Overbuyer or underbuyer?

I’ve had a different pace this week. After sitting in training sessions all day, by dinner, I’m done. Not much creativity left, and not much energy either. Fortunately, I brought some books with me so I could shift into a different gear and relax in the evenings.

My book strategy is two-pronged. I have downloaded digital selections, and a couple of printed books, to cover those times when I can’t have my digital source open…part of flight time, or when my battery is low. Choosing to download a book rather than buy a printed copy is somewhat random for me yet. But I think I’ll continue to find that it’s good to have multiple options.

I have about a dozen books in progress at the moment, everything from technical how-to manuals to more philosophical works, and then one that’s easy reading, on a seemingly simple subject. But I’m finding it surprisingly thought provoking. I’m reading The Happiness Project, which I’ve referenced in earlier posts. The author, Gretchen Rubin, says she was happy. But she believed she could have more happiness, and she worked through a variety of month-long experiments to test her theory that changing certain behaviors and attitudes could add up to an increase in satisfaction with life and generate more happiness for herself and those around her.

Gretchen set goals for a year long project, and each month she tackled a different aspect of living, with strategies to improve behavior, habits, and mindset. I’ve picked up some tips, and about half-way through the book, have plans for my own project. But most of my ah-ha’s have more to do with method than with concept.

One month Gretchen focused on her relationship with money, and some of her insight resonated with me. She recognized that some people are overbuyers…buying multiples of things, buying gifts to have on hand for future recipients, buying well in advance of need. Underbuyers are the opposite, of course. Underbuyers buy in small quantities, and tend to have more of a “just in time” mentality. There are pros and cons, whichever camp you find yourself sitting in.

Imagine my surprise to recognize I’m an underbuyer. Being an underbuyer is not the same thing as being frugal. It means you are comfortable having a four pack of toilet paper in the cupboard, rather than the Costco size package of toilet paper rolls. It means you buy gifts when they are due, and for a specific recipient, rather than stocking items to have on hand. It means that you buy when you need, rather than out of impulse. At least this is my definition, culled from Rubin’s discussion.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, if your buying style is creating issues…storage overflow, or running out of necessities, you might want to determine which style is more you, and then adjust choices that are tripping you up. The point is not that one style is better than the other. It is about making your life work and being more efficient in how you buy. I also think this is an area of money management that is less about how much you spend, more about how you spend. Example: you may actually spend more for less product by buying at the last minute, or in smaller quantities, rather than buying in bulk, for a better price per unit. Or you may create distress for yourself or family members by running out of some necessity before you restock. Conversely, you may get a great deal on food items at a grocery sale, but if the items go out of date before you use them, did you really save money? Or do you find yourself paying for storage space to store all the great deals you’ve picked up?

I immediately recognized overbuyers in my family. There are benefits of being an overbuyer, the most obvious one being that you don’t run out. You are your own supply closet. And overbuyers tend to have more options available at their fingertips without having to shop for specific items. I seldom have all the ingredients of a recipe on hand without planning ahead. But overbuying also feeds clutter and waste.

The important insight for me is to think about habits from multiple perspectives. This question initially seems to be about money, but it is really about management of resources: time, space, and family needs, as well as money. No part of life is one-dimensional, and this is no exception.

The other realization I had is that if you are efficiently organized, either habit can work for you. Overbuyers who efficiently use their stock of food or other supplies won’t lose money tossing out dated product, and will manage their storage space to advantage. Organized underbuyers won’t run out because they have a list of what they need to replace.

If this sounds like too much thought on a subject that should be simple, just think about the extreme consequences of these behaviors. Underbuyers tend to cut things close, to wait till the last minute. Overbuyers probably have it, but may never find it. And in the most extreme cases of overbuying, you can see seeds of OCD behaviors that lead to traps like hoarding. That’s an extreme, but a scary extreme to consider.

So, I’m going to do some thinking about how I buy, and how those choices are impacting other aspects of my life. Maybe I can find the happy middle ground, neither running out of toilet paper at an inopportune time, nor needing to build on a wing to store my bulk buys.

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