Are you paying to tempt yourself?

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I never buy potato chips. I don’t even walk down the snack aisle. I know I can’t control myself around potato chips and if I go down the aisle, I will just be tempted to buy potato chips or something else really unhealthy. And after I eat the whole bag of potato chips in one sitting, which I always do, I feel pretty gross. Why even tempt myself? I just don’t keep potato chips in the house.

I just saw that Hulu was running a promotion – $6/month for the next year instead of the usual $8/month.  I’ve seen a lot of personal finance articles cite switching to Hulu/Netflix as an obvious money-saving switch. I currently have cable because it was actually cheaper than having just internet. So it’s clear that Hulu/Netflix isn’t always a cheaper solution. But I wonder if Hulu/Netflix makes good sense as an option by itself.

For me, it doesn’t save money to have Hulu/Netflix because I have cable for free. If someone had basic cable, which one may need to watch sports, then there are already an endless number of shows to watch. If someone had Amazon Prime, they would also have an endless amount of TV to watch. And a number of shows that are on Hulu can be watched for free on the network tv channels. Plus there’s Youtube, Ted talks, audio books from the library, online academic and video courses, actual books, Pandora, the radio, etc. You don’t need to spend $20 on Hulu/Netflix for endless entertainment. In fact, Hulu and Netflix give you more options for fun entertainment but a lot of helpful and educational videos can be had for free.

Furthermore, the cost of having Hulu/Netflix is more than just the cost of the access.  Watching TV is typically a sedentary and mindless activity. Having so many good TV options means other activities may be less attractive.

Now, I don’t own a TV, but I love watching TV. And while I usually turn something on to have some noise and entertainment while I’m cleaning or cooking, I know I could still be using the time more productively. I know that watching TV is like reading magazines or following aspirational Instagram feeds- it increases my restlessness, my ingratitude towards my own life. It makes me want to shop to buy the cool clothes or the lifestyles of the people I’m watching. It distracts me from taking the time to improve myself through reading books, exercising, doing errands. Paying for extra TV options is not paying for entertainment but paying so that I never achieve my goals. It’s like having a subscription feed for potato chips. So maybe I’ll just cut the temptation off at the pass and stick with cable for now until the promotion ends. Then I’ll go back to just internet.

On the other hand, I spent $22 on Twix bars at Costco. This was a startlingly large expense as I had just gone to Costco for a few things (actually just baking powder, but Costco only sells baking powder in 5 pound increments, which is an insane amount unless you’re a large family that eats a lot of baked goods). However, it’s much cheaper than buying Twix bars from a vending machine and I sometimes go to get a baked good for a much more expensive and just as unhealthy treat on rough days. This would be a cheaper alternative. So ideally, I would deal with stress by meditating and eating fruits and veggies, but let’s be realistic – I’m going for chocolate. So long as I eat these Twix bars as a replacement for prior bad behaviors, rather than creating a new ritual of eating way too many candy bars, I think this is an improvement on my past behavior rather than encouraging bad behaviors that wouldn’t happen without the purchase.

But I may just be deluding myself. How do you use shopping to make better habits for yourself?

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