Over the last few years, society has made it easier for us to spend money and has provided us with a huge array of goodies on which to spend it. We use debit cards, credit cards, and finance everything from yachts to our next baby. Additionally, the attitude of spending is expressed all around us, through the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, art of advertising. When combined with that ease of spending, it is easy to understand why we spend more than we save, and many of us are feeling the crunch of debt, even at higher income levels.
Now, I am not against spending. In fact, my personal participation in the phenomenon was recently brought home to me when I moved to a new home.
I have got a lot of stuff!
The sad part is that a large chunk of it was not really necessary. There were books I bought and read once and then placed them on a shelf never to be touched again… until I moved, of course. There was one small box with about six defunct cell phones, there was an extra TV which was covered in dust, electronic gadgets, games, computer programs and peripherals (not to mention the old computer out in the garage), plates, cups, saucers… the list goes on!
How many mismatched sets of flatware do YOU have?
I thought of my parents who lived at the same address, in the same modest but comfortable house, on the same simple street for over 30 years until my father’s death in 1981. Part of the reason it was comfortable was because my father used money he saved in many ways, like NOT moving, for example, to upgrade and improve the house in small but worthwhile ways. Re-wired, carpeted, insulated, and with central heat and air, it was a far cry from the simple wood frame house he bought in 1950 and brought a price at sale over 10 times its original cost.
As I lugged boxes and cursed my accumulations of nonessential “stuff”, I thought of my father’s succession of small, inexpensive, yet workable cars over the years. He got the best gas mileage, traded when it was time to replace the old car, and kept it tuned and repaired by Skippy, Slim, and Mr. Allday down at the Pure Oil station he traded at for years, so that it gave the best performance over its lifetime. Of course, he was able to graduate to a huge boat of a Ford LTD when I joined the army in the late 60’s, but he was able to do that because of that string of humble Ford Falcons (one of which I hurt badly) over the years.
My father’s economic philosophy was simple. He bought quality goods (paying a little more if necessary), took good care of them, and replaced them when they needed replacing, not when the next flashier model came out. Often, rather than replacing some household appliance, he would simply repair the old one, or have it repaired, if that made more sense than buying a new one. He and mom had the same vacuum cleaner for years, and I have had three vacuum cleaners in the last six years. Of course, maybe I can blame that on shoddy workmanship… but who bought the super duper suckers in the first place? Me!
Did he deny himself some toys? Sure, but by denying himself the momentary pleasure of some new gadget with all the bells and whistles or something shinier than what he already had, he created a little more wealth in his pocket and bank account so that when need or want became truly overwhelming, he could indulge himself or his family without fiscal damage or recriminations.
I have no doubt that he would have been among the first to recognize the value of the cell phone and applaud its appearance on the scene. I am also sure that he would have thought long and hard about the reasons for getting one or not getting one, and would have made a decision based on common sense and value rather than simply on the flashiest TV ad, cutest face plate, or largest “circle of friends” package. His cell phone would be simple and black, would not cook breakfast, but would be the best value and choice for him… if he even got one at all. I can also guarantee that he would still be using it ten years later if at all possible.
He would have been an early adapter on the Internet, recognizing it as a tool for finding information… and bargains. He would definitely shop online, saving the wear and tear on his car, the cost of fuel, and the frustration of standing in line and dealing with clerks who often know nothing about the product they are selling.
There is a new weight loss system out there called “Mindful Eating”. Its premise is that a lot of our problems with weight, obesity, and health arise out of the fact that many of us eat without thinking about, or knowing much about, the choices we are making. The idea is that if people become “mindful” about their eating habits, they will become lighter. I guess that was my father’s approach to spending, and if I become more mindful of my purchasing habits, maybe next time I move (if I do), all those boxes will be lighter… and fewer.
By the way, my wife and I began making some decisions on this move, and a lot of “stuff” got thrown away. We figure if we move every couple of years and keep throwing stuff away, by the time we move into a retirement home, we should be down to a small paper bag of possessions!