bang for your buck, decision fatigue, and getting what you want

It's snowing like crazy right now, and already starting to accumulate, which is odd because it hasn't accumulated more than an inch of snow here in October since the Civil War. N is prancing about like a delighted little demon child. But I'm not here to talk about the weather.

I went to the local artisan quilt store yesterday because I was in the area anyway and knew that they were having a sale. A bit ago, I purchased a lovely alphabet quilt pattern with all sorts of animal on it, which requires a million different colors in small swatches, so I figured that this would be a good time to stock up of bits and piece for that quilt. I spent an hour in the store comparing this to that, and trying to figure out how much I should buy. At one point, I had sixty dollars of fat quarters in my arms, intending to buy them all. But then I decided that I was being ridiculous and that I should only get what I really loved and would regret not buying for that quilt. I cut the number down to a third, checked out, and left quickly--I was tired of making decisions.

I hit the grocery store immediately afterward, and when I got home, I made a to-do list then took a nap and didn't really do anything on my list until after dinner. School has been depleting me of late, and this was my first chance to relax in a while.

That whole experience got me thinking: I had infinite time and energy, what decisions would I make when it comes to consumption? How do I train myself to make good decisions always? The answer is in the last line of the previously linked article: "The best decision makers," Baumeister says, "are the ones who know when not to trust themselves."

My default used to be purchase something over leaving it behind, but now I've reversed that, and I think that that's a good policy for everyone.  It's the state of no change, and decisions can be made later.  Return policies complicate things, of course, as do annoyingly overwhelming salespeople, to whom I've fallen victim a few times.  

And then there's the need to keep glucose levels appropriately high for good decision-making.  Making decisions aside, I know I'm happier in general when I adopt a hummingbird diet, as my mom calls it: eating tiny portions near constantly.  Part of me wonders if there could be a system where a credit card charge would require a glucose check of its owner in addition to a signature.   I doubt that the credit cards or the retailers would want that, though.

In the end, list-making works best for me.  I make a list when I'm capable of making good decisions and then I need to make fewer choices at the store, as long as I stick to the list.  Knowing the product brands in advance is really nice too, which can usually be done online, even for grocery stores.  Part of the reason the quilt store was so exhausting was that my list looked like "1/2 yard of a variety of green fabrics for alligators, newts, and turtles," which requires in-store decision making.  It would be the equivalent of saying "spices for roast chicken" or "a few veggies for stir-fry" instead of "rosemary, thyme" or "carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms."

 Then there's the question of how much to get of any given item, be it fabric, food, or any other "consumable"--something you'll use up eventually.  I could buy a full yard fo green fabric, but will I actually ever use it?  How about getting my toilet paper in bulk?  Getting the most per dollar is important, but it's not always clear what to do.  Say you need one unit of product A and that goes for  $1.  You could also get 10 units of product A for $8.  Well, if you're going to use all ten units eventually and you have both the budget leeway and the storage space, then 10/$8 makes more sense.  Toilet paper, for instance would be an example of this type of product.  But if you might only ever use 5 units of product A and the rest will just sit there, then it's best to only buy what you need.  For me, lots of green fabric would fall into this category.  I'd use some of it, probably even more than the original 1 unit I needed, but probably not all of it.  If I only used 5 units, I would have really paid $8/5 units, which would be more than the $1/1 unit.

It's this second category of item that is really tricky, since you don't know how much you're going to use in advance.  For me, I error on the side of buying only the smallest unit that I need, or $1/1 unit in the case above.  Even if I have to go back and buy more of the product later, it's worth it to spending a little extra to only have exactly what I need at any given time.  When I choose not to buy in bulk, I think of the extra cost as a minimization fee--I'm willing to pay a little more so I don't have to worry about a lot of stuff.

I'm not always the wisest consumer, but I feel like I'm getting better.  In some ways I am a materialist in that I think about physical objects and how they impact our lives; I had the realization recently that conscious minimalism is a kind of materialism.  That's not to say that material things are more important than non-material things--quite the reverse in my opinion--but that material things are important, that they have value, and they are worth thought.  Unnecessary consumption seems a little vulgar, though I am certainly guilty of it.  But I'm walking down a tangent line.

The end point: make good decisions by eating well and making up your mind in advance when you can.  This can work for more than just being a consumer and is actually part of the GTD system in a way; sometimes it's easier to do something than to think or make plans about doing it.

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