Money… can symbolize work, power, love won, or love denied. It can take the form of expensive homes, expensive clothes, expensive presents. Luxuries become necessities. Debt compensates for all shortcomings. “For people to admit they can’t afford things they want means placing themselves in a position of weakness, ” says Dr. Edward J. Khantzian, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “They have to say no to themselves, and nobody likes that.”-Time Magazine, October 1982
Prior to January 1st, 2009… On any given weeknight, you would’ve been just as likely to find my wife and me out at a restaurant, taking in a movie, or simply shopping as you would have been to find us at home. We were what some advertisers might call “The Perfect Consumers.”
When we got bored, which happened often, we would get in the car and drive toward town. Sometimes we didn’t even have a specific destination in mind, other than to go somewhere to spend money on food, clothing, or any other form of entertainment.
While we didn’t frequently blow money on large ticket items or live “lavishly, ” we did spend our money liberally and without purpose. We weren’t content, we weren’t saving, and we had no financial security.
And then it happened… Approximately six months ago, we experienced a financial rebirth. So what has changed in the time since then? Most everything!
If you’ve been following my articles here on FCN, then you know that we have:
- Changed our money mindset from a “trade time for money” approach to a “let your money work for you” approach.
- Voluntarily spent time off the grid in an effort to save money and work toward our goal of becoming increasingly self-reliant.
- Started a garden in hopes of reaping the benefits of homegrown foods, including both financial and health-related benefits.
- Installed rain barrels to harvest water for free irrigation.
- Started making our own household cleaners to save money and reduce our reliance on chemicals.
Add these articles to what I’ve been writing about over at Debt Free Adventure, and you can see that we’ve experienced a tremendous amount of change in the past six months. We’re working against the grain to return to a simpler, less expensive, more resourceful and more satisfying way of life.
How does this relate to culture and temptation?
“‘Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.”-William Shakespeare
My wife and I have worked hard to shake the mindset of “spend to be happy.” We’ve even gone so far as to cancel our satellite TV service, and yet… We’re still influenced by the long-lasting and far-reaching effects of advertising.
When I talk about the changes my wife and I have made in our pursuit of financial independence, most people think we’ve gone overboard. You don’t have to go back too far, however, to reach a time when our view was the majority view. In my opinion this change is the result of cultural changes that have been driven by the media and advertising.
Over the past six months we’ve worked hard to:
- study personal finance
- practice frugality
- reduce our spending
- increase our giving
- increase our savings
- decrease our debt
Although we’re now tempted by fewer things, we still have to work to consciously pass our decisions through a filter of frugality. And even after doing so, I still sometimes want to buy things that I don’t need. Here are a few recent examples…
Temptations that I’ve recently fought off
“A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time”-Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story
1. A new bicycle for commuting to work ($600)
In an effort to save money and get more exercise, I’ve recently begun biking to work ten miles each way. My bike is not a commuting road bike, but it’s a high-quality bike nonetheless. It was designed for hardcore trail riding and racing, but with a few recent alterations I’ve successfully turned into more of a road bike.
In my efforts to transform the bike, I stopped by a local bike shop just to check things out and get a few supplies. Predictably, it was only a matter of minutes before I was salivating over the Trek FX 7.2 hybrid — a bike designed for commuting.
This may sound silly, but at that moment, this bike was my Red Ryder BB Gun! The price was actually reasonable at just under $500, and I promptly began coveting it. My existing bike was good, but there were a few things I didn’t like about it. The biggest issues that I as having were:
- A lack of a rear rack, which is essential if you want to carry any cargo
- A seating position that’s a bit aggressive for comfortably riding miles
While I didn’t need a new bike, I seriously entertained the purchase. In the end, however, I fell back a great technique for avoiding impulse purchases. More specifically, I decided to wait one day for every $100 that I was tempted to spend. After tax and additional parts (rear rack, fenders, and so on), I was looking at around $600 out the door, so I had to wait six days to make my purchase.
Over the next six days, I discovered that my old bike does indeed have rear rack mounts built into the frame — all I needed was the rack itself. I also came to the renewed realization that what I truly want is to use that $600 for debt repayment and/or emergency fund savings.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that I simply did not need the bike, regardless of how bad I wanted it. My bike is more than sufficient and, now that I’ve made a few simple upgrades/adjustments, it will work great for what I require of it.
2. A store-bought vermicomposting bin ($130)
Instead of buying one, I decided to make my own. I spent just a fraction of what I would’ve paid in the store ($22), and it works great. I hope to put together an article about this soon.
3. A store-bought kitchen composting bucket ($20)
Here again, I made my own… And only spent $1.50! This will likewise be the subject of a forthcoming post.
Both of these compost-related purchases were very tempting, and I really had to fight the urge to buy and instead choose the frugal road. Beyond saving money, I have more pride in these possessions — partly because I made/improved them, and partly because I know that I sacrificed my short-term wants for my greater goal.
So what’s the answer?
“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty”-Socrates
Do I believe that advertising is inherently evil, and that marketers should be drawn and quartered? No, absolutely not. I do, however, believe that the entire system has been spinning out of control for years, and I think that many people are finally ready for a change. I know I was!
This post is an attempt to raise awareness that we’ve wallowed in financial ignorance long enough! We’re bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of advertisements each day. Do we run right out and purchase the item we are being shown? Sometimes, but not usually. However…
This constant bombardment has a long-term (detrimental) impact on our mindset. It predisposes us to spend rather than save. There once was a time when our nation’s mindset was something along the lines of work, earn, give, save, and reuse.
Nowadays, our mindset has been transformed to one of work, earn, buy, and dispose. As far as I’m concerned, it’s high time that we reclaim (or adopt) a healthy mindset that encourages us to “spend less than we earn” and invest in the ideas of compounding interest.
in my opinion, your mindset is the most powerful tool that you have.
To help get us back on track, I offer the following simple concepts:
- Be content with what you have. Don’t run out and buy things just because you have a fleeting desire for them. Your financial freedom is at stake!
- Turn off your TV and limit your media exposure. The most eloquent of contrarians could not argue against the fact that mass media promotes a spendthrift mentality. Your financial freedom is at stake!
- Use what you already have. My bike may not have been my first choice, but it was my best choice. If tempted, go through your existing belongings and use what you have for a few weeks to curb your temptation. Your financial freedom is at stake!
- And remember the adage… Spend less than you earn. If you don’t, you’ll soon be broke! Your financial freedom is at stake!
What about you?
Have you successfully battled against a strong temptation to spend and won? If so, how did you do it? If not, what would you do differently next time?