Two Kick-Ass Spending Tips

I read an awesome article by my man Zee the other day, and I wanted to share it with y’all as well as another one I use myself it reminded me of. So today you get a 2-for-1 special – it’s your lucky day! (Perhaps you should run out and buy a lottery ticket next? ;))

Kick-ass tip #1…

The “Stranger” Test

This one comes from Zee who totally made up the name for it, even though we’ve both heard about it before and can’t recall where? I think his name for it fits perfectly though, and hopefully it’ll be strange enough so that none of you rascals easily forget it ;)

Here it is in a nutshell:

When you are thinking of purchasing something, imagine a stranger holding the item you are thinking of buying in one hand, and the cash equivalent in the other. Which one would you take?”

I like this one a LOT because it gets you to stop for a hot second before handing over your cold hard cash. People almost always prefer the cash dangling in front of you (even from a weirdo stranger) than the “thing” in question anyways. They just don’t stop long enough to really mull it over or put it in this same “things vs cash” perspective.

Of course sometimes you gotta buy what you gotta buy regardless of your desires (food, shelter, underwear), but for non-essentials – aka the “wants” – this is a good trick to keep in your back pocket. The few times I remember thinking along these same lines myself, I had an answer in seconds. And is much easier than the ol’ “angel vs devil” rigmarole on your shoulders duking it out ;)

Zee then went on to clarify why he named it the “Stranger” test, which I find even more hilarious:

“It’s very important to use a stranger in this scenario. If you imagine your shopaholic friend holding out those new sneakers they will probably try to sway you one way or another. Or if you imagine a tree or an alien offering you those things you’ll probably be like “oh shit, a talking tree. I have to get a video of this on my phone.”… I guess you could just pretend each option is sitting on a chair, but the “chair test” doesn’t sound as good…”

So there you have it – the Stranger Test :)

The “Urgency” Test

This one comes courtesy of yours truly, and is somewhat similar to our “only buy what you really love!” concept mentioned here before. Only this relates more directly to shopping, and especially clothes shopping (or shoes, accessories, hats, etc).

It goes like this:

“Any time you’re debating on whether to buy X, Y, or Z, ask yourself this: “Would I wear this out of the dressing room right now if I could?” If the answer is yes, buy it (as long as the cost is OK, of course). If not, or you hesitate, put it down and run.”

There are exceptions to this rule, like if you’re trying out bathing suits in the winter for some reason, or perhaps a nice suit in the dead of Summer, but overall it’s a great question to ask.

Any time you’re shopping for something new to wear, you want to be SUPER excited to put it on and show it off. IF you’re teetering on whether you like it or not, chances are you don’t (or else you’d want to leave that dressing room with it on ASAP!). And getting into this line of thought consistently is great because it’ll help you “things to wear later” pile (“AKA never wear” pile) dwindle, while beefing up your “I’m feeling hot and sexy today, look at me!” clothes pile :)

That’s right, I’m now giving away free fashion advice – someone stop me!

This could work in other areas as well:

  • Buying books (would you want to stop and read this right this second?)
  • Picking up movies (do you just want to rush home and watch it right away?)
  • Buying art (Would I swap out painting X for this one as soon as I can?)
  • Picking up a girlfriend? (would I rush to show her off to my friends or family? ;))

If there’s an ounce of hesitation, odds are it’s probably not worth your money (or your time). Though of course in some cases (like the girlfriend one) it’s sometimes worth being open and taking in new experiences before shutting the door so quickly. So you do have to be aware of the consequences. You don’t want to stop broadening your horizons of course. Something my aunt calls “culturing yourself” ;)

But there you have it. Two tricks with the same bottom line: getting you to pause and think for a few seconds before automatically handing over your wallet. They may not work in every situation, but overall they’re pretty kick-ass habits to get into.

Try one out this week and let us know what you think!

[Photo cred: David Goehring]

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  1. Debt Busting Chick April 14, 2014 at 5:54 AM

    Really great ideas. I especially love the first one. If I imagine the money and the item I’ll always go for the money. The second idea I do already and it really helps to control my spending. Great post!

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 8:17 AM

      Thanks! And LOVING your blog name :)

  2. Jon @ Money Smart Guides April 14, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    The urgency test is great. Wish I had known of this one back in the day when I got myself into credit card debt. It definitely would have saved me some money. I was nodding along reading it because there were many instances when I was buying clothes and never wore them. I can remember having that moment of pause when I would try it on, but I still bought anyway. Had I thought if I would wear it right now, chances are I would have put it back.

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 8:18 AM

      It’s a hard habit to get into, and even when you do you still slip up :) But as long as you’re good at *returning stuff* at least, the only thing wasted is time! I’m amazed at how many people buy stuff and then never return anything… I gotta write about my “trunk” trick next for that one ;)

  3. John @ Sprout Wealth April 14, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    ‘Or if you imagine a tree or an alien offering you those things you’ll probably be like “oh shit, a talking tree. I have to get a video of this on my phone.”” This is absolutely hysterical! Seriously though, the Stranger test is spot on, in my opinion. I think it puts a good twist on the delaying a purchase idea to see if you can really live without the item or not as it can help you visualize the item or the cash.

  4. Holly@ClubThrifty April 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Nice~ I’ll try these! I like to put things in my cart and push them around for a while before buying. Usually I change my mind!

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      That’s a good one too :) Especially since you can then compare the items closer together before heading to the register as some usually stand out more than the others on the “awesome” scale.

  5. a terrible husband... April 14, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    I often wonder if I would tell a buddy to buy it. Or the spendaholics I know. Or the cheapskates. I’ve talked myself into and out of purchases that way. But having multiple people, and people I know, who range between spendaholic and cheapskates gives me a bit too much subjectivity to just validate whatever I “feel like” doing. Fortunately, I’m pretty frugal. But the stranger concept is a good way to keep it relatively objective.

  6. Camille @ Challenge Mantra April 14, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    I really like that first tip! Seems more helpful than my current practice of just asking myself, “Wouldn’t you rather save this money?” Pretending it’s “free” money is much more tantalizing :)

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 8:56 AM

      Right? Much harder to turn down “free” money!

  7. Becky @ RunFunDone April 14, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    The urgency test doesn’t work so well for me when it comes to clothes…when I lived in Southern California I loved wearing sundresses. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the time its so wet and cold that I’m forced to wear boring and practical clothes, I continue to only want to wear cute dresses, but it’s so cold that I can’t. If I used the urgency test, I’d be buying all sorts of adorable dresses, but freezing my butt off because it’s too cold to be adorable here! It works much better for me to think, “Is it warm? Is it affordable? Do I not hate it?” Not-hate but practical and affordable is good enough for a Pacific Northwest Girl pining for sundresses!

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      That does not sound good, haha… I “don’t hate” a lot of clothes!

  8. Brian@ Debt Discipline April 14, 2014 at 9:54 AM

    Great tips! I really like the urgency test. Even if you are buying clothes out of season, if you use it it will still get you to think about the purchase for that split second and may help avoid that bad or unwanted purchase.

  9. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer April 14, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Love this, J$! The stranger thing would totally work for me – I’d take the cash in a heartbeat. We’re doing pretty well in spending right now, but this will definitely help us to kick it up a notch. :-)

  10. Zee April 14, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    It’s the simple tests that tend to have the most influence. Though I’m not sure my girlfriend would like me using the “urgency” test with other girls that I see. Something tells me she would have a new “stranger” test for me and leave my ass.

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      Haha…. touche, good sir.

  11. Martin April 14, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    The only problem with the urgency test is that sometimes you fall in love with something really fast. This happens to me with clothing and technology all of the time. The only thing that works for me sometimes is just leaving my wallet in the car haha!

  12. Kathy April 14, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    I’d definitely take the cash from the stranger. And I have frequently carried an item around only to put it back. If I go back for it after a few days or weeks, and I pick it up again, I’m more likely to buy it.

  13. Natalie @ Financegirl April 14, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I love this post! As a spender, I am always trying to new things to get me to prevent me from buying things. I’m going to try the stranger test for anything I want to buy this week – it’s my favorite!

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      Cool! Let us know how it goes :)

  14. Crystal April 14, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    I like both tips, but the “Stranger Test” has worked for me before. For purchases over $15, I can think of the money being offered in one hand and the thing in the other and I know which choice I’ll make. But it doesn’t seem to help me with small splurges, like a $1 Sonic drink during happy hour…

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      Nor for $3 drinks at alcohol happy hours :)

  15. Creighton Toliver April 14, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Haaaaang on a second. Is there *any* situation where you wouldn’t take the cash? Even in life or death situations, I just can’t countenance trusting the stranger.

    1. J. Money April 14, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      There has to be because we ALL spend tons of money every single week/month/year! ;)

  16. Tonya@Budget and the Beach April 14, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    I dig the stranger method, although back in my old reckless spending days, I can’t even tell you how many times I bought clothes that I was kind of “meh” on but did it anyway, and low and behold those clothes usually sat in my closet with the tags still on them. Now I have to really be excited about it. Great ideas…I’d totally take the cash 90% of the time.

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      You can take the challenge of wearing every single item of your clothes all year without buying anything else ;) But that’s a spicy meatball!

  17. Samantha April 14, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    I love the urgency test. It is SO easy to buy a dress or something, thinking “I’m sure I’ll wear this for SOMETHING at SOME POINT.” (But then, of course, I don’t.)

    Or I buy it thinking somehow it will stretch, or I will grow into it, or I will magically change into a person who drops off dry cleaning and irons everything that needs ironing. But those things never happen.

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 8:56 PM

      HAH! Agreed.

  18. Jordan Hanson April 14, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    Both these ideas are great. I think for me personally, thinking about having the item versus its cash equivalent will have the most effect on my decision making. I think I would take the cash equivalent almost every time! I buy a good amount of shoes as well and I can relate to the “urgency” test. I think sometimes I was buying them just to have them and now as I have started to sell some of my shoes off, I have realized which ones I did that with. Lucky for me, my shoes are some what of an investment because for the most part I can sell them for more than I bought them for (even though that is looked down upon in the sneaker world).

  19. Chellie @Debtandthegirl April 14, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    I like the way you write about the urgency test. Actually that is my first rule when buying something. I sometimes go for window shopping to make sure of the things I will buy. This also helps me to pick the cheapest item with good quality (if I’m on a budget scale :)) ) Great post btw!

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:01 PM

      Thanks! Glad you liked it – was super fun to put together :)

  20. Done by Forty April 14, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    The stranger tip is a fantastic approach: it’s a kind of sunk cost analysis. If you’d already had the item, would you sell it for the purchase price? Brilliant way of looking at purchases from another angle.

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:02 PM

      Start implementing it! :)

  21. Anneli @thefrugalweds April 14, 2014 at 8:44 PM

    LOVE the Stranger test!! I think that’ll eliminate most of my purchase hesitations. I have my own twist to add, I would call it the “husband test”. If i can absolutely stand in front of my husband and say, “Yep, I bought this! I thought about it and I decided this is something I really want to have.” If I can say that without hesitation, then I’m GOLDEN! LoL… It’s about being deliberate and thoughtful about our purchases :-)

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:03 PM

      Haha…. that would eliminate a LOT of things too ;)

  22. No Nonsense Landlord April 14, 2014 at 9:54 PM

    I like the stranger analogy. Although picking up the girlfriend analogy might depend on how long you think your investment timeline will be…

    Far too many people buy on impulse, not need. Here’s a tip for those people. Get real busy making money or trying to make money. But the time you find time to buy the item, it is a few days later, and you no longer want or need it.

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:05 PM

      Amen on that. 95% of the time I walk away thinking I really want it, I either forget or realize I don’t really care about it as much as I initially though. And then if I’m still thinking about it days, or even week, later, I go back and buy it and feel pretty damn good about it :)

  23. Marie @ Grad Money Matters April 14, 2014 at 11:44 PM

    I love the “Stranger” test, but I think I can relate more with the “Urgency” Test. :) Every time I go to the mall and when I tried to select an item or clothes, sometimes I do hesitate if I should buy that one, so I just walk away immediately if I think that it’s not really important after all.

  24. Chris Bailey April 15, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    I absolutely love the first tip! I have a terrible habit of buying a lot of things on impulse, so I can see the Stranger Test stopping me cold in my tracks the next time I’m out. Thanks for sharing buddy, this helped me a lot :)

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      It only works if you implement it! :) Perhaps it can be a future challenge for your site/future site?

  25. Donna Freedman April 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    So will you be using these during garage sale season, buddy? ;-)

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      No way! They have the opposite effect at yard sales! At least as far as the Stranger Test goes… you rarely pick 50 cents over a new and shiny object! Haha….

  26. Kalen @ MoneyMiniBlog April 15, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    I love these tips! Especially the first one.

    I once read that “if you are broke, it’s probably because you want something else more than you want money”. It could be a house, car, TV or whatever, but that’s a true statement.

    It seems simple, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we need money, not stuff, to be financially free.

    1. J. Money April 16, 2014 at 9:10 PM

      Oooh I kinda like that line!

  27. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living April 18, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    I go by the “price per wear” route. If I’m only going to wear the hot pink jacket once, it is an expensive wear even if the jacket’s only $20!

    1. J. Money April 18, 2014 at 8:59 PM

      That’s a nice way to think about it :) And pretty much kills all outfits for Halloween, haha…