I think I’ve become anti-consumer. I used to want all the latest gadgets. I used to envision the nicest things in our home. I used to lust over new cars and dream about driving long patches of asphalt in a Ferrari. But now I just can’t deal with the onslaught of advertisements and “deals” and the idea of spending.
I’ve been sick of spending well before getting out of consumer debt, so it wasn’t the idea of being debt-free making me not want to spend. So what is it? Well, it’s not that I don’t want “stuff”, but when I begin to consider actually buying something I desire or even need, a feeling just washes over me and I lose the urge. I can’t even explain the feeling other than “ugh”.
I’m not quite sure if it’s a good or a bad thing either. Often the immediate thoughts are either “what we have is good enough for now” or “it’s too much effort to find the right thing”. For example, I’d like new living room furniture. I don’t like the style or lack of comfort of our existing sofas, but after dealing with furniture stores in the past and knowing how expensive decent furniture can be, I just don’t want to deal with it.
As another example, I drive about 55-60 miles per day for work, so I listen to a lot of radio and CDs. I’d love to have more listening options, which could entail an MP3 player or HD radio or satellite radio. I got Stacie an iPod Nano for Christmas in 2008 and she loves it. She uses an FM transmitter in her car to play it over the radio, which is not optimal, but it works. I’ve considered getting one for myself many times, but I think “it’s just another thing I have to manage in my life“. I have to maintain iTunes, my song library, figure out how to connect it in my truck, charge it and worry about it breaking or being stolen or lost. And I’m sure I would then want to upgrade my truck stereo so I can plug it in directly rather than through an FM Transmitter, which would cost at least $100 or more.
I listen to friends, coworkers and family talking about the latest deals or things they just “must have”, and where I used to feel envy or caught up in the “buying mood”, now I just think “but aren’t you in debt?” or “do you have a plan to pay it off?” or “how does that gadget help fulfill your life?“. I usually don’t verbalize these questions, depending on who it is, but they do pop into my head.
I recognize that I shouldn’t be judgmental, but I can’t help but worry for my friends and family, knowing the deep crap I got myself into and barely got out of with regards to debt and spending. I was lucky enough to get a series of jobs with good salaries, plus a frugal wife, which both helped me to get my act together, pay off the debt and not accrue too much more in the process. But I know my fellow consumers don’t have one or both of these things in their lives, and will be paying off today’s purchases years and years from now.
I can quickly come off as preachy and lecturing outside of this blog (ask my wife, my mom, my sister, etc.), which is why my writing style is more about telling my own story rather than telling you what YOU should do. Each of our situations is different and I can’t begin to fathom all the crap going on in your lives, so I just put forth a few key principals that I’ve learned to help me reign in the spending, get out of debt, and change my perspective on the art of consumerism:
- Cut spending – If you think you MUST have that coffee (even home-brewed) every morning or you can’t live, then you’re not in the right mindset to begin getting out of the hole you’re in. Or if you’re in a habit of “rewarding” yourself with little gifts for things like “getting through the day”, step back and look at the big picture to see how much it all adds up. Just some examples, but I’m sure you have things or services or activities in your life you just can’t seem to part with, but if you’re serious about getting out of debt and getting a good financial record, you’ll at least try.
- Start saving – One of the reasons people get into debt is because they either lack discipline or they lack planning for what life throws at us. You might have a “take it as it comes” mentality, and have the savings account to match, but you need more than just credit cards to watch your back, or else you’ll just be stuck your whole life. Contribute at least a few bucks out of each paycheck towards a savings account (not under your mattress or a piggy bank…something more secure and harder to access) and don’t access it unless you absolutely HAVE TO! And going out for drinks after a rough day at work is NOT a reason to empty your savings.
- Repeat – Don’t try to cut out everything at once or contribute too much to savings because it probably won’t last. Cut the easy things and put those expenses into savings. See how you feel about it and ride it out for some time, then see what the next lowest hanging fruit is that you can cut out and stuff into your bank account.
- Ignore Investing – I don’t mean stop contributing to investments; rather, I mean don’t get distracted by all those commercials for money market this and IRA that. Your immediate goal is just fixing your finances; you’ll work on sorting out your future after you get control of your present.
- Ask for help – I contribute some of my success to being open about the stupid mistakes we’ve made financially. Some people, perhaps you, have issues with opening up about money, and that’s understandable. But you need to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member, professional counselor or a bunch of strangers (through a blog). You’ll realize that your mess is not unique. Others have lived through it and gotten out. While your life is different, at least listen to their stories and you’ll see some things to apply in your own life.
So, this article took a bit of a turn from my original intention of complaining about spending to giving advice about getting out of a financial hole, but that’s fine. I would, however, like to know if any of you also feel like you’re tired of all the deals and ads and opportunities to spend, just like I am. Let me know in the comments, along with your thoughts on my 5 tips.