Confession: I am a nosy house guest.
I won’t rummage through your drawers, but I will scan your book collection, wall art, tchotchkes, kitchen appliances – you name it –silently piecing together your identity.
Whoa, you have a Chemex?
You appreciate good coffee and must have a sophisticated, cultured palate.
Wow, a window full of houseplants?
You love nature and probably go hiking and stuff.
Is that a Dwight Schrute bobblehead??
You have a good sense of humour.
Like it or not, the things we own and buy send subtle signals about who we are and what we value.
And we know this is true, so we tend to buy things that tell an accurate story of how we see ourselves. (I’m not just making this up.
The NPR podcast Hidden Brain has an interesting episode on this called I Buy, Therefore I Am.)
We buy Chucks instead of Nikes because we identify more with the aesthetic of that brand.
We shop at Whole Foods instead of Ralph’s because it signifies something about how we choose to consume our food.
“Nah, I shop at Whole Foods because I prefer to spend money on quality,” you might be thinking.
But even “buying quality” is a way to identify your values.
None of this is inherently good or bad.
It’s just interesting.
However, it is a good reminder to be mindful about our consumption choices.
3 things to know
(because we hate to love listicles)
- But what if you prefer to spend money where you spend your time, like hiring a personal assistant or splurging on an amazing vacation?
Certainly that makes you above the perils of consumerism, right?
Not really, thanks to what researchers call inconspicuous consumption: the upper class tendency to spend money on things that aren’t “inherently material and obvious,” as researcher Elizabeth Currid-Halkett put it in this interview.
She argues that buying back your time becomes an elite thing to do – the preferred consumption method of the new aspirational class.
Her book, Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, explores this topic.
2. I hate to say it, but money buys happiness.
In 2016, a study circulatedthat said people are happiest when they spend on experiences.
3. But it turns out, this depend upon wealthy you are.
People in lower socioeconomic groups get just as much, if not more, satisfaction when they spend on objects. For plenty of people, objects can be just as valuable as experiences.
The bottom line?
We’re consumers whether we like it or not, but you can consume mindfully.
And as a money writer, I feel obligated to interject some healthy financial advice:
Whatever you spend your money on, please make sure it doesn’t put you in a financial tight spot, if you can help it.
By all means, buy the boba tea, but not if the $3 is going to trigger a series of overdraft fees, ruin your debt payoff goal, or otherwise hurt you financially.
Don’t forget to save for Future You, who will also want boba tea and a nice house and a brand new phone (or whatever we’re using to communicate in 2050.
Your handheld teleportation device. Yeah, that’ll probably be expensive).
Once you’ve got the first two rules down, spend money according to your values, not someone else’s.
So what does your spending say about who you are? I mean, who cares what nosy people think – does your spending accurately reflect your own priorities, values, vision, identity?
(action items for task lovers)
Look at your last few discretionary purchases and do a little Marie Kondo-ing. (And by discretionary, I mean expenses that aren’t bills, debt, or savings goals)
Did these purchases bring you joy?
Rate them on a scale of 1-5.
This can help you figure out if you’re spending your money in a way that matters to you the most.
For me, it’s a restaurant meal with my family (5), a new summer dress (2), and an iced vanilla latte on a hot summer day with my husband (5).
Does this accurately reflect my priorities?
Sorta. I get a lot of joy out of sharing a meal or tasty treat with someone whose company I enjoy.
The dress was cute, but probably not the best use of my money.
I kinda just bought it because it was on sale, and maybe I’ll even return it.
P.S. Murphy is also a nosy house guest.
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