Too many of us have an unhealthy relationship with money, and that misalignment with our heart and soul can have serious consequences.
This is the third in the 4-part series. Here are the others:
Money Myth #2: More is Better
When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.
~ Lynne Twist
Six years ago I completed my doctoral degree in Oregon and moved to Rochester, Minnesota to begin my first university teaching job. Prior to my move, I jetted to Minnesota for a weekend to select and purchase a home. Back in 2006, it was still remarkably easy to get a home loan. I was a dirt poor, soon-to-be-ex-graduate student with minimal income. But I had a letter of commitment from my university indicating my salary, so I was quickly pre-approved for a sizable mortgage loan.
My wonderful real estate agent spent the day showing me houses in Rochester. I quickly narrowed my choices from 10 to 2. One house was small and cozy. It was the perfect size for the amount of furniture I’d be bringing with me from Oregon. It had a manageably-sized yard and a partially finished basement. With regard to both size and price, it was perfect for a single woman just starting her new career.
The other house was larger: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full newly finished basement. It had a huge yard and was at the absolute top of my price range. It was far more house than I needed. I certainly didn’t have the furniture to fill it. But I convinced myself it was the perfect house to “grow into” and so I bought it.
I loved my new home. Which was a good thing because it took about 40% of my paycheck. After paying for utilities and the many home improvement projects I launched into once I moved, I had little money to do much else, like travel, eat out, or shop for fun. Most of my money went to the house. I filled it with furniture, painted every single wall, bought a new washing machine. I planted flowers and trees in the yard and invested in a lawn service. Many months I panicked because my paycheck would run short as I maintained my new home.
This is the trap many of us fall into
In our overly consumer-oriented culture. We believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that more always equals better.
The danger of this assumption is that more is an unreachable and undefined goal. “More” never ends, has no final destination, and ultimately leads us to see our present lives through the dark lens of failure. When we aspire to more, we inevitably find ourselves lacking.
Our cultural obsession with more has lead us to the brink of economic and environmental failure. “More” leads corporations to act solely for the accumulation of money without regard for human or environmental impact. More corrupts our government agents, elected to protect us. More compels us to shop for sport, cluttering our external lives with cheap crap while our internal lives wither from neglect. More wreaks havoc on the environment as we in the US, a scant 4% of the world’s population, consume a quarter of the world’s resources.
In our consumption, we rarely consider how our constant buying impacts our precious planet and living beings on it. If you’d like a quick video tutorial on what happens when we mindlessly buy stuff, watch The Story of Stuff (trust me, it’s 20 really insightful minutes you won’t regret spending):
The simple truth is more is not always better. Most of the time more is simply more, and more can often make things worse. Our uncontrolled spending and over”consumption lead us to feel financially strapped, to enter into unspoken competition with our neighbors, and to believe that having more equates greater personal worth. When we believe more=better, we begin to judge and value others based on how much they have, not (to quote MLK, Jr.) the content of their characters.
So how do we break out of this cycle of consumption?
I have a few ideas:
First, consider downsizing
This is a tough one for most people. We think in terms of bigger homes, nicer cars, better clothes. Interrupting this cycle can feel downright un”American. But I’ve done it, and trust me, it’s liberating. When I moved from Minnesota to North Carolina, I rented my big house to a nice family who uses every inch of it. I now share an apartment with my cousin. I have about 500 square feet of space that I call my own. I have just enough stuff to fill it and no more. My housing costs have been reduced by about 65%, I have no yard to maintain, and it takes all of 20 minutes to clean my space. So I have more money and more time. Best of all, because I spend less on housing, I don’t have to work as much. I have more time for play and enjoyment. So it’s a win all around.
Second, become mindful of your purchases
When I’m shopping, I aim to buy only what I need. If it’s something I don’t need but I just gotta have, I make sure I really, really love it before buying. Just today I was at TJ Maxx shopping for new sunglasses (after my old ones broke). I found a pair of cute shoes I kind of liked. They were cheap, so I considered buying them even though they weren’t quite what I wanted. In the end, I put them back. Money spent on something I don’t absolutely love is wasted, no matter how small the dollar amount.
Third, consider the source
Read labels. Most of the stuff we buy here in the US are made in third world manufacturing plants where labor is cheap and environmental standards are lax. I don’t feel good about that. I’m not saying I never buy products made in China: it’s almost impossible not to these days. But I do my best to read labels and make responsible purchase. Even better, I buy as much as I can second”hand. Used clothing and furniture stores are treasure troves. I have found solid wood furniture in perfect condition, gorgeous antiques, and design”house vintage dresses for next to nothing over the years. And people are always amazed that I bought them used.
Now it’s your turn
What ideas do you have to break out of the More is Better myth? Let us know in the comments below. I look forward to hearing your ideas!
PS ” It’s probably important to remind you that I am NOT a financial expert, financial planner, or certified financial person of any kind. I’m just a gal who earns money and spends it and wants to do better with her resources. That is all. So please consult a financial expert about questions regarding investing, saving, or paying off debt.
Teacher, writer, documentarian
Cyndi is the primary coordinator of a veterans’ oral history project in conjunction with the New Winston Museum of Winston-Salem, NC, Hospice and Palliative Care, Wake Forest University, and area retirement communities. From these interviews, she has created a podcast called “Soldiers Heart.”
[*Elizabeth’s Affiliate Disclosure: When you make a purchase using my Amazon affiliate links, you will pay the same price as if you’d gone directly to Amazon, but I will receive a small affiliate fee that helps defray the cost of this blog. Thank you for using my links to make your Amazon purchases.]