I work for the Maine CDC. I mention this because beginning at 12:01 AM July 1, 2017 Maine government shut down for three days due to lack of a budget. There is much I could say about that, but this is neither the time nor the place. What I’d like to relay to you is how my spending habits changed for those three days.
As soon as it became clear that the shutdown was going to happen, I curtailed my discretionary spending. That is to say, on July 1, 2, and 3 I did not buy anything besides groceries. I did go see a dinner musical with friends but we had already bought the tickets a while ago. What I found enlightening was how easy it was to not spend on frivolous things. I made coffee instead of going out and buying it. I read some e-books and e-zines I already had. I made my own meals (again, the sole exception being the show I went to).
While I was (and to a degree remain) annoyed by the shutdown that kept me out for work and which had every appearance of going on for a couple weeks, it was a valuable lesson on spending and priorities. I guess this cloud really did have a silver lining!
It’s amazing what you don’t need to spend money on.
In the June issue of Success Magazine there is an article which poses the question: can you spend money only on essentials for one month? As written in the table of contents “No fancy coffee. No new clothes. No eating out. Nothing fun. Do you have the self-discipline to go a month without spending money on unnecessary items?” Wow…nothing fun?
I honestly don’t know if I have that kind of self-discipline. Thinking about it, here is what I come up with as “necessary”: basic food for me and my cats, prescriptions, soap and toilet paper, mortgage, utilities, gasoline for commuting to work, and my church offering. So that would mean for me foregoing my weekly dinner out with friends; three takeout coffees per day-black, no sugar; no purchased snacks during the day; no comic books, movies, or Amazon Prime video rentals; no impulse purchases; and so on. I admit that while I don’t buy a lot of new clothes (hardly any unless something wears out, in fact) and other household items, I also don’t pay a lot attention to my “nickel and dime” expenses. As an aside, that is clearly an outdated phrase!
I’m honestly not prepared to go a whole month on a no-spending spree. I will though commit to keeping detailed track of my expenses for a week beginning when I wake up tomorrow. Care to join me?
A little bit at a time will eventually add up to a lot.
Do you remember what Joker (Heath Ledger) said about “normal” in The Dark Knight? He said “Normal is what everyone else is, and you’re not.” That could be applied to any number of situations if you think about it. The situation I thought of today when I remembered that quote about being normal was rampant consumerism versus decrappification.
Buying without regard to the consequences has become a normal situation in current American society. Perhaps I should say “condition” rather than “situation” though. The compelling need to buy things for the sake of buying them, often with people putting themselves into debt to do so, can be likened to an addiction if not a disease. Fortunately there are treatments and cures for this condition.
I’m not saying it would be easy, but just like quitting tobacco cold turkey one can cut down if not eliminate unnecessary purchases. One thing that can be done is to carry a limited amount of cash day to day and leave credit and debit cards and your checkbook at home. That way, if you are in a store and all you have on you is a couple $20 bills, you aren’t going to buy much. Simply put, you can’t buy it if you can’t physically pay for it.
If you really want or need something that entails spending more than the cash you have on hand, this method of enforced self-control will give you some time to think about the purchase and decide if it is need or desire which motivates you. Also, paying for things in cash makes the purchase much harder to gloss over since you are handing over real money to someone. Last but not least, nobody paying cash ever suffered from a data breach. (That’s a joke-sort of.)
Not having lots of cash on hand necessarily limits spending.
I was watching TV the other night and it seemed like during every break there was a commercial for new cars and trucks. Sure, I like shiny and new and loaded with goodies and gadgets as much as anyone. But to hear the underlying messages, my paid-for pickup truck is somehow substandard and I MUST buy or lease a new car NOW, before the “special” incentive of the month goes away.
There was a time not all that long ago when the automobile companies built in some very obvious planned obsolescence so that people would feel compelled to buy a new car pretty much every year or two. Now the message is more subtle but no less present. This looks to me an awful lot like a concerted effort on their part-as well as the lenders-to convince people to engage in willful perpetual debt, for something that drops 10 to 20 percent in value before the first payment! How stupid is that?
Here’s my alternative suggestion: get out of debt and stay out of debt! It’s a radical notion, I know, but there it is. I paid off my truck earlier this year, and it feels great to not have a car payment! I will probably spend less than the equivalent of 2 of my old payments on maintenance each year, and I’m confident I’ll get at least 200,000 miles out of my truck. I’m applying the money I used to spend on car payments to another debt with an eye toward eliminating all my debts as quickly as possible, and saving up for the inevitable day when I’ll have to replace my truck so I can pay in cash.
I fall back on what the Bible says about debt: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7.” In my movement toward decrappification I choose to be a slave the lenders no longer.