This distinction encapsulates one of my very favorite (if not most weighty) personal insights into human nature: the difference between over-buyers and under-buyers. I also love the satisficer/maximizer distinction, but I didn’t come up with that one myself.
It’s not particularly productive to be in too deep as an over- or under-buyer; both offer certain advantages but also some definite drawbacks.
Does one of these descriptions fit you?
You’re an over-buyer if …
- You buy several summer outfits for your as-yet-unborn baby, then it turns out he outgrows those clothes before the weather warms up.
- You often lay in huge supplies of slow-moving items like shampoo or cough medicine.
- You often make a purchase, such as a tool or tech gadget, with the thought, “This will probably come in handy.”
- You have a long list of stores to visit before you travel.
- You find yourself throwing things away—milk, medicine, even cans of soup — because they’ve hit their expiration date.
- You buy items with the thought, “This will make a great gift!” without having a recipient in mind.
- You think, “Buying these things shows that I’m responsible, organized, and thoughtful.”
You’re an under-buyer if…
- You buy saline solution, which you use every morning and night, one bottle at a time.
- You often scramble to buy an item like a winter coat or bathing suit after the point at which you need it—and often, these items are sold out by the time you show up at a store.
- You’re suspicious of specialized objects and resist buying things dedicated very specific uses: suit bags, special plastic plates and cutlery for children, hand cream, rain boots, hair conditioner.
- You often need to come up with a makeshift solution, such using soap because you’ve run out of shaving cream, because you don’t have what you need.
- You often consider buying an item, then decide, “I’ll get this some other time” or “Maybe we don’t really need this.”
- If you must buy something, you buy as little as possible—say, by putting $10 of gas in the car.
- You think, “Not buying these things shows that I’m frugal and not a consumerist sucker.”
Me? I’m an under-buyer.
Under-buyers feel stressed because we don’t have the things we need. We make a lot of late-night runs to the drugstore. (I constantly run out of saline solution.) We’re surrounded with things that are shabby, don’t really work, or aren’t exactly suitable.
Over-buyers feel stressed because they’re hemmed in by stuff. They often don’t have enough storage space for everything they’ve bought, or they can’t find what they have. They feel oppressed by the number of errands they believe they need to do, and by the waste and clutter often created by their over-buying.
So under-buyers—buy what you need, without procrastination! Don’t wait for the first morning of your ski trip to buy ski gloves!
Over-buyers—think it over before you whip out your wallet! You don’t need a ten-year supply of toothpaste!