Last night I was watching a great set of video interviews by Adam Baker over at ManVsDebt.com with other popular writers, bloggers and world travelers. I can’t link to the videos because they’re actually part of his great new premium e-book package that he’s offering called “Sell Your Crap“. ( I started reading the e-books in the package last night, and if you’re looking for some creative ways to get rid of your clutter, or tips on selling on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist, his e-books have some great tips and tricks for you to use. The videos are definitely worth it as well. Highly recommended. Sell Your Crap E-book – Clutter Crusher Edition)
In any event, in one of the videos I was watching Adam interviews J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly fame, and asks him about falling prey to consumerism, and if things have changed since he has gotten his finances under control, and started earning a better income. Basically – is it harder to not fall prey to consumerism when you can afford to buy things more?
J.D.’s answer might be surprising to some in that he didn’t think it was harder for him to avoid buying things he might want now. He talked about how in the past he did fall prey to a voracious appetite for buying comic books, and all the shiny new gadgets that came out. The problem was, that all of the things he would buy would just turn to clutter. He would buy all the new comic books that came out, but he would only read certain ones. The rest would just sit in a box in the corner. Essentially it was a waste of money.
After J.D. got his finances under control, and was better able to afford things, he realized that while he still wanted to buy certain things that he enjoyed, he didn’t want all the clutter and baggage that went along with buying everything, and buying just out of habit. Instead he developed a laser-like focus that honed in on a few things that he would like to buy, and he would buy those. Instead of buying 10 new comics, he would buy only 1 or 2 that he knew he would read, and forgo the rest.
So for J.D., the keys to avoiding the temptations of consumerism, even though he had the money to spend included:
- Realizing that buying things comes with baggage like debt and clutter
- It’s OK to buy things that you enjoy, especially if you have the money.
- Have laser like focus, and don’t buy everything that you think you might want. Figure out what you like best, and buy that only
Is It Harder Not To Spend, When You Have The Money?
While J.D.’s story really got me thinking, it’s still an interesting question to ask. For a majority of people, is it harder not to buy the things that you want, and fall prey to a high consumption lifestyle if you have the money to spend? Or does having more money to spend go hand in hand with having better financial discipline, and thus not falling prey to consumerism as easily?
I know for me, our family income has gone up substantially in the last couple years, and we can afford to buy more things than we used to. To be honest, I have probably bought more things that I wanted during that time than I did in the past, but I haven’t necessarily gone out of control – cluttering up the house or creating debt. I’ve only paid cash for everything, and the things that I’ve bought tend to be high quality, things that will last for years.
I think for me it was harder to not fall prey to consumerism when I didn’t have any money. I would use credit cards to pay for spring break trips, and buy the newest game console on my plastic. In a way, buying things was a coping mechanism, and an escape towards a better life I was dreaming about. The problem is, the things you buy can far too often take over your life, and the dreams of a more prosperous life they came with, can often turn into a curse of debt and despair.
So what do you think – would it be harder for you to not fall prey to consumerism when you can afford to buy things more? Or have you overspent more often on things you don’t need when you didn’t have the money to spare? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
From my experience, after we paid off our house and could afford most things we wanted – we found it easier to avoid consumerism. For me, it was being able to avoid focusing on how I could get (save, find deals, etc) what I wanted. Not that I stopped saving or looking for deals, but we stopped the relentless focus on finding the savings and deals and at the same time, God has helped me to put in His perspective on buying things that I wanted. God’s perspective has helped me to realize that my money could be used better giving to the poor, sick, and in prison (Matthew 25) than on buying more stuff.
I can relate to buying things as a coping mechanism. I used to buy things while depressed. I did manage to stay more or less out of debt, only amassing debt on a motorcycle during the worst of those times. Looking back I am so glad it was never easy for me to get a credit card. With shopping as a coping mechanism and a soft spot for the latest gadgets and games I would likely still be trying to recover!
Now that my walk with God has greatly improved and I have a family I do not fight depression nearly as much. If only I had read the bible, or worked a profitable hobby as a coping mechanism back then I bet I’d be even more well off today.
Sandy L says
If you chart my earnings growth vs my savings..I do spend more, but my savings is increasing much faster than my spending. I also think the reason I spend more is because I have 2 kids now. I think if you took the kids out of the equation, we’d be at about the same level of spending.
For me, it helps having a smaller house because when we think of buying something the immediate thought that enters my head is “where would I put that?”
I actually had more desire to accumulate things when I was poor than I do now. Perhaps it’s an age thing too..you accumulate when you’re in your 20’s and then you edit your belongings to what you really need in your 30s.
PerkStreet Jen says
I don’t know if it’s consumerism so much as convenience. Rather than making time to buy groceries or getting up earlier to make a lunch, if I have the money to spend I’ll just get a salad at a local restaurant. If I’m cold at work I’ll duck around the corner and buy a cardigan. If I have a long night of events, I’ll take a cab rather than wait for the bus. As my future husband works to launch a business we hope will be wildly successful, I look at these bad habits and want to break them, because I know if I don’t do this now they have the chance of getting really out of control as our income increases. “Long day at work. I think I’ll just have Jeeves bring the yacht around.”
I think our spending will definitely increase with our income — although I’ve already told my husband that, once he starts earning income, I still want to live on my main one and try to bank everything else… minus the occasional indulgence.
But I think the one loophole JD and folks aren’t thinking about is how everything is turning digital. That means plenty of spending without clutter. Video games, comics, and, of course, iTunes/apps are all available for download. Oh, and let’s not forget e-books.
Consumerism can be a part of any income level. It is an attitude that has been promoted by the media, shopping centers, and even the government. People are led to believe that consumerism is the only necessary thing to keep the economy moving and without it our society would collaspe. Americans are doing a tremendous job of paying down debt and saving that will ultimately create a stronger base to move the economy forward but these acheivements are not congratulated or applauded.
My answer would be a resounding “yes”.
If you don’t have money, you can’t spend it, can you?
That eliminates a big part of the equation.
Matt Jabs says
On the surface it seems the answer to this question would be a resounding YES. But after careful consideration it makes sense that people with means are better able to control financial urges rather than financial urges controlling them. We can clearly see these truths evidenced by their ability to work through the disciplined process of building a sound financial foundation
The Everyday Minimalist says
I’ve been without money and with money.
In both cases, it’s been hard not to spend, but I found that ironically with more money, I find it easier not to spend because I’d rather see the money in my bank account (but I don’t deprive myself).
Without money, I found it harder not to spend because I didn’t see any money in my bank account. Yes, my debt was dropping, but there was no real physical benefit to seeing my money being “saved” for my debt.
Similar to JD, I found minimalism and now I just buy what I want/need, when I want, and only if I actually need/want it. It’s cut down on a lot of spending surprisingly. I hover around the $1000/month range in spending, so I feel pretty good.
Van Dwelling Larry says
I think it is harder to avoid buying when you have the money to just get what you want. It takes discipline, and I’m afraid many people are missing that these days. For me, the “baggage” of having more stuff to store, clean around, display, protect, carry insurance on, etc, just makes me want to save my cash. There’s nothing quite like having some money in the bank and knowing that you already have everything that you need to be happy.
When all is well, retirement not far away, college funded, mortgage almost paid, it’s tough to ever tell the misses “we really can’t afford that.” Because we can.
There’s an age/income/asset level that prompts the “you can’t take it with you” conversation.