Spending, Materialism and How to Avoid the Credit Trap

Cover of "The Joneses"

Cover of The Joneses

I just finished watching ‘The Joneses’ which incidentally was a lot better than I thought it was going to be but not quite worthy of making too much of a fuss over.  For those who didn’t get it – the name of the family in the film references the saying “keeping up with the Joneses” which is often used in modern society to reference the acquisition of things to keep up with one’s neighbours’ acquisitions.  The film does carry with it a very strong message which got me thinking about materialism and the way society operates.

It seems as if there is always ‘the next new big thing’ to buy which isn’t all that different from ‘the previous new big thing’ other than having a few minor improvements.  But what impressed upon me most is how we’re always trying to outdo or copy each other.  And there will always be the next thing because well, that’s just how it work. How else would the company get you to spend money on buying what is essentially what you already have.  That’s what keeps companies in business.  Releasing a newer model/version forces you to upgrade.  Think of it this way: Billy buys an iPhone3, John likes it but buys the iPhone4 to outdo Billy, Billy is disgruntled because John now has a better phone than him so Billy buys the iPad, John then buys an iPad and an iPhone5.  And so it continues.

Part of the human condition I suppose is to envy and covet, one sees something in the possession of someone else and if it is better than what you have then suddenly even though you had no need for or thought of it before… you want it, you want it BAD.  It could be a car, a phone, a pair of shoes, a handbag, a hairstyle or something more abstract.  It is this very phenomenon which helps plastic surgeons make a killing.  There is always someone who wants someone else’s cup size or nose or plump lips or youth.  Look at the Blackberry for instance, at this stage 90% of the people who buy it are just buying it because everyone else has it.  Personally I’ve never liked having the same thing as everyone else, which I find saves me a lot of grief in the long run. In fact I get a little irritated when other people do have the same things as me – as unavoidable as that is.

The film also addressed the repercussions of living beyond your means.  Sometimes people strive so hard for materialistic things that it can have horrific consequences.  It is never a good idea to buy things if you don’t have the money to pay for it.  For instance you should use your credit cards as a way to manage your expenses rather than to buy indiscriminately.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a veritable shopaholic, my greatest fix in life is retail therapy.  And I’m absolutely terribly at making choices, if I can afford it I’ll often end up buying everything because .. well.. I want it all and can’t decide what to leave.  A huge pay cheque = shopping heaven and in all likelihood a new wardrobe. But nothing gives me as much pleasure as buying that thing I’ve had my eye on.  For me purchasing something I want rather than need is like instant happiness – just add water and shake. I suppose as a result of this weakness of mine I’ve adopted a few survival strategies.

Credit Hole Avoidance Techniques:

1.  Avoid impulse shopping.  It almost never ends well.  Unless it is a rare shop that you are never going to visit again then you should think about it a bit.  If you don’t want it enough to go back for it then you really don’t need to buy it. Chances are more than 70% of the time you’ll forget about it in hours or days and if you don’t then you can simply go back and buy it.  If you are concerned that it will be sold out then ask the shop assistant if they can keep it for you for 2 days.

2.  Avoid malls unless shopping for something specific. (they are a death trap to any shopaholic)

3.  Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, i.e. don’t spend what you don’t have.  If you lost your job right now would you still be able to make your payments for a few months at least?  If not think twice before buying on credit.

4.  Live within your means.  If you don’t have a 6 figure salary – adapt by shopping at places in your price range.  If you buy on credit still make sure that the sum of your accounts don’t exceed what you have saved away and especially that the payments you have to make on them don’t exceed more than a certain percentage of your income.  What that percentage is is up to you but if it’s hitting 50% then you’re heading for trouble.  My rule of thumb is that if everything went to hell at that particular moment would I be able to pay everything I owe, if not then I don’t buy.

5.  Budget when buying expensive items. – i.e. buy one big thing at a time and don’t buy another until you have paid it off. Those purchases and payments add up.

6.  Keep track of your purchases. – Save your receipts. Keep a little book in your bag and either write things down as you buy them or write-up the receipts at the end of the day.  Whichever way you do it make sure you know what you are spending.

7.  Keep a wish list.  –  Whenever I want something I find an image and cut it out.  Then I think about it.  If I still want it after some time has passed then I will at some stage buy it for myself as a reward for some achievement or the other.  If it is something that I can’t afford then I hold off on buying it until it is within my budget to do so.

8.  Shop around. – I really can’t stress that enough.  Frequently something you want can be bought at a fraction of the price. Appliances especially can differ greatly in price from one retail outlet to the next.  Especially when making big purchases be sure to use a site like pricecheck to see what it is selling for elsewhere.  When in doubt google is your friend.  Also be sure to look at the comments other customers leave about the products, it is the surest way to find out: a) if a product is really as good as it seems; b) what problems you can expect to have. Doing a bit of research can save you a lot of grief.

9.  Online shopping.  If I know what I want the internet is a great way of getting it.  Not only does it allow you to shop around but in many cases the product can be delivered to your door, free of charge in some cases, saving you time and money.  Again be sure what they are charging for product and delivery and only use your credit card on secure sites.

10.  Learn how to prioritize and balance what you want with what you need.  There will always be things that need buying and there will always be things you want.  It is important to be able to tell the difference.  Make sure you have covered the things you HAVE to buy before purchasing the things you WANT to buy.

Be clever when you shop. Smart shopping can save you a fortune while enabling you to buy what you want and what you need. You can spend less and have higher quality simply by settling for a different brand.  Don’t put yourself in a compromising situation, the only thing you should compromise on is price. And before you buy something because Johnny has it or spending a fortune just to have a brand name ask yourself if the object you are buying is worth the price you are paying. And especially when buying expensive items ask yourself whether it is something you will want or need in 3 years from now, if not you may want to rethink that in order to avoid facing a future which leaves you thinking  :  “It seemed like a really good idea at the time…”

Credit cards

Image via Wikipedia


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