Frugal – buying decisions

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I’m interested in simplifying both what I own and what I spend, which gives me two reasons to think very carefully about anything new I purchase. On the other hand, I’m very motivated by self-improvement and often want to try new things which will help me to change in some way. If they’re brand new to me, they sometimes require equipment or other items which would help to do them more effectively. How do I reconcile the two things?

Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme suggests not buying anything for a new activity until you’ve proven that you can stick with it (I think – I can’t find the exact post now). That’s generally a good policy, so I’ll usually set myself a timescale or frequency after which I can buy the equipment I’m thinking of. For example, last week I tried a Body Pump class and found it both interesting and challenging, so I’d like to keep going with it at home. I have some low-weight dumbbells and kettlebells which I have used for previous exercise, but I don’t have a barbell.

My first instinct, and what many websites about the course would recommend, is to go out and buy a barbell straight away, and in fact to assume that I can’t do the activity until I buy the barbell. Considering Jacob’s suggestion, I can try the activity at home with dumbbells and kettlebells to see if it really sticks or if I get bored of it very shortly. We did use dumbbells during the class for a few sections, so I know that those can definitely be adapted. The others may not be ideal without a barbell, but will probably be good enough as a form of movement and a form of strength training, even if I don’t get the full benefit I would get from a barbell.

I’ve therefore set myself the challenge that if I can do Body Pump three times per week at home, using the weights I already have, for four weeks, then I can look into getting a barbell. This has two advantages: I’m more motivated to undertake the activity because there’s a built-in reward after a few weeks; I’m giving myself time to make it into a habit before I invest in it. If I can do this regularly for four weeks before I even buy any equipment, there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll stick with it for another four weeks after buying the equipment.

Actually, there’s a third advantage as well in this case. My arms, shoulders and chest are pretty weak, so it’s to my advantage to get used to doing the movements with the lighter weights I already have, as this will make me less likely to give up in the early days. A barbell has a weight of itself, before you even add any plates to it, and I found the weights heavy enough during the class that I was failing halfway through the tracks rather than working to the end and then failing.

Setting a frequency for a new activity is useful to give yourself time to embed the habit. For things you already do, it’s useful to set a buying timescale. I often find myself urgently wanting something when I first read about it, but then forgetting about it after a couple of weeks, or losing interest enough that I don’t want to buy it anymore. For example, earlier in the year, I was thinking about buying a Fitbit. I looked into prices and the different models and almost made a decision to buy there and then, but I didn’t have the cash straight away, so said I’d leave it for a month. When I think about buying a Fitbit now, I can’t really get excited about it, so it seemed to be just a fad that I’ve moved away from. Even with time-limited offers, I’ll usually try to at least sleep on the purchase, and that often gives me enough time to change my mind or get a more realistic view of the value.

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