Short-term selfless, Long-term Selfish

Spending on what you value

Steven here from munny.club, a weekly newsletter where I share a different perspective on personal finance concepts. If this doesn't interest you or you don't find it valuable, you can unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. If you have feedback, just shoot me a reply!


One of my favourite things to do is (was?) walking around book stores, pre-COVID, and just browsing the aisles. It didn't matter if it was a local independent one or a larger franchise like Chapters/Barnes & Noble. There was something about the curated experience that I loved. I would just write down all the titles that interested me then I would go onto Amazon and buy them for cheaper 😬. The shopping experience on Amazon is in no way the same.

assorted book lot

I've come to realize this type of decision-making is selfish in the short-term and burns me in the long run. I may be getting the best price on Amazon, but then I fail to support businesses that inevitably fail because I'm not the only person doing this. When everyone is shopping price-first, these businesses lose out on customers and eventually go out of business. This means I’ll lose my opportunity to enjoy the simple browsing experience, unless I pay for it.

You can argue that this is just the dynamics of competition, but I think there's more to it. I've been trying to adopt a different philosophy: Be selfless in the short-term, but selfish in the long-term. Using my example of shopping at book stores, this means being "selfless" and supporting them by shopping locally at a higher cost to me. This has the long-term benefit of, hopefully, keeping them around that much longer. It's selfish in nature because I just want the ability to browse bookstores in the future, which means I need to pay for it now. I have been thinking about this more and more as we continue to live through COVID times and don't have the luxury of just browsing stores like we used to. Technically we do, but I continue to avoid it.

It's important to actually pay for what you value or else it will go away. 

We say we value curation, better service, or other things in an experience. But when it comes down to it, are we willing to pay for that? Will we do things like support local or go direct-to-restaurants so that we still have those things? A more COVID relevant version of this is going directly to your favourite restaurants for takeout instead of using a more convenient delivery service to help support the restaurant. 

This is (sort of) a more pedestrian explanation of a phenomenon called The Tragedy of the Commons, for those curious. Though, I think it's recently be refuted, at least in the climate context. In this new philosophy, we are putting our own needs at the forefront, but applying a long-term lens to it. It’s how we avoid the tragedy of the commons.

What other ways are there to be self-less in the short term?

Thanks for reading.