Tuesday, December 1, 2015

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #13 – Cutting Back on Buying Stuff and Services

I'm writing this article during the period of time that has come to be called “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Cyber Friday is relatively new, but Black Friday began as early as the 1930's during the Great Depression. The earliest use of the title “Black Friday” seems to date back to 1961 in Philadelphia and spread across the U.S. thanks to the mainstream media. It has traditionally been touted as the busiest shopping day of the year. One reference to the origin of the name is, supposedly, retailers operate “in the red,” meaning not profitable, until Black Friday, when the buying frenzy on that day take the retailers into a profitable financial position or “in the black.”

This article is not about Black Friday or the fact that Black Friday has now turned into “Black November” since the sales and buying promotions begin at the beginning of November. The traditional day of giving thanks for all our “blessings,” Thanksgiving, is no longer sacrosanct. More and more stores open on Thursday afternoon and disrupt the traditional time of family and friends gathering to share time and thanks for all they have. And, of course, it has spawned “Small Business Saturday,” “Cyber (online buying) Monday” and “Giving Tuesday,” a day to make donations. To put it simply, shopping and buying stuff has become an obsession, especially for people living in the U.S.

So What's The Big Deal?

Personally, I don't care what people do with their hard earned (or in some cases, not hard earned, but over abundance of) money. I believe in Capitalism and the Free Enterprise system. I've participated in the Free Enterprise system as an entrepreneur my entire adult life and part of my teenage years. If it wasn't for commerce, another word for transacting business, everyone would pretty much have nothing and we'd all, most likely, be living in caves and mud or thatched huts, yet. So, selling and buying things is what makes the economy and the world function.

The other day, a woman I've known for many years said to me, “I don't need anything, but I want to buy something. I don't know why I want to buy something if I don't need anything, I just want to buy something.”

That was very telling to me. I'm typically a conservative person. I don't necessarily mean that from a political position, but from an overall personality trait. Have I blown money buying things I didn't really need during my earlier life? Absolutely! I can even remember some of the really dumb purchases I've made. Heck! I was single, could only drive one car at a time, but I owned four of those money-suckers at one time, paying registration, property tax, insurance, maintenance, repairs and losing value through depreciation. It all seemed reasonable at the time. Now, I think about them sitting there, taking up space and costing me ongoing expenses wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Perhaps you've been there, too. Actually, I could write a long list of purchases I made from small, inexpensive items to large, costly items. I'm not a hypocrite when it comes to this obsession. I bought into it just like the vast majority of the public, especially in the U.S. And, yes, I could also attempt to justify my behavior by excusing myself because I am a believer in and supporter of Capitalism, Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Pursuits. But, that doesn't make the over obsession with material consumerism and use of all kinds of services we may not actually need either intelligent or even remotely reasonable.

Why We Consume

We consume things and services for several reasons. Some of them make absolute sense. Others, well, let's just say there is this mythical story about some creatures we've referred to as “lemmings.” Entire industries have been created and flourish for the sole intention of parting us from our hard earned money.

We buy:
  • Things we need to survive, like food, basic clothing, shelter
  • Things we want to keep up with the Jones's
  • Things we want for pure reasons of status
  • Things we want just because we want them even if we don't need them
  • Things we see in carefully placed and designed displays in stores
  • Things we see in movies as subliminal messages (product placement)
  • Things we read about in targeted periodicals (men, you're included)
  • Things we want so we can identify with a group (sports teams)
  • Places we see that we must go to enjoy ultimate luxury
  • Places we see that we must go to participate in hedonistic pleasures
  • Places we must go to take our children so we'll be “good parents”
  • Services we must avail ourselves to eliminate work we don't want to do
  • Services we must avail ourselves of for personal pleasure
The list could go on for pages, I'm sure. And, to be sure, all of these support a very large and expensive advertising and public relations industry. It also supports a very broad based media structure since the average U.S. citizen is bombarded by about 5,000 advertising messages everyday in so many forms we don't even realize we are being influenced.

We consume much in our lives because we need it to survive comfortably. But, we also consume it because, as my friend said, she didn't need anything, she just wanted to buy something. So, what's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing is wrong with it. But, by the same token the question can be posed, What's right about it? And again, the answer is absolutely nothing. It's a zero sum game. We are all the winners and the losers at the same time. Darn, I'm speaking in paradoxes now.

Basically, we consume material goods and services because we can and we are being mind controlled by society itself. It's like most good things (and many bad things). There is an addictive aspect to it.

Women may be obsessed with shoes, underwear, jewelry, cosmetics, anti-aging products, plastic surgeries and so on.

Men are addicted to cars, trucks, motorcycles and other motorized devices, especially if they are big and noisy, sports paraphernalia, tools of all kinds, computer games, etc.

We begin teaching and grooming our kids to follow in our footsteps through their childhood. It's a self-perpetuating, systematic form of mind control.

Some people will sit in freezing temperatures, camped outside a specific store, sometimes for two or more days, often taking time off from their jobs. Why? They're waiting to pay an outrageous amount of money for the latest version of a smart phone with new features. Most of those people may try the features, a few will continue to use some of them and most will just go back to the main functions most people use smart phones for.

Of course, we can talk about all kinds of other things, like the services we consume. What kinds of services am I talking about? Again, the list is too long to include here. Some of the obvious things include male and female hairstylists, personal trainers, chiropractors, gym memberships, vehicle detailing, Mani-pedi's, spa services, massages, dry cleaning, house cleaning, yard and property maintenance, limo services, dare I even suggest male AND female escort services, dating services, etc. The list is exhaustive. Do we need these services or do we simply want them because . . . we want them . . . regardless of cost or how they may actually complicate our lives.

I recently watched an interesting episode of a UK TV series on – SEX! Yep! I may be up there in years, but I still have some testosterone flowing in my body and I want to keep myself informed and capable since sex doesn't have to die before the body dies. The woman who hosts and is the narrator of the show, in this particular episode, decided as one of the topics, to get herself glamorized so she looked as “hot” as the models on magazine covers and the beautiful women who do the “club crawls” around the world. By the time she got done with all the treatments, make-up, false parts, clothes, etc. she had blown over 1,000 GBP. For your reference, that's about $1,500 USD.

She then walked around, during the afternoon, in one of London's nicer streets full of busy people. They had a camera crew there, of course. And there were undercover interviewers mingling in the crowd asking what they thought of “that woman over there.” She was describe as a slut, advertising for business and over glammed. Men and women, older, younger, teenagers pointed, snickered and even laughed. Now, to be honest, she is an attractive woman of around 40, but the costly glamour job didn't make her more attractive or, necessarily, more desirable or approachable by the average person. It simply made her standout from the crowd.

She had a typical “before” photo with her and, invariably, everyone, male and female alike, found her more attractive and approachable in her normal persona. In other words, this costly investment would be fine in a very small slice of society, but was not worth it to be accepted and appreciated by most people.

She interviewed a group of women who spent anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 GBP every month to keep “improving” themselves in the manner I just described. One had had six “boob jobs” and still wanted even larger breasts. They admitted they did it for themselves, but they also did it to make men look and approach them and other women jealous. I guess those are good reasons to work hard to blow that hard earned money.

Guy's, there are many of you who aren't any different. There are all kinds of things for men like hair weaves for the balding, hair coloring, make-up (yep, male make-up), expensive clothes and shoes. Women may be a little more obsessed by this kind of stuff, but there are a lot of men who “play” the game, too.

The Bottom Line

There is a bottom line here. First, as I've stated already, there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending money on all kinds of “stuff” and services. If you have it and can't think of any better ways to use it then buying stuff you don't need, likely, to impress people who don't care or buy into some kind of “status” identification, good for you.

If you must have every new kitchen appliance, pot, pan, bowl, utensil, etc. that some celebrity chef puts his or her name on and is making a zillion dollars off – GREAT! If you need the latest, greatest smart phone, laptop computer, computer game system, every TV channel known to humanity and even some that nobody knows even exist and you don't mind shelling out $150 to $200 or more per month for stuff you'll never watch, more power to you. Basically, if you're so obsessed by buying, buying, buying and making other people wealthy off your hard work. Thank you for keeping the economy going. You're very patriotic.

I'm especially appreciative that you are paying taxes on the money you're spending and the people who are making all the money from your buying obsession – are most likely NOT PAYING that much tax because they are smarter than the average consumer.

There is another price that comes with all this buying of products and services. The price is called complexity. You may believe, probably because you “drank the Kool Aid,” that all this stuff is going to make your life better, more luxurious, more fulfilling, etc.

I once dated a woman in the Hampton's on Long Island, New York. She was not one of the “beautiful,” filthy rich people who own the mansions the area is noted for. She had a small service business providing a service these people couldn't possibly have done for themselves because, no one in “high society” would get their hands dirty.

She took me to one of the many mansions she served and introduced me to the wealthy wife who was sitting on the beach. She had to tell us how complicated and difficult her life was because she had to arrange for the electricians, plumbers, grounds people, cleaning people, etc. to come and get the houses (yes, plural, the guest house was a mansion in its own right) ready for the summer. In my mind, I got my tiny violin out and was playing “hearts and flowers” for her terribly difficult and complicated life. I felt so sorry for her.

So, if you want to simplify your life, here's tip #13 – STOP BUYING! Yes, stop buying products – which will ultimately just become more “stuff.” Cut using all kinds of services that you can easily provide for yourself OR, don't create a need for the services in the first place.

First, you won't be adding debt on your credit cards. That simplifies life. Next, you won't have to borrow money, either collateralized or not, to either consolidate credit card debt or pay for major purchases. Don't need to buy every new device you see on TV, the Internet, magazines, etc. You probably don't need it, you just want it.

Make a plan to get and maintain the things you really need to live the comfortable, simple lifestyle you desire (which is probably why you're reading this blog). Keep what you have and utilize it for as long as it will reasonably serve you. In other words, don't buy a new iPhone or other smart phone or iPad/tablet, etc. just because a new one is available. Eat simple, easy to prepare, nutritious foods that take minimal time to prepare and clean up after. Establish a simple wardrobe that, again, is easy and inexpensive to maintain and will give you long life. Buy less of higher quality and it will be more serviceable.

If you have 150-200 channels of cable TV and pay a small king's ransom every month for, probably, a hundred or more channels you don't watch, get rid of it. With a local TV service and the Internet you can have an endless amount of high definition entertainment at your finger tips. Unless you still have a fax machine and actually use it regularly, you don't need a wired (land-line) telephone service anymore. Give all the friends and family ample notice you're eliminating it, then “cut the wire” and go wireless. With a little research and planning, you will save lots of money. Use that money to indulge yourself once in a while to some of those “real” wants you can honestly justify.

Beware of memberships in Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's Warehouse and similar. Get rid of any connection to the Home Shopping Network and QVC. Never go shopping for anything without a specific list and stick to the list – whether it's Walmart, Costco, Kohls, any supermarket, etc. Never go food shopping when you're hungry. Downsize the stuff you have and get rid of stuff in storage, especially if you're renting storage space because you ran out of room in your house or apartment. If you have a home, simplify the landscaping so it takes little time to care for.

The key thing is to just STOP BUYING. Break your obsession with stuff. Don't buy into all the advertising and hype. Don't have a need to impress anyone else, seek status, want to make other men or women jealous, etc. You can have a much more wonderful life if you eliminate all the stuff that makes life complicated and just embrace simplicity.

Live free and be happy. EH

1 comment:

Richard Rosen said...

I used to at least look at the adds and see the latest and newest and what prices they could be purchased for. I paid particular attention to items I had planned to get. This year, for the first time, I noticed my values changed in regard to looking at the ads. I almost didn't even bother, but then the momentum of habit took over and I looked. How quickly I realized how empty they were of anything of value - that is real value - to me. A waste of my time.

It reflects how we all change over time; in my case, more and more what I do must have real meaning and genuine value. It does take some effort to stop the force of habit, but that's what life is about: recognizing by truth and applying by principle changes to your life. Low and behold, you have "purchased" a new addtion to your lifestyle. Nice.