On not buying things



Love this waffle-weave throw we brought home from Paris

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a privileged point of view, because for so many people, just affording the necessities of food, fuel, medication and clothing — for themselves and their families — is tough enough.

But once you’ve passed that point, if you’re fortunate enough to do so, the questions arise:


What do I need?

What do I want?



Can I afford it?



I think about this a lot because I’m extremely frugal, willing to splash out on two items consistently — our home and travel. We have no one financially relying on us, which eases the situation, but we both work full-time freelance, which means we have no utterly reliable income; even an anchor client of many years can suddenly cut their budget or disappear.

So living on credit, and paying “later” is not a smart choice. Last spring, two steady clients bringing me $700+ a month went bust.

We recently went to a less expensive health insurance plan at $1,484 a month. Madness! But this is the American drill of the self-employed: you either pay a fortune every month or you pay a lot and still face enormous “deductibles” and “co-pays”, bullshit ways for health insurance companies to screw us even worse.

A co-pay is charged when you actually use the service — see a physician or go to the ER. Imagine paying an additional fee every time you used a frying pan to cook or drove your car to work!



Experiences beat things!

So, we just have a lot less “disposable” income as a result of the putative “liberty” of self-employment.

It certainly curbs our spending; as a couple, we splurge on eating out maybe once a week and occasionally seeing a play or a concert.

As for buying things? Luckily, we have 99 percent of what we need, maybe even 120 percent!

Our SUV is now 20 years old and we have to get rid of it because its repairs are breaking us and our leased new car is done October 1, so we’re scrambling to plan for that.

I also spend more per-item, always preferring better quality I’ll enjoy and use for at least five to 10 years than shopping all the time — helped by scoring thick cashmere and designer brands at consignment shops and flea markets.

We also live in a suburb, where the only places to buy anything are gas stations, grocery stores, bakeries and drugstores. That makes it simpler.

When I want to shop — and I don’t really enjoy on-line shopping and refuse to use Amazon because of its corporate greed and how poorly it treats warehouse staff — I have to get in a car and drive somewhere or take a train into New York. Spending becomes a highly deliberated decision, not a quick impulse.

My planned purchases for 2020?

Some new fragrance; a few new pairs of shoes; replacing several worn-out frying pans, new dishtowels. Some replacement make-up and skin products.



My go-to store for clothing and accessories (also Canadian)


If money really improves, I have my eye on a stunning ring on this website…I love everything on offer and jewelry, for me, is something I treasure and wear every day.

I’m most hoping to be back to Montreal, am speaking at conferences in D.C.  and Ontario (so may shop while away) and, key, really hoping for a month away this fall in England and maybe a week in Paris.

One pal blogs quite often about spending and not spending…


Are you a big shopper?


What do you splurge on?

40 thoughts on “On not buying things

  1. I think I did most of my splurging last year. The next few months are all about saving for taxes and paying for the basics, maybe some more pants because I think I’m down to one pair for really cold days (which thankfully, being Texas, doesn’t mean constant bombardment of cold for the time being–that’ll change with misery and rain in late January and early February, though).

    I bought all the musical instruments I could possibly want and need to get playing them. I have plenty of pens and writing paper to get back into the swing of things there (and actually start writing more than blog posts again).

    This is a year for exploration and experience, not just eeking by if I can help it. I also might be unceremoniously booted out of the only paying job I have left in the next few months, so it’s time to do some professional development and figure out what I’d really like to do (that IS NOT a dead-end job for once. funny how the only ones I’ve really liked were dead-end jobs. huh.)

    All the best to everyone for a new year. It’s just a turn of the calendar, but there’s something to THAT particular turn that just signals change. Hope it’s all enjoyable (or at least fun and bearable).

  2. Well howdy! I know I need to replace my boots this year but off the top of my head I honestly can’t think of anything else I “need” right now. My downfall for the longest time was/is emotional spending so I’m trying really hard to be mindful of that with my “20 items in 2020” mini challenge, especially heading into a really stressful time with work in the new year.

    1. My thought/question would be…what drives “emotional spending”? If you feel deprived of something that the purchase is meant to soothe or alleviate…what is that, and how else can that feeling of deprivation be addressed?

      For me, there are few THINGS now that will give me sufficient pleasure to compensate for the loss of that income/savings…but I am much more interested in enjoying experiences, specifically travel and culture (ballet, opera, theater, concerts, museums, etc.)

      I love beautiful clothes and accessories, for sure, but NYC (like London) has so many $$$$$$$$ women I can’t possibly compete or keep up with them. So I am super selective where I do spend.

      And $$$$$$ in the bank is always a much more compelling “purchase” (i.e. I’m buying myself time, leisure, a retirement) than anything else.

      Living in a small apartment means very limited space to add anything…and we have spent the most $$$ on our home, so that we are very happy there and don’t feel compelled to buy other things to make us happier.

      I had a big epiphany in my early 30s, then making a very good salary — 1996, $80,000 a year — and realized that no amount of $$$$$ would make my happy if I hated my job.

  3. My sister is self employed and does well BUT..BUT…that healthcare premium is CRAZY and buys crap insurance no less. I have NEVER understood why legitimate small businesses and the self employed cannot band together and purchase insurance like a large (really large) company. It would be good for the working folks and good for the economy..

    That money not spent on premiums could buy a tall stack of waffle weave throws if you know what I mean…

      1. This “system” works perfectly — giving employers tremendous power to abuse workers who need benefits and can’t afford to quit a job they hate.

        And yet every Canadian employer is free of the tremendous associated costs of this — potentially therefore able to pay better.

        I find it bizarre in the extreme that a nation addicted to “liberty” and “individual responsibility” and “self-reliance” is so punitive to those of us willing assume the many risks of self-employment. We have NO lobbyists!

      2. I guess the part that I don’t understand is why.. if people got together and basically structured themselves as a powerful corporate group (of self employed) why they wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate (like Target or Home Depot) together for health insurance. Wouldn’t United Healthcare or Blue Cross want that large group as clients? It’s not like my sister wants free stuff..she just wants to pay a reasonable price. Clearly, I’m missing something because I feel it would be a win win for everyone.

      3. No one wants to work collectively. It’s the very American ethos of individualism…I got mine and screw you.

        There are many such groups but they don’t band together — like the National Retail Federation or other massive advocacy groups — and so have no real powers that I see in this regard.

      4. After considering the snarky, yet still well reasoned and carefully considered comment that formerly occupied this space, I offer this: Needs are not rights. Not here, not in Canada, not anywhere. Anyone who comes to me in need of help can have as much as I can give, provided they understand that what I have is mine to give or not as I see fit. I’ve been in bad situations before and needed help but my soul wasn’t so poisoned by hubris as to let me think the world, or anyone in it owed me a damn thing. THAT s the very American ethos of individualism and yes, Caitlin Kelly. Your view of this principle and of America in general is far too narrow and your inference regarding individualism is deeply, deeply flawed. If you want to paint with a great big brush, be prepared to pick some stray bristles out of the paint..
        I will return here in twelve hours to read your reply, if there is one. The last word will be yours. I will read it and then I will go away, so If you have something to say, make it something you can be happy with. I don’t discuss matters of substance with people who don’t care what I think.
        This smarts a little bit, as I did think of this relationship as a thing of great personal value, but don’t let it bother you. You don’t owe me anything; see how that works?

      5. It’s not “not caring” what you think. In the decade of producing this blog I’ve never not cared what readers and commenters think.

        I may disagree entirely. That’s different. At least it is for me.

      6. OK,, for the benefit of those who have followed this exchange, I am here to clear a few things up. My previous comment,, just above, was made after a similar comment in the same space disappeared without a trace. I could say that’s a shitty thing to do. It is. I could say I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve it. None of that matters. Erasing someone’s opposing views in a discussion you started is disrespectful and cowardly. Persisting in that is nothing more than casting pearls before swine. Any headache, heartburn or other suffering resulting from this would be self-inflicted. Hence, time to go.
        Caitlin reached out to me through email to let me know that whatever happened to my previous comment was none of her doing, along with a lively discussion the rest of you will sadly never get to read.
        Bottom line is Caitlin and I are cool and I hope the rest of us are too.

  4. I’m pretty lucky, because I make more than even my parents put together. On the other hand, most of it goes to bills and necessities. Whatever’s left afterwards goes to things like movies, new books, the occasional DIY project, and going to Broadway shows or the ballet.
    I am trying to save up, though, with the goal of getting a certain amount into my savings account and then starting to save for a home, among other things. We’ll see what happens.

  5. I haven’t punched a clock in twelve years and, even though I am not, I feel like a billionaire. It wasn’t even that hard to get there. There was very little in the way of self-denial once we locked in on the principle of “enough.” I bought two guitars this past year, both high quality instruments, and gave another to my sister. Didn’t hurt a bit. Oh, and let’s not forget the amplifier. It wasn’t a splurge, it took months to plan. Our world is not a place for conspicuous consumption or instant gratification and that is why we are happy in it.
    The American economy is like a rain swollen torrent of money. Yeah, it’s money all right, but that way lies madness as well.
    In the time since I locked up my tool box and rolled out of the machine shop we have had a cancer scare, three colonoscopies, two years of college, a couple failed expensive hobbies, a really expensive foundation repair and now, for our next feat of financial derring-do, nineteen, count ’em, nineteen insulated windows (You oughta see the light in here. It’s why I wanted the place.)
    There won’t be a vacation beyond an overnight at the Valhalla resort in Helen, GA. “Resort” is a bit of a stretch but the hotel is very nice and Helen a fun little place to knock around for a couple of days. That will be in June and then, if it all works out, a few days in Richmond, VA, sometime around November. Hopefully the forces of ignorance and hate will not have completely vilified my courageous, dutiful ancestors by that time. That will be enough for now.
    Happy new year, kids.

      1. I have never worked in a union shop of any kind. The only thing that protected my job was the value I brought to the company by doing it, as it should be.
        I’ve had sixteen different jobs since I joined the Navy in 1980, from laborer to CNC programmer and all points in between. Most didn’t offer medical benefits or paid vacations and none were ever the job I wanted.
        Sounds like Dickens, huh? But you know what? For all the decades of crap, often spent in what would be known as a hostile work environment today, working outside in bad weather for years, all of it, I’m still the luckiest guy ever. I exercised my God-given right to pursue happiness and, after long miles of rough ground, for now, I’ve caught it. Give us this day.

  6. Jan Jasper

    I used to spend a fair amount of money on clothes, but now that I’m mostly a homebody I obviously don’t need so many clothes: I have little opportunity to wear what I’ve already got. So I’ve pretty much stopped buying anything new. I’ve always taken good care of things so I can enjoy them for years to come, so my clothes don’t wear out very quickly. Almost every piece of furniture or decorative item in my house came from an estate sale or auction, and I stopped most of that buying, too, because I already have everything need. Also some nice items I inherited from my mother. I’ve been paring down over the last few years, selling spare furniture to neighbors and donating to charity. I still have a lot of stuff in my house, but it’s only stuff I enjoy using. Part of why I’m paring down some now – aside from disliking clutter – is that I realize I may, someday, have a health reversal which could make it – as a single person with no kids to help out – impossible to manage this house any longer. I don’t want to be a frail 70 or 80 year old and have a house full off junk to get rid of.
    I guess one splurge is having a dog, with the vet bills that incurs, which increase as she gets older.
    I’m fortunate to qualify for Medicare, which saves me hundreds of dollars a month in premiums.

  7. Jan Jasper

    ….And my car is 20 years old. I do my best to maintain it and keep it alive, to forestall the day when I’ll have to buy a new car. My late husband and I probably drove less than most people, so it’s only got 130,000-something miles on it. Fingers crossed for its long life!

      1. We’ve had car payments forever. They’re a monthly budget item When our car becomes troublesome or closes in on an expensive maintenance procedure, like a timing belt at 90K miles, we trade for a newer car with a warranty and a maintenance plan. The last time I traded, my payment went up about ten bucks and my insurance went down about five, for the backup camera, I think,, so there was a small bump in the road but the big mean machine just kept on rolling.
        I know your cars are paid for, which makes it hard to jump in, but this is a pretty solid strategy once you get it going.
        However you end up dealing with it,, do your best. (Cub Scout motto)

      2. One car is paid for — and has to go this year. Just too old and too much $$$$$$ on repairs. The 2nd one is a lease that’s up October 1 and we’d like to keep it, but we’ll see.

      3. Best of luck there, dude(?). We want to lose a car and substitute a beater/backup car for days when we both need to drive.Cathy’s taking a shot at a freelancevoice over and/or audiobook thing she can do here to cut down on her hours at the library, so that may happen this year. Watch out for the garbage truck.

      4. I’ve made some insurance payments,, too. Full coverage is never cheap,, and liability may well leave you having to buy a new car, which is never cheap,, either, and is made worse if you have to do it with no time to plan for the purchase. But none of this is the point. It’s more about expecting the unexpected instead of having to sell my guitar to get my paid for, but still useless, transmission repaired.
        I pay a bit more and all that is locked down. There’s not enough slack in our budget to leave things like that to chance, risk management, man. I think it’s worth it but if your way is working for you, it’s all good.

  8. I’m not a big shopper, like you, I have most everything I want, so I enjoy buying books, puzzles, and well made walking shoes, along with something special every now or then, or I use my money to see a show, travel, take.a class. all so enjoyable and the memories and or skills are with me forever.

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