“Go out in the world and work like money doesn’t matter, sing as if no one is listening, love as if you have never been hurt, and dance as if no one is watching.” – Victor Hugo.
Our Financial Discontent.
For most of my life, I have had money problems. In fact, I have always lived with a deep sense of personal discontent concerning my use of money. This discontent (or unease) concerning my finances came from two areas:
First, I have always been discontent with the amount of money I was spending. Ever since graduating college in 1996, I have lived paycheck-to-paycheck… never able to get ahead. Despite ever-increasing paychecks, I was never able to build up any substantial savings. My credit card bill seemed to mimic my pay stub. The money came in. The money went out. And as I entered my 30′s, this inability to build savings could no longer be blamed on an entry-level income, it had to be blamed on me.
Second, I have always been discontent with where my money was being spent. I consider myself spiritual… one who cares about the invisible qualities of life more than the visible. Unfortunately, my bank account never aligned with my stated beliefs. Nearly every spiritual leader of every major religion preaches generosity, contentment, and care for the disadvantaged in society. Yet, my financial gifts to those in need were few and far between. I had a desire to help the poor, care for the orphan, and comfort the widow, but I could never get behind those intentions with my finances. It concerned me on a deep, spiritual level.
And in both regards, a solution was seemingly unavailable. That was, until Memorial Day 2008, when my neighbor introduced me to minimalism and intentionally living with less. As a result of our short conversation, the solution to my financial discontent became surprisingly clear. It was simple and practical. It was “Buy Less.”
Our Solution: Buy Less.
Just to be clear, the resolution of buying less was not a new solution to me. I was not naive enough to have never thought of it before. But the solution had never sounded attractive to me. Buying less sounded like I was taking a step backwards in life… admitting defeat… unable to earn the income necessary to live the American dream. It sounded boring… unfashionable… and destined for ridicule.
But I was wrong. In fact, deciding to intentionally live with less is among the best decisions I have made in my life. As a result of paring down most of our possessions and determining to only buy things that are needed, we have found life greatly improved. We have more time, energy, and money available to us than ever before… we have more opportunity to pursue the greatest passions in life… we spend less time cleaning, organizing, and repairing the “stuff” in our lives… we have been forced to intentionally redefine our values… and rather than chasing every new product or fashion line sold at the department store, we are finally able to invest into the things that make our lives worthwhile and significant.
In this simple solution of buying less, both avenues of financial discontent in our lives have been resolved. Every month, we have money left over for savings. And every month, we have more to give away.
For our financial discontent, the practical solution of buying less was perfect. Today, my only regret is that I hadn’t started sooner.
Other Financial Problems.
But what about other money problems? Would the mindful practice of intentionally buying less solve them too? In most cases, it would. Consider some of these all-too-common money problems and how their solution is found in simply buying less:
- I am deep in debt. According to CNN, the average American household carries nearly $10,700 in credit-card debt. Buying less provides the opportunity to slowly begin repaying that debt. It takes time. But patience, persistence, and discipline will absolutely free you from that crippling burden. And if buying too much is the cause of the problem (in most cases), buying less is most certainly the solution.
- I don’t make enough money. While there are some legitimate cases where income does not provide for basic needs, more often than not, this money problem springs from an internal desire to purchase luxuries that we believe will add joy to our life. Because our income does not match our desires, we believe that we aren’t making enough money. But joy from luxury is short-lived, fleeting, and can never satisfy. Your heart will always desire more and your income will never match your thirst. Instead, an intentional decision to purposefully live with less will provide the inner space to find contentment in your life and begin making the most of it today.
- I feel trapped in my job. Too many people that I know feel trapped in their present employment. Their internal groaning is often heard in statements like, “I can’t wait to retire” or “I can’t believe I have to go to work today.” And while some feel trapped because of their need for health care, others feel trapped because of their need to keep up a completely avoidable lifestyle: their mortgage, their car payment, or their credit card bills. If you feel trapped, know that the invitation to “buy less” remains open. There is an escape. The decision to live with less will open the door to surviving on a tighter budget and soon open the door to finding work you love.
- I fear retirement. As nearly every financial outlet worth reading reminds us, the most important key to building retirement savings is to start saving today and contribute consistently. Whether you are 20, 30, or 50, your retirement account will not grow substantially without your contributions. So get started today with this simple formula: Buy less. Save more.
- My marriage is falling apart due to financial stress. It is true that one of the leading causes of divorce in our world today is financial stress. This stress stems from any number of factors: disagreements on spending, loss of employment, stress from existing debt, and/or financial secrets. Depending on your specific circumstance, intentionally buying less may not solve all of them (or any of them). But it certainly can’t hurt. And maybe… just maybe… the extra financial space that is created from even one partner deciding to buy less will provide the space necessary to address the underlying factors that are leading to the inability to resolve your differences.
To be true, your specific money problem may not have been addressed in the list above. Unfortunately, there is just not opportunity to address every financial condition in this limited post. If you need to read practical advice from a different angle, consider any of these blogs dedicated to the subject of personal finance: Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Wise Bread, Frugal Dad, or Man vs Debt.
But my goal was not to specifically address every possible avenue of financial discontent. Instead, my hope was to raise your personal awareness towards the same simple, practical solution that resolved the financial discontent in my life… buying less.
Whatever financial stress you may be feeling today, know that buying less is probably the most practical solution. And the road to relief may in fact be far more appealing than you think…