In order to achieve the financial goals we’ve set out in The Plan, we need to stick to a strict budget for the next 12 months. This means finding ways to cut down on our spending dramatically. For us, the two areas with major room for improvement were the grocery bill and miscellaneous spending (everything other than rent, bills, gas, and food). I’ve taken steps to tackle the grocery bill, but the miscellaneous spending might prove trickier. I mentioned consumerism in a previous post, and I’d like to expand on that a bit more here.
I’ve never considered myself much of a shopper. I rarely go to the Mall, for example. But a review of last year’s budget made it apparent that we could be doing alot better. Husband’s fondness for Apple products and my weakness for pretty yarns, bookstores, and dining out all add up to a significant amount of money each month. I knew I had to cut down on spending, but I didn’t want to feel deprived. So I realized that I had to get down to the heart of the matter – why did I feel I needed, nay, deserved these things? Why did I find such satisfaction in spending money? Why would I feel deprived if I didn’t?
I’d recently viewed two films that had gotten me thinking about consumerism. The first is called The Story of Stuff and I encourage you to click on that link and watch it – it’s a 20 minute, easily downloadable film with a simple, yet profoundly important message. The other movie I saw was Maxed out on Debt, a documentary about consumer debt in America. These films highlighted the role that consumerism plays in both the health of our planet and the rise of personal debt and lack of personal savings that is characterizing modern American families.
This all got me thinking that perhaps if I could find a way to fight consumerism in my own life, I could reduce my spending and not feel deprived while doing it. And as a bonus, not only would it help us achieve our goal and lead to greater financial health for our family, but I would be helping the planet, too. So I checked out the book Affluenza by John de Graaf.
I found myself growing increasingly angry at the way we are all manipulated into thinking that having more stuff is a sign of success. And I fully admit I’d fallen into that trap, myself. When we went car shopping I desperately wanted our shiny, new SUV with all the great features because darnit, I was almost forty. I had professional qualifications (even if I did shed it all to be a full time mum), my husband had a good job and provided generously for his family, and only losers still drove beat-up old cars at our age, right? Now, it’s not like I was thinking this while checking out the leather seats and 360 degree curtain of air bags. Instead I was thinking “Well, leather is more practical when you have kids in the car since you can wipe stains off better than fabric” and “I want my kids to be safe in the event of a crash”. But if I was honest with myself, deep down the other stuff lurked in my thoughts.
This anger motivated me to rally against the forces of consumerism, to fight and resist those temptations. But there was yet another exciting piece to the puzzle – recognizing that doing so could actually lead to a happier and more fulfilled life! The concept of Simple Living has been growing since the seventies (having a brief relapse during the roaring nineties) and has recently taken off again in popularity. Its principles tie in nicely with some other thoughts I’d been having about what brings about the most satisfaction in my life, and about escaping from the isolation of the nuclear family and finding one’s “tribe” (i.e. community). I’ll be writing more about Simple Living and how it ties into The Dream in future posts. But the take-home message is that the first step in saving money is to recognize what you do and don’t need to buy. That message can be hard to decipher when we are bombarded with messages that to buy is to be happy, to spend is to promote the economy, and to have stuff is to be successful.