In “The Happiness Project” which I read a few weeks ago, one of the concepts that most resonated with me was the concept of “underbuying”. That is, not buying enough of something at one time. I am not a minimalist, but I have always under bought. I have begun to see the many ways this makes my life harder and more frustrating and ultimately feeds my unhappiness and discontent.
I can remember being a young adult — probably 23 — and finding a pair of shoes I really liked and thought were comfortable (I have struggled with finding the right shoes pretty much my whole life — but that’s another entry) and my mother was around and she remarked, “why don’t you buy several pairs of them if you like them so much”. That concept was foreign to me. It still is. Why would I have EXTRA of something?
I never do. I usually have just run out of something. That is my m.o.
As a newly married woman, I remember my husband noticing that I was always needing to run to the bank machine and he would go once a week. I would get $20.00 from the bank machine; He would get $200. It honestly NEVER crossed my mind before then to get even $50 at once, let alone $100. Now, as a wife, mother and two children and the person almost exclusively responsible for the purchase of everything in the house, I still only get $100 from the bank machine, and that is usually every two weeks or so. My husband kindly asks me in between, “how much money can I give you today”. I don’t want him to give me money; its all the same money anyway. Hard as I try, I still rarely get alot of cash from the bank machine. When I do have it, I don’t spend more, but I do feel better reaching into my wallet and not stressing that I might have to use my credit card for the $3 in cookies I needed for the hockey carpool. And no, I don’t use a debit card. I’m old fashioned in that way. Or masochistic. Definitely masochistic.
So, I under-bank.
I also underbuy at the grocery store. I make a menu plan and a grocery list to support it every Monday. I go to the grocery store and buy what I need for M-F usually; the weekends are often so mixed up I don’t bother. Plus, I loathe this task, and I secretly hope my husband will rescue me from the daily dinner grind on Sat-Sun; he usually does, but not without some price to be paid for his “creativity” in the kitchen. I’ve actually been pretty proud of my organized method. I buy what I need for the week and that’s it. I don’t spend more money than necessary. Pretty practical stuff, eh?
But that leaves me little wiggle room for change and unexpected events. What about the fact that my children are very active and sometimes very hungry? My 9-year old swimmer likes to eat a snack after school, then a little mini dinner before swimming and a mini-dinner after school. My 11-year old hockey player, is ravenous after practice. What if the weather is just right and we all head out for an afteroon of skiing? My organized “meal plan” doesn’t well account for this. My “snack” supplies are gone before Thursday and the options up to then are paltry.
Recently, on a crazy whim, I purchased a box of 72 bagel-bites from Costco. Yes, the underbuyer shops at Costco. Kind of confounding, no? I remember hesitating about buying 72 bagel bites at one time. “I don’t buy them often…what if the kids don’t really like them…they’ll take up alot of freezer space…maybe for a long time”…but I did it. They were gone in a week! My kids loved having them, and they loved being able to say to their visiting friends, “hey, we have bagel bites, do you want them?!” I liked having something other than the proceeds of the typical cupboard scrounge to offer. I felt happy to be able to be generous.
I underbuy toiletries. How many times am I squeezing out the last of the toothpaste desperately before bedtime. Or scrounging the bathroom cabinets for the dentist provided trial size that I don’t really like but I saved for just this occasion? Or how many times have my children come to me, “we’re out of conditioner, mom” and I show them how to eek out the last bit by adding water to it and hoping that the watered down goo will spread over their head? How often do I end up skipping conditioner myself because I’m out and I’ve been out. I think I learned this kind of super-economy from my mother. She taught me the water-it-down trick. I use it often for dish soap and kitchen cleaners, too.
For the record, I’m a big believer in eeking out the last bit of a product from its container. It feels different to do that because you’re being thrifty as opposed to eeking out the last bit desperately because you don’t have any more of it.
Actually, two trips ago to Costco, I purchased a large shampoo & conditioner that I thought my kids and I could both like. We did. And then every time they showered, they trucked into my bathroom to “borrow” the shampoo & conditioner and every time I showered I trucked on in to their bathroom to “borrow it back”. I did this for three weeks. And then, while reading The Happiness Project, I thought, “Aha! I could buy another bottle each of Shampoo & Conditioner and then they could have their own set and I could have mine. Amazing! A simple purchase of $12 solved an annoying nightly/morning ritual for three people.
I do live in a retail-challenged area. There is no “Target” in the entire state of Vermont. I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart. I do shop Costco and the grocery store, and then sometimes Bed Bath & Beyond and CVS, but these are in four different towns. It’s a pain in the ass to hit them all in one day. One would think that this would be motivation enough to buy an abundant supply when I do go. There’s that masochism again.
I am also an Amazon Prime shopper — you know, I paid $79 for free shipping on almost everything I want to buy. I shop this site, and others, put things in my shopping cart, and then abandon it. Because…well, lots of reasons, usually that I don’t want to buy something I don’t need. Or buy something I might have to ship back at my own expense if it doesn’t work out. I offer this up as further evidence that I don’t like shopping, even online.
I’m not a shopper. I am an underbuyer. How nice it would be to have enough of things in the house. Enough food for the ability to whip up cookies or scones for the school PTO event, the new neighbors who moved in, for the children and their friends after school, for those apres-ski/ride Sundays when everyone is too tired to think about dinner, let alone buy it. How nice would it be to have plenty of shampoo and conditioner and razors and toothpaste. It’s not like we’re never going to need any of those things?!
So, as with most things, awareness is step one. I need to work on decluttering the freezer — to make room for more food, and decluttering the linen closet to make room for more toiletries. I have access to Costco and the cash flow to buy extras of things we use. It’s not natural, but now I have a new reason to fight the underbuying tendancy:
the happiness of having enough of what we need, and to be generous and to feel like I have fulfilled my family’s needs!