The Tiny Promises We Make To Ourselves About The Things That We Buy

Or, self soothing via bargaining.

Photo via Flickr

The other day, a makeup brand that I like very much in spite of its breezy brand of internet feminism and occasionally insufferable Instagram presence released a new product. I added it to my cart, along with some other things and stared at the total — not so much that I panicked at the thought of purchasing it, but not so low that it felt like second nature. I contemplated briefly whether or not I shoudl do it; I texted my sister and looked at my bank account. Then, one morning before coffee, I clicked “order” and tracked the package with barely suppressed glee, waiting for the moment my impulse would become tangible.

“If I buy this stuff now, I’ll have to make an adjustment elsewhere,” I muttered to a mostly-empty apartment. Bustling with a renewed sense of purpose, I ate peanut butter toast and a weird kale salad comprised of things I found in my fridge for dinner as partial penance for the purchase I had made, thinking that the money I saved by not just buying a salad from the place down the street would offset the cost. This logic is only sound in theory if not in practice, like moving rocks from one side of the scale to another in an attempt to find a perfect balance.

Before every purchase I make, I enter into a state of frenzied internal calculations intended to justify the purchase and its necessity in my life. It’s not necessarily as a means of actually budgeting — that is left for a color coded spreadsheet and the frantic whirrings of my own mind — but as a way of assuring myself that spenidng money is not a big deal. Deciding whether or not I should buy a new book, sitting in my Amazon cart for weeks plus a weird face wash I read about and a new litter mat for my ineffectual cat, totaling maybe $38.75 is something I think about for days at a time, looking at my budget and thinking about what it is I do or don’t need to do that week, where I will spend money, how that will make me feel.

Bargaining with myself via promises to eat in, not buy clothing or sit very still in my room and not leave isn’t productive. I’m going to buy what I want to buy regardless of how much I agonize over it. But the agony is part of the process. It’s a strange self-soothing mechanism, a way to ease the fraught nature of all transactions. From the brief surveys I’ve conducted, most people I know just don’t do this. They spend money or they don’t, and they keep the quiet inner workings of why they do and whether or not they should to themselves. That works for them and this works wonderfully for me.

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