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Under the Influence of Impulse

We feel as though we need everything we want, and we need it right now

Under the Influence of Impulse
Photography by Loehr

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when people go into debt. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading this in December or June or somewhere in between: it’s always the time of year when people go into debt. That’s what we do. And that’s why we’re broke.

We purchase gifts with credit cards.
We buy jewelry with “no money down.”
We assume 60- (and now 84-) month vehicle loans.
We take on 30- (and now 40-) year mortgages.
We even finance furniture. Furniture!

Come on.

I walked into a furniture store recently because my wife wanted to look for a new throw pillow (or “throat pillow” if you read Everything That Remains). As we meandered the maze of coffee tables and couches and credenzas, I saw the same sign again and again, strategically placed on various pieces of furniture: “Take me home today! Financing available.”

This is what it’s come to. We feel as though we need everything we want, and we need it right now. And we needn’t budget, we needn’t save, we needn’t prioritize our expenses—because we can let our future selves sort it out. Someday.

How has that worked out so far? Are you grateful for your past self’s reckless spending? Are you happy with the lack of planning? Are you content with the trail of debt left in the wake of all the things your former self purchased under the influence of impulse? I know I’m not. It took me years to become debt free, and I’m not going back—because I’m no longer willing to deny my future self joy by pleasing myself today.

Truth be told, if we need to finance a thing—be it a sofa or an SUV—then, by definition, we can’t afford it. So instead of going into debt, perhaps we should consider going without. Not forever—just until we have enough money to cover the full purchase.

Until then…
We can sit still on that outmoded couch.
We can make do with that lumpy mattress.
We can use the cosmetics already lining our bathroom shelves.
We can go shopping in our own closets for the clothes we don’t wear.
We can drive that 2004 Toyota Corolla until it croaks.

Frankly, if we want a new thing, we should wait until we can afford it. Maybe then, when we’ve got that bundle of hard-earned cash in hand, we’ll realize we don’t actually want the object of impulse we coveted while standing in the store.

Otherwise, we can act on impulse; we can gratify our desires instantly. If we succumb to the siren song of debt, we might even feel a spark of pleasure at the checkout line, but that flame will soon be extinguished when the first monthly bill arrives.

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