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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This is a problem money can solve

Tonight we came home from work, and I discovered an unpleasant surprise: the load of laundry I had left going this morning had been washed with a tube of lipstick, and several things were ruined…or at best will only be salvaged with a lot of effort on my part. I think there are a few things that will be total losses. Since we’re in an apartment (for this work stint) that is somewhat sparsely supplied, there were no stain treatments with the laundry supplies. I drove back to the small grocery to see what options were available. I bought four different products, hoping that something would help.

After an hour of rubbing, scrubbing, soaking and working, I had made some progress. Enough to let the things soak while we ate dinner. While we were eating, we talked about our day, Rob in the back of the clinic seeing patients, me in the front, dealing with forms, schedules…the admin side. As I’ve said, I don’t do blood.

The other staff members are great; some of them have worked here a long time. They know everyone, and everyone’s story. I hear bits and pieces, put a few names and faces together. The last time we were here, I got a little taste of clinic life, the up close and personal view you get of patients when you sit at the front desk. But when I was here before, I was primarily training staff. I had limited exposure to the patients coming and going. Not so this trip. I’m working at the front desk, filling in until the new hire starts. It was a convenient opportunity. Rob was already scheduled to work, and it was nice that I could come along, and be paid to be here.

The view is different from the front. For the past five years, I’ve worked in healthcare administrative offices, hospital settings that put me in the healthcare arena every day. But in my role, I’ve primarily been involved with the business of healthcare. I’ve had almost no patient connection. The past few months, working with document management, and now sitting in the front office seat, I am seeing the patient population for the first time.

Of course I’ve known they were out there, real people with real illnesses. I’ve witnessed the healthcare system in a limited way for myself and my family. But we’ve been fortunate, and healthy, by and large.

Now I’m seeing, from a perspective I haven’t had before. Patients come in for everything from colds to cancer, broken bones to pregnancy. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes. This is a primary care clinic. Some patients’ stories are poignant reminders that life is fragile. Some are working the system…what can they get for pain? What diagnosis will get them a trip to a specialist in Seattle, conveniently paid by Medicaid? It is unbelievable, the parade that passes on a daily basis.

There are happy patients, women in for prenatal visits, or young parents with little ones for routine checks. There are older folks who come to be monitored for some condition, but who are generally well.

And there are the others…the ones with serious issues that usually can’t be fixed, or cured, or healed. They have too many complications, too many barriers, and many people are their own worst enemies. I often see references to behaviors that are creating the reasons patients come to be seen. But regardless of cause, self-inflicted or just an act of nature, it is a sad thing to look at people who are broken.

This afternoon I saw a man who is obese, can only walk with a walker, who looked hopeless, almost lifeless. He has a heart condition, but I don’t know what brought him in today. Regardless, he’s in bad shape. Then I saw his wife, who had come to pick him up. She is a cancer patient who had part of her jaw removed. It is unsettling to look at her. I found myself looking away, uncomfortable to see someone who has been literally defaced by her disease.

I sat tonight, eating dinner, frustrated at my own innatention to detail that allowed me to wash a tube of lipstick with the laundry. If I had only checked my pockets! And of course, several things I had recently bought were in that load.

But as we ate and talked, perspective grew. My thoughts cleared, and I realized, in the words of a friend, “this is a problem money can solve.” Worst case, I spend a little money to replace what I can’t salvage. The truth is, I’m as irritated at myself for causing the mishap as I am over the ruined clothes. I get impatient when I do foolish things.

Well, there are enough bumps in life to keep me appreciative of days that run smoothly. But no ruined laundry, fender bender, burned dinner…name your pet peeve…can compete with the sadness of serious illness, life-threatning disease, chronic pain. And so far, I’m blessed to be free of any of those conditions. So with that perspective, a little ruined laundry doesn’t seem too bad. Hey, it’s all replaceable or fixable, and non-essential. I mean no disrespect toward the value of money…I know money, or the lack of it, creates hardship too. But that’s another post. And still, in the big picture, things are just things.

I wish I could say I won’t need to be reminded of this again. But that isn’t true. I’ll be frustrated at some other slice of life in a few days, or a week or a month from now. And I’ll have to remind myself what’s important. Who’s important. And that if money can solve the problem, it isn’t really a problem after all.

Learning to trade

I’m learning a new life skill: My husband has introduced me to the world of the stock market and trading. Although not a broker or trader by profession, he has had an interest in that world for many years, and over time has honed his skills. He is now attempting to use trading as a serious cash flow engine, and to further that goal, recently enrolled in a formal training course.

The add-on for me is that he is able to have a guest audit the training, so I‘ve been able to access and complete the modules for free. Let me tell you, to a novice who has barely followed the markets, this is a whole new world! It has its own language and complexities, far beyond the simplistic ups and downs of the stock market numbers that are so frequently quoted in news headlines. Puts, calls, straddles, vertical spreads, Greeks…the terms are strange and sometimes funny. Who knew Wall Street vocabulary could be humorous?

We went to a trading seminar in August that was a revelation to me…there are actually all sorts of diagnostic tools, charts, graphics, complicated software, etc., etc., that help people make sense of this world. And books…you can spend a fortune on books! You can trade stocks, options, bonds, futures, commodities, foreign exchange funds… the variety of ways you can make a living in the financial markets is staggering.

So what is the point of all of this? To make money, of course, and to learn a bit more about the way the world works! Anything can impact the markets, from tech news to current events to currency values…you never know how the market will interpret information.

I have made a little money in my IRA account so far, doing my very own trading, thank you! I’ve had some coaching from my husband, but I’ve made a couple of decisions on my own too. I’m finding that I prefer to buy stock in companies I like, whose products I buy, whose quality I value. I make it a bit personal. To date, I haven’t lost money yet; I’ve made something on every order. I’ve also not made the maximum I could have made, but that’s part of the game too…be happy to walk away with a gain, rather than bemoan the fact that you missed out on part of a run up. (By the way, that’s easier to say than to do; but good advice, none the less.)

My new phrase is “I like to buy money.” That’s what you’re doing if you’re lucky…spending money to make money, and bottom line, that translates to buying money. Will I get rich doing this? Unlikely, and I’ll be fortunate to pad my IRA account a little here and there without doing serious damage. But it’s fun, it’s stretching me, and I’m learning a new language.

FYI…we used Investools, from TD Ameritrade, for our education/training. Check it out; it’s expensive, but hopefully worth it in the end. And no, I’m not receiving any reimbursement for the mention…and in the best tradition of financial services firms, let me hasten to say that I am not recommending this program, just sharing information that this is the company we used for our training.

Good luck if you decide to dive in!