Jonses

My column from the Greenhorn Valley View, on June 6, 2007: 

My family and I are half way through our little experiment.  We’re not spending any money for a whole month.  In spite of a couple interesting insights and anecdotes, I can’t wait for this to be over!  Forcing myself not to buy something I want, even when I have the money, takes a high degree of discipline that I would rather not exert.  Friends and family aren’t too keen on our experiment either.  More than once we’ve had to decline an activity with friends because we couldn’t spend money.

Things have gotten interesting around on the home front, too.  My daughter (9) questions every purchase we make, asking if it is a “necessary expense,” even making the little quote marks with her fingers.  When did she become the voice of my conscience?  My son (10) was walking through Walmart with us when something caught his eye.  “Man,” he said, “not being able to buy things makes me want to buy even more.”

I think he’s on to something.  I think discontentment might be the root cause of most of our society’s overspending.  For a variety of reasons, we’re not happy with what we have.  We secretly hope spending will make us happy, maybe fill some void that needs filling.  The little thrill of the new purchase makes us temporarily forget something we’d rather not face.

Then, of course, there is the desire to keep up with the Joneses.  Naturally, since we derive our view of ourselves by comparing ourselves to the people around us, we will always want to be a half a notch better than the Joneses.  Is it possible to forget about the Joneses?

Or maybe forgetting about the Joneses isn’t even desirable.  Capitalism is an economic system built on man’s inherent greed.  Yes, greed is bad, but since it is impossible to eradicate, capitalism seeks to turn an inevitable evil into an economic good.  Because people are hungry for more, inventions are invented, jobs are created, diseases are cured, and our environment is overall improved.

So this is where we are.  We’re combating our desire for more by curtailing spending.  And while we expect that our family’s finances will improve, we’re confused about the overall role spending plays in our lives and in our culture.  Talk back in the comments section below.

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