Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Sam Lustgarten of Frugaling.
“All ads do the same: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” ―David Foster Wallace
Over the last year-and-a-half, I’ve worked to reduce expenses, increase income, and refrain from consumeristic rewards (i.e., shopping sprees and dinners). I’ve opted for more empowered life directions of self-reflection and growth.
My methods have been rather boring: focusing on the important and refraining from buying “wants.” These aren’t ingenious ideas, and you’ve probably read them countless times before.
Despite my methodical approach, I’m imperfect. And one aspect of my life continuously challenges these efforts: dating.
As a single graduate student in a small, Midwestern town, it’s been difficult to find relationships. Both my schedule and avenues for meeting people are severely restricted; at least, during academic semesters. Additionally, my budget is tight every month—deviations quickly lead to debt. It’s a wicked combination.
With these apprehensions, I’ve cautiously taken to trying out the online dating world; in particular, Tinder. In case you haven’t heard about or used it, Tinder is a Millennial-friendly dating app for smartphones. Users are tasked with one job: swipe one direction or another (left for “nope” and right for “like”) to find a match. It can be superficial and vapid, but also, reflective of in-person judgments.
If both users swipe right — hallelujah! — there’s a match and they can now message each other. If there ever was a minimalist dating app, this is it. There’s no profile to read or questions to fill out—only the faces of potential dates.
Remarkably, my nerdy self matched up with a few people over the last couple months. But before any of those “matches” could turn into dates, I pondered my life and presentation. What would I wear? My closest of clothing feels stale. How much would I share about being a frugal minimalist? I feel cheaper than cheap. Where would we go to eat, drink, and/or talk that was also in the budget? My budget is difficult to maintain even without dates. How many of these dates could I even afford? Not many!
These questions course through me like never before, and I oscillate between pride and embarrassment for this new way of life. Part of me feels the blush against my cheeks, as I admit to a potential date that I’m frugal and cannot afford much on my budget. The other piece notices the powerful changes I’ve made that have revolutionized my budget and financial future.
Dating has a way of making me fear what others think of my new mores. Two weeks ago I went on a first date that made me question my motivation for frugality and minimalism. And it all started with my hair.
The dinner date was going well, and there was a gentle, sarcastic banter back and forth. I looked into her eyes, and wondered what she would think about my habits. Would we be compatible? Then, these mental explorations were cut short by my date’s question.
“Where do you get your hair cut?” she asked.
I stroked my hand over a newly-buzzed head of hair and confidently replied, “I did it!”
Little did she know, but I’d been cutting my hair for years. While I don’t have the full range of styles, I get the job done and can’t beat the price: a $20 hair clipper purchased in 2009.
Suddenly, showing all the surprise and disgust of someone eating an old, brown, past-due pistachio, she exclaimed, “Well, that’s the last hair cut you ever give yourself. It’s time for you to grow up and go to a real barber!”
I felt hurt and insulted. How could she say that to me? Did it really look bad? I immediately felt defensive.
Afterwards, I went home and sat down for a while—reviewing my reactions. Her comment felt similar to an advertisement. What this person in front of me was saying was that I didn’t fit her model of a man. Even more, she was suggesting that I should spend money in the process to purchase what I was lacking. It seemed oddly familiar.
Don’t corporations try to do the same thing?
Marketing teams work tirelessly to propagate popular culture norms and set the standard for beauty, wants, and various products that will make you the “best a man can get.”
Websites, movies, and magazines bombard us with messages that compel us to consume. Advertisements punctuate “breaks,” but hook us into staying at full volume for a taste of the “good life.”
Instead of being hurt, degraded, and insulted by commercials, I’m often passive. But why do I (and we) let ourselves idly accept messages from multinational corporations that we wouldn’t desire in casual conversation? Why can I (and we) know this will be the first and last date, but not do the same with commercials? When is enough, enough?
Fortunately, there is power in our response. Next time, notice your feelings when viewing an advertisement say something about who you are. Realize your emotions (“I’m sad”) are only thoughts (“I’m having thoughts of sadness”). Pause to reflect on this difference between the two.
Thoughts provide distance to read the ongoing, bombarding ticker tape that is our daily experience. With this emotional review, we can more mindfully turn off the response to spend and find that we were always enough—buzzed haircut and all.