Buy Only What You Need

Timothy Shay Arthur


To buy nothing which you do not need, is a maxim as old almost as society itself. But it is also one that is continually slipping out of mind, and which cannot, therefore, be brought forward again too frequently. Spending money, in fact, is a vice common to human nature. Where one person degrades himself by being a miser ten people run constant peril of ruining themselves by extravagance.

It is so common to have elegant furniture, to live in a handsome house, or to dress one's wife and children in rich apparel that it requires an unusual degree of firmness, especially in this prosperous age, to resist the temptation. If everybody was compelled to pay cash for such gratifications, there would be some slight check on this tendency to useless expenditure. But credit is so easily obtained in this country, and buyers are so optimistic of being ready when settling day comes, that thousands of families are induced annually to cripple their future comforts, by indulging in present follies. Half the men who reach old age impoverished, and perhaps even a greater number, owe their dependent condition, at that saddest of all times to be beggared, to early extravagance.

If we were all to buy only what we needed, this would not be. We are far from recommending a niggardly stinginess; for one of the purposes of wealth is that it should be distributed in wholesome living. But still even the wealthiest, with few exceptions, frequently buy what they do not need; while those less favored incessantly violate this golden rule. The preacher, lawyer, or physician, attracted by some new and costly book, persuades himself that his profession requires that he should have it, and spends on it a sum which he often needs for more necessary purposes before the year is over. The wife, charmed by a new style of dress, lavishes away her money, is delighted for a while but lives to repent it, if she is a woman of sense. The father, loving to his daughter, thinks no expense too great to gratify her whims. The young man, fond of horses, does not stop to count the cost when coveting a famous trotter. The fashionable couple, who like to be surrounded with mirrors, pictures, and fine furniture, generally squander money disproportionately on such costly gewgaws.

Yet all learn, sooner or later, to regret what they have done, since they find they have added nothing to their happiness, as tens of thousands have discovered before, after buying what they did not really need.

It is not enough that a purchase gratifies us at the time. To be a judicious expenditure, it should be such a one as we can recur to afterwards with satisfaction. If Mrs. A., when she moves into her new house, spends so much money on furniture that her husband's dinners suffer by it is she not paying too dear for this extravagance? If Mrs. B. gives so elegant a party to her friends that the home is stinted all the rest of the winter is she not paying too dear for this extravagance? If Mrs. C., by going to Cape May on vacation with her daughters, makes such an inroad on her husband's salary, that his old worn-out coat has to last another winter is she not paying too dear for this extravagance? if Mrs. D.'s piano lessons for her daughter prodigy, takes the earnings of whole weeks what is all this but paying too dear for the extravagance?

Whenever we buy what we don't need we deprive ourselves of things we really require. To be wise is to err, if anything, on the other side. If we deny ourselves a little, if we learn to buy nothing until we are sure we need it we shall both avoid its perils and extravagance, and discipline our characters. Amid the hurry and temptations of this prosperous age, it is well to recall occasionally these old maxims of prudence and wisdom. Time thus spent is not wasted.