My personal favourite new habit since becoming a financially independent adult (at long last!) is drawing up budgets and calculating savings plans. Working out how much I utterly have to spend, on food, travel to work, and on rent. Working how much I’ll save, and balancing that with how much I’ll allow myself to spend. It’s quite hard to describe the fascination I have with just writing out the numbers and adding them up; I find myself bugging friends and family to let me know their monthly expenditure, their monthly income, how much they could SAVE.
But I’m not as smug as you might think I sound. I know that spending is important to quality of life. Reading this article on why Your Latte Isn’t Why You’re In Debt felt like a personal attack on my budgeting method and general worldview, even though I am utterly the first to defend your right to buy something entirely fun and frivolous and joy-making, no matter what your income is. And that’s not a contradictory statement.
Spenders vs Savers (vs Misers vs Feckless)
In the language of money that we use every day, we have a generic image that spending is desirable, and saving is hard. We all personally know people who spend too much, and people who hate to spend anything above their budget. Sophie Kinsella’s “Confessions of A Shopaholic” is a book that perfectly encapsulates our simulatenous fascination and revulsion with extravagent and frivous spending; we hate it, but damn it do we love pretty nice new things!
Retail Therapy vs Escaping Properly
David Cain explains this irony to utmost perfection in his blog post “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed”. Essentially (and it is utterly worth a read, any summary I can write is far from an adequate substitute!) we spend money to make ourselves happy and relieve the stress of work, which we do in order to earn money, in order to spend it, in order to cope with working, etcetera. Whilst writing this blog post I realised that this is a major factor in my personal spending, but there’s far more to this than “and you too can save tonnes of money!”.
See the irony is that to save money, we first have to not emotionally depend on it. Which is harder when it looks when society can so easily be built on endless consumption, but also far more necessary than we might realise when dependance on material goods, instead of something like meaningful human connections and kindness is at the centre of our worldwide philosophy. Our understanding of saving as a “neccessary evil that no one really does” is a shallow substitute for the real route of money-related misery, because the real solution is so completely different and conflicting with consumerism.
Spending Money Is A Political Act
Without our endless earning and spending cycle, the world would be a better place for the environment and people who can live directly from it. But that’s probably not going to happen, and if it did, it would be a terrible waste. We have technology to make amazing things, it only becomes a problem when we let go of our lives in order to make them, and sacrifice the worlds resources and our humanity for them. The more that we rely on external material sources of happiness alone however, the less joy we get from them; it’s basic diminishing marginal returns. Millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires aren’t that many magnitudes happier than any other person who can afford basic healthcare, shelter and food.
But it is billionaires and the owners of capital who we make richer every day when we spend money. On anything.
With this in mind, spending becomes a political act. Not in the sense of boycotting specific companies or brands (though that’s totally a topic for another day), but in the sense of limiting our interaction with capitalism AS A WHOLE. Yeah, I need to buy tights occassionally, but I’m not going to be happy about it, because I know what that represents and what it means for the wider world as a whole.
Watch out for Part 2, where I’ll explore several alternatives to our current material lifestyles ^_^
Related Links and Sources: http://www.raptitude.com/2010/07/your-lifestyle-has-already-been-designed/
(Some of these will make their way into posts of their own eventually.)