Guns and other stuff: think before you buy

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In many U.S. states, there is a mandated waiting period before you can purchase a gun.  For Jodi and me, living in Costa Rica, we have a mandated waiting period before we buy just about anything.  Here’s how this reality has helped us make progress in living simply:

In Costa Rica, most consumer goods are readily available, but usually for 50% to 100% more than in the States.  Just a few random examples:  Converse shoes are $60-80 instead of $13-20 on Slickdeals; laptops are easily double, as are just about all kids’ toys.

This extreme price difference means that we still buy most of our stuff from the U.S.—we make our purchases online and send them to the next visitor who’s kind enough to schlep them to Costa Rica in their luggage (thanks mom, bapa & nana, LKVP, D/CD, G/CB, KH, MS, SK, NN, SL, J/EC)!

Thus, just like buying a gun, nearly every sizable acquisition carries with it a significant waiting period—often several months—from when we first want something to when we actually buy it.  We’ve found that this time gap is an excellent mechanism for thinking twice about whether we really need more stuff.  It gives us space to prayerfully discern whether a particular item is a necessity or a luxury, whether it is a tool or a toy, whether it is part of the life of economic discipleship to which God calls us.  As Richard Foster says,

one clear advantage to this approach is that it effectively ends all impulse buying. It gives time for reflection so that God can teach us if the desire [for more stuff] is unnecessary.

For Jodi and I, our “waiting period” spiritual discipline has become an integrated part of our lifestyle , no matter where we end up living in the long term, and we’d like to urge you to consider it as well.  I close with some provocative discernment questions, adapted from Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline, that we’ve found helpful in guiding our prayers during our “waiting periods”:

  • Am I buying this for its usefulness or for the social status it will give me?
  • Could this purchase produce an unhealthy addiction for me?
  • Could this purchase blur my spiritual focus or distract me from pursuing God?
  • Do I need to buy a new product, or would a used or borrowed one work just as well?
  • If I buy this, will I still be able to meet my goals for giving to the poor and to God’s Kingdom work?
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15 thoughts on “Guns and other stuff: think before you buy

  1. Great thoughts, Gary. I think the discernment questions you have listed are wonderful. I will be “borrowing” them soon, but don’t worry, I will give you (and Foster) the credit.

  2. Definitely useful to think about.

    I find it helpful, when shopping online, to put items in the “cart” and then not order them that day (this is a lot more convenient on sites which don’t empty your cart after an hour or two*). When I go back to place the order I often decide not to purchase anything, or to buy fewer of the items.

    * Although when I find I’ve lost the whole cart I’m even less likely to buy anything that I didn’t intend to!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Gary! It was especially helpful and I am going to clip this post and refer back to it. Hope you guys are doing well!

  4. This is great advice and certainly a discipline to follow. In general, our culture (and our nature?) is one of instant gratification and the Internet has made things even faster. The proliferation now of “daily deal” sites like Groupon or BabySteals speak to the thrill of finding a good deal but only further the Buy Now! malaise…

  5. On an episode of the Simpsons, Homer is dismayed to discover that his local gun store has a 5-day waiting period. His reaction: “But I’m mad now!”

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