MENTAL MODELS

How to buy stuff

My purchase evaluation method

Andrew Macrae
3 min readJul 5, 2021

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Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

As I get older and more established in my finances and working life, I find my purchasing decisions are driven less and less by cost.

That is, I can ‘afford’ pretty much anything I might reasonably want — which for me basically means using mortgage-derived debt to fund middle-class lifestyle choices: tablets, computers, musical equipment, a coffee machine, camping gear, diving gear, a car, etc.

The problem

This presents an interesting problem: given the price of stuff generally is not the barrier it once was, what criteria should I use instead to decide what to buy?

More importantly, since I am impulsive and prone to accumulating new hobbies, interests and stuff: how do I decide what not to buy?

And a related problem: given the state of the world and the resources I have available to me to make a difference to it, I don’t want to create arbitrary prohibitions on useful spending.

I want to live an abundant life free from material constraints that stop me from enhancing my life, my impact, my ability to help other people, and the contribution I can make to the world.

A fortunate position

In short, after decades of scraping by, I’ve gradually shifted to the fortunate position of having (access to) enough money to buy more or less whatever I need to live a fulfilling life.

This access to resources can be deceptive, however, and I find myself making impulse purchases, undertaking ‘retail therapy’ to soothe emotional needs, and getting locked into ongoing payments for stuff that doesn’t add to my life. On the other hand, I don’t want to stop myself buying something useful just because it costs money.

So to solve this problem, I came up with a mental model to use when evaluating purchases when cost is not the main concern.

My purchase evaluation tool

It’s built around four axes: need–want; leverage–burden; time–no time; and space–clutter.

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Andrew Macrae

Freelance writer and editor. Sign up for my newsletter about writing, freelancing and whatever is worrying me https://tinyletter.com/Andrew_Macrae