but feel the urge to buy a new club whenever they come out, those costs will add up quickly.

Before making a purchase, ask yourself: “Is there anything broken or wrong with the item I already have?” If the answer is no, it’s unlikely you need to shell out hard-earned cash for a different item. Contentment in your existing possessions goes a long way!


Have I researched alternative choices?

Evaluating a purchase from a mature point of view includes examining alternatives. In most instances, the item you’re craving is made by at least two or three alternative companies. While you may not have the “latest and greatest” product, you can still have a reliable, functional alternative. Whether you’re checking out a new car when a quality used car will do, or evaluating a new laptop when a refurbished model is sufficient, there are dozens of money-saving alternatives.

Hopefully you feel encouraged after reading the recommendations above. Limiting your spending while still getting your needs met—and enjoying your purchases—is entirely possible. Luke 12:15 offers a solemn reminder to “guard against every kind of greed” and that “life is not measured by how much you own.” Living a meaningful life is not about having the most stuff or the most expensive items; it’s about using what we do have and spending the money we’re blessed with wisely.

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