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When people ask me about ways to save money, I give them the usual answers. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, look for the best deal on what you do need, be conscious of your spending, etc. But I also throw in one more simple piece of advice. Don’t throw stuff away that you know you’ll need again.

This may seem pretty obvious. Why throw away something that’s perfectly good, only to buy a new one next year or next month? Surely people don’t do that, right? Wrong. I know many people who buy needed items (and even unneeded items), use them once and then throw them away, only to repurchase the same item the next time they need one. I’d love to survey these people one day to find out how much money they’ve spent buying the same items over and over again. I’m sure the amount would boggle my mind. Here are but a few examples:

We live in hurricane country. Every time there’s a storm alert, people rush down to the hardware store to buy plywood for their windows. They then spend the better part of the day cutting the wood to fit the windows. What happened to the wood they bought for the storms and cut last year? Or last month, for that matter? I know these people. It’s not like they just moved here. They’ve lived here for years and know it’s hurricane country. Yet after each storm, they toss their plywood, only to have to buy new for the next storm.

Before moving to hurricane country, we lived in snow country. As with the plywood for hurricanes, a snow shovel or blower is essential during storms. Yet it’s the same scenario. A storm is forecast, people flock to the hardware store for shovels and blowers, only to toss them once the season is over. Repeat next year. It happens with tools, rakes, lawnmowers, and generators, too. Buy one, use it for one job or season, give it away or sell it (at a loss), and then buy a new one next year.

A neighbor buys a new fake Christmas tree every year. Not a real tree, a fake tree. At the end of the season, she throws it away. Then she buys a new one next year. It’s not like she’s looking for a different size, style or color each year. Her trees always look the same. They’re just new.

Another neighbor is famous for buying appliances and kitchen gadgets to use for one party and then throwing them away or giving them to Goodwill. Then, when it’s time for the next party, she’s out buying all new appliances and gadgets, again.

Not only is this practice expensive, it’s wasteful. These perfectly good, hardly used, items are ending up in the landfills unless someone has the sense to donate them to charity or sell them. True, if the owner sells the item it doesn’t end up in the landfill, but they only get a fraction of what they paid and it’s not enough to buy a new one. A waste of money.

I’ve asked some people why they do this and I haven’t been able to get an answer that I fully believe, yet. Some say they have no storage space for their generators, plywood, or snow shovels. That may be true for some people, but I’ve been in these people’s houses and I’ve seen that they have plenty of space in the garage or basement. The Christmas tree lady told me that trees don’t store well. I can’t say I’ve ever had that problem, and I’ve been using the same tree for fourteen years. The kitchen gadget lady told me that, by the time it’s time for another party, the appliances on the market are much better than those she threw away. I could believe it if her parties were three years apart, but she throws parties every two months or so. I don’t think appliances improve that much in that short period of time. I suspect that these are feeble excuses that cover the real reasons people do this.

Why would people do this? I think there are three reasons (some people are probably a combination of two or more). The first is because they can. They have the money (or the space on the credit card) to get away with tossing aside so much stuff. They aren’t concerned with buying another shovel or tool set because it’s not big enough to register on their financial radar. They can always get a newer, better one when it’s needed again.

The second reason is because they don’t have a financial radar in the first place. Some people have no idea how much they have to spend or what things cost, so they just go through life blindly tossing stuff they’re “done with,” never considering the financial ramifications of having to buy it again when they need it again. These people are often in financial trouble, whether they realize it or not, and spending on the same items again and again is part of the reason.

The third, and most shallow, reason is because they cannot stand to be seen with anything less than the newest and the best. It may seem odd that a blender or a Christmas tree can be seen as a status symbol, but that’s exactly (at least in my area) what these items are. A new tree says that this woman can afford the best each year, whereas last year’s tree would simply be a tree. A shiny new blender is there on the counter at a party for all to see and admire. It doesn’t have any chips or dings in it that a well-used blender might have. It says, “See me, I’m new and my owner is somebody.” At least that’s what these people think their objects say about them. I think they just say, “My owner has no idea of the importance of money and chooses to throw it away on the same stuff she just bought last year.”

Just for reference, I found a fairly nice, middle of the road snow shovel at Lowe’s. It was $30. Now, if you bought a new one every year at $30 (we won’t get into inflation) for forty years of your adult life, you’ve spent $1,200 on show shovels. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you had saved that $30 every year in a tax deferred account at a conservative 8%, you would have accumulated close to $8,500 in those same 40 years. The more expensive the item, (think generators, power tools, and Christmas trees), the more you could have saved if you had just kept the item for a few years rather than buying a new one each year.

So when people ask me how to save money, I give the usual advice, but I also tell them to keep things they know they will need again. Or if you don’t want to keep it, rent or borrow the item when you do need it. You’ll save a lot of money and help save the environment, too. And if you aren’t the sort of person who throws things away like this, you can save big money by moving to a neighborhood full of people who do. Shop their garage sales and cruise by their curbs on trash day and take your pick of some very fine, barely used stuff.

-J. Derrick
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