A few weeks ago, my Pastor from church was preaching about “Thou shalt not covet” – one of the Ten Commandments. He said that it was not one of the most talked about commandments but was nevertheless very important and so easy to break. He gave the following analogy. He said that if he was caught reading a “Playboy” magazine in his office, it would be a scandal! But if he was seen reading “Kitchen and Bed” magazine, nobody would bother. But to him, reading the magazine about Kitchens and “coveting” for that dream kitchen that one's neighbor has is just as bad. This got me thinking about how to prevent myself from coveting for “stuff”.
I think this is especially important because overspending and buying things we cannot afford is one of the main reasons we get into debt, both as individuals and as a nation. I'm also quite passionate about this subject because my kids are always asking me to buy stuff. Sometimes they expect to buy a stuff animal toy just because they visited the zoo, or they want a batting glove when they join spring baseball.
Off course, everyone, including myself have fallen for this, coveting for stuff. Here are some of my thoughts on this and how not to fall into this trap.
Buy only what you need – The first concept I thought was that we should only buy what we need. This sounds ridiculously simple but the concept is easily violated. Here's a few examples. My kids have lots of soft toys (especially animal stuffed toys we get from the zoo). By the way, we've stopped buying stuff when going to such places. Last year, my son says he wanted a baseball batting glove (everyone on the team has one). Well, he hardly had a hit the whole season, though his team won the championship. My son also keeps wanting to buy “new soccer balls”. (The kid with the fanciest soccer shoes was the worst player on the team by the way!)
In these examples, you can see that we buy things we simply do not need at the end of the day. So, here's rule #1: Buy only what you need. Not more, not less.
Buy only what is functional – There is never a need to buy the latest stuff. Even if you want to buy an iPhone, you don't need the latest model if you are not going to use up all the memory! Most folks do not need the latest Intel Duo Core chip in their computers because they will never need such processing power, but they still buy them anyway. If you are into video editing, then perhaps you could justify spending on the Apple Mac Pro with tons of extra RAM!
Over the weekend, I was taking a friend from abroad to an Outlet mall. He went inside a Prada shop to check things out. I saw a very nice winter coat. It cost $770 on sale! It was a very nice coat, but will it really keep me warm in freezing weather? I don't know! It's a Prada, not a North Face? I also know several folks who do not play the piano well, but they bought a grand piano for their house anyway. Their kids take piano lessons, but they are certainly no maestros that warrant a Steinway! Perhaps an electronic piano or even a second hand piano would have served the purpose.
Earn the right to better stuff – My son recently asked me if he could get a “first base” glove if he played first base in this Spring's baseball! My answer was a firm “NO”. Once again, I had to explain to him that wearing a “first base” glove was not going to make him a better player. In fact, I told him that he had to earn the right to get one. That means lots of practice and if he gets into his high school or college team, then he would probably have earned his right to get the right gear.
Same goes to the grand piano example. If an aspiring pianist has made it and is a professional, then he or she has earned the right to get a grand piano. In fact, you would even say that it is a necessity then. If a college student has excellent grades and has a gotten a job with a top law firm or something equivalent, then he or she has probably earned the right to a slightly “more expensive but stylish” working attire. A chef (who happens to cook at lot at home) probably has earned the right to good or even high end kitchen equipment because he will make use of them to the fullest. Ordinary folks like us who can hardly make a scramble egg properly should settle for the most affordable gear.
Do Not Go To The Mall Just For Sales and Discounts – Most of the time, it never pays to buy stuff just because they are on sale or on credit. Sales are always designed to stimulate impulse purchases. Furniture stores and car dealers are always offering 0% financing deals (sometimes as long as 24 months!). Here's the thing – if you cannot pay in cash, you cannot afford it! Very often, I find myself tempted to buy something I would never have bought because “it is on sale!”.
Make use of sales, but do not let “SALES MAKE USE OF YOU”.
Think about long run maintenance cost – Even if you could afford anything, thinking about long run maintenance cost is a good antidote if you are always coveting for the “best stuff”. Let's use a mansion (or a huge house) as an example. Buying a new house is not cheap. Even if you could pay cash for a two million dollar home, it does not mean that is the end of the story. Your estate taxes will probably be about $1,500 a month (if you are lucky). Paying that every month is like paying a mortgage to me even if you have paid cash up front! Not to mention maintaining a garden, a pool etc. Getting the largest SUV is the same story. Unless, you “really” need it, the cost of gasoline could eat away at your finances. The same thing applies to expensive hobbies, or constantly buying tickets to sporting events. Buying expensive involves ongoing insurance cost to insure those valuable pieces!
Get rid of your credit card if it helps – It's strange to hear this from me. But in my area of expertise, folks ask me if they should carry a credit card. My answer is that if it tempts you to spend more, then get rid of it. Use your bank check card instead. But if you have a business and you need one (like for example you have a business) then by all means get the best business credit card you can for your business. If you can use a credit card responsibly, a simple cash back credit card (like the one Peter uses) will save you money. But you know yourself on this one.
Slowly Change Your Concept of Happiness – Despite all these suggestions, I guess the only way to really stop coveting for stuff is to realize that material possessions do not make us happy. It can make life more comfortable, but they can't make us any happier. To escape our consumerism culture requires a realization that spending time with your kids, having dinner with your spouse, talking to friends, watching a movie together will probably make you happier than all the “stuff” money can buy. We do not need the latest Wii game or Xbox. We don't need the latest cell phone because our parents got along with none at all! We just have to learn to live simply and enjoy the simple things in life.
What are your thoughts on the how not to covet? What tips can you give? Tell us in the comments.