5 min read

should i buy this cologne

should i buy this cologne
Photo by Tristan Colangelo / Unsplash

I'm in Paris right now and I'm trying to decide if I should buy this cologne I found.

On the one hand, it's the scent I've liked the most out of any cologne I've tried. It smells like fruit. II didn't care that it was for women, or that my parents didn't like it. I kept sniffing the paper on the way home and imagined each time I wore the scent would feel like a treat.


On the other hand, I want to save a lot of money so I can take sabbaticals from work and retire sooner. I set a budget for June to match, and I've already exceeded that budget.

It's a tough choice, one might say life-or-death. Ultimately I decided to completely overthink this purchase, ostensibly for the benefit of you, the reader.

Here are 5 cues to think about when making purchases.

1) people are different

First, one important truth is that buying this cologne would be right for some people, but not others.

For example, I see my roommate buying this in my position. He's quite into fashion and grooming and items that could be an expression of himself. I could see him having a whole narrative around this perfume. Yet he's still one of the people I know that is the most intentional about money (spends less than me and reviews his budget every weekend).

But I don't see other friends buying this, for example, neither the friend that's working on a startup nor the friend at a monastery in pursuit of spiritual advancement.

So the question is, is this purchase right for my preferences? Not is this purchase right in general.

2) spend guilt free... up to a point

The ideal approach appears to be setting spending targets, spending guilt free as long as you're under them, and overall trying to stick to them.

This has some issues in practice, so IMO it's an important starting point rather than the end-all-be-all.

The main issue is that I totally ignore the spending target. I never remember to check it.

Other issues

A few secondary issues:

  1. It's the beginning or the middle of the month and you appear to have a lot of money remaining. It's a bit hard to make decisions here but I just had the idea to prorate to the day for budget available - e.g. if you have a $3000 budget and 30 days in the month, you have $1500 available as of mid month.
  2. It's near the end of the month and you want to make a future purchase. Are you allowed to borrow from your future self? If you do, do you need to track that? If so, tracking that would be overhead. I've tracked this in the past and didn't stick to it.
  3. It's near the end of the month, and you've underspent. Do your savings roll over for you to the next month for you to spend guilt free? Tracking this rollover is overhead and I had issues tracking it.

A few tertiary issues , I haven't overcome these:

  1. Having a budgeting app where you can see your expenses
  2. Setting up the app such that your monthly expense number is actually what you need to look at (excluding items like rent and investments)
  3. Coming up with savings targets, which can just be 20% to start per the 50-30-20 rule or something more complex, e.g. a goal retirement timeline (or just ask a friend for their savings target and copy it)

In this situation, I did remember to check the target. I'm over the target.

Now I need to decide whether to stick to the targets!

So still a decision to be made...

3) make your own heuristics

It turns out people with better self control aren't actually better at resisting temptations, rather are better at avoiding temptations. For example, instead of resisting the temptation to watch another episode, they don't start the show altogether.

In a similar vein, it's probably best to have heuristics around classes of purchases rather than comparing each purchase against your spending targets:

  • I have a rule that I don't buy physical books, only ebooks. I don't know if this has saved me much money but it has saved me a lot of clutter.
  • I want to consider a rule that I don't eat out alone.
  • I also want a rule around clothing, but I don't know what yet. I don't want to just wear jeans and black t-shirts, lol.
  • I could also have a rule around minimizing duplicates e.g. try to only have one of every item. And I already have cologne...

Relatedly, I remember reading that better organization is fake minimalism. And so the solution to simpler finances probably isn't better organizing myself (and meticulous budgeting), rather it's a few fundamental rules and mindsets

4) sleep on it

The best approach is to wait on a purchase for 48 hours (48 hour rule). Or more, honestly. I might wait to buy this perfume until I run out of my current perfume.

5) know your values

honestly, I ultimately value living a simple life with a lot of contentment. I don't want to need a lot.

I'm inspired by digital nomads that live out of one bag (like when I lived out of one bag in Thailand for 3 weeks) and also zen Japanese minimalists that just sleep on the floor (like me for some years).

That feels like my roots.

But I do like simple joys too tho... which is where the cologne comes in...


To summarize the most important points for myself:

  • know spending targets and keep track of them as input
  • come up with rules for spending like "never eat alone"
  • wait 48h or more before large purchases
  • remember my values (for me, "simple living")

Wow, over the course of this article, I've really cooled down about this cologne. I don't really want it as much anymore lol


I don't share these thoughts to cause people MORE anxiety about how they spend, hopefully less anxiety and more confidence.

if it's helpful, remember I lost like 18k on crypto/NFTs. this point really helps me frame how smaller purchases don't really matter lol

appendix: other cues (didn't make the final draft)

consider the opportunity cost

This perfume is worth 4-5 yoga classes. Is this perfume 4-5 yoga classes worth of happiness?

It's also almost a roundtrip flight to Puerto Rico from NYC.

what's the benefit?

what's the actual utility?

is most of the actual benefit in your mind? e.g. just emotional happiness. if so, take note.

in contrast, some purchases have benefits irrespective of the emotions in your head. For example, I bought barefoot shoes and regardless of my emotions I get the benefits they claim for foot health.

consider if it is BIFL or an experiment

consider whether you would buy the item for life (or repeatedly buy the item for life)

if you're not sure, then it's a gamble, so treat it like one. I do this with subscriptions - they're always a gamble so I never subscribe to the yearly discount, I might want to cancel

fight biases

Consider whether this purchase comes from a place of insecurity. I know I buy clothing sometimes out of insecurity (also gifts in some odd contexts lol).

Also consider whether this purchase is fueled at all by scarcity, especially time scarcity. People tend to be impulsive and buy more under those settings, so businesses always try to produce such tactics (e.g. limited time discounts).

And consider whether the purchase is fueled by a need for consistency - to be consistent with a previous statement or a sense of identity. Some crazy examples of this in the book Influence by Robert Cialdini.

consider the risks

will you actually use it?