If it’s such common sense to only spend what you can afford, why do so many people spend money they don’t have – use credit without paying their balance off in full every month – to buy things they want?
Have we become so delusional about the damage debt does to us that we’re willing to take it on for stuff that loses value almost as soon as it arrives in our homes?
Think about it for a minute. Why did you whip out your credit card and pay for that meal in a restaurant, pair of new shoes, or cell phone? Why did you buy that new bed on a buy-now-pay-later program? Why did you use your line of credit to pay off your credit card? Be honest. Why?
So many people are desperately trying to maintain lifestyles they can’t actually afford. Whether it is the social pressure to conform, our own sense of entitlement, or a disregard for the potential risk we place ourselves in when we use credit to buy stuff, people seem willing to put everything at risk. It’s almost as if spending money is the only thing they think can bring them happiness.
Is it that people are afraid to just be? Must you drive the right car, go on an annual vacation, have new leather furniture, watch a high-def, big-screen television, eat out three or four times a week, drink the best Scotch, and consume store-bought coffee to be living a worthwhile life? Are you really willing to exchange hours, days, months, years of peace of mind for the momentary high that comes with the new acquisition?
Social pressure to conform isn’t in your imagination. It’s real. But if you submit, if you’re willing to live a life of smoke and mirrors, if you want it all right now, then you need to accept that you’re creating a miserable life for yourself. It’s only a matter of time before the piper comes a’knocking expecting to be paid.
One way to gain some perspective is to ask yourself what it is you really want in life. If you only had six months left on this sweet earth, what would you want to be doing? Would you be shopping for new furniture? Would the kind of car you drive really make a difference? How about the handbag you’re carrying, the shoes you’re wearing, the suit you’re sporting?
I often talk to my kids about how important it is to live a worthwhile life: A life that brings challenge and love; a life that allows you to share, to laugh, and to be happy. So, what are the things that make your life worthwhile? And what are you doing to put more of the things that make you happy into your life?
I’ve worked with a lot of people who spend gobs of money on all kinds of rubbish in the name of being happy. So often those people are trying to fill some hole in their lives. Because they have no clear sense of what’s really important to them, they measure themselves against their peers in the most superficial ways. But once I ask them to tell me a goal – something they consider really important to achieve – suddenly their focus shifts from external trappings to the things that will make them happy.
One of the best books I’ve read on what truly makes us happy is The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. It’s a terrific book with lots of great ideas on what makes us happy and what you can do to be happier.
If you love your life (as opposed to your stuff), you relish the time you spend working, look forward to seeing the people you share your space with, and feel as if you’re making a difference. I don’t think the kind of car you drive, whether you have a big-screen TV, or how often you eat in a fancy restaurant will mean much. If you can focus on creating the life you want, taking small steps to achieve your goals and finding a way to laugh while you’re doing it, I’m willing to bet you won’t even miss all that crap you used to put on your credit cards.