In the capitalist, consumerist society in which we live, it can be easy to spend money on things because marketers tell us to, because everyone else is doing it, or because deep down, we feel we just should. A large portion of the money we spend is because of social conditioning and not because we actually need the products or services that we buy.
If we can try to avoid responding to the demands of status or desire, we’ll certainly have far healthier bank balances and probably more meaningful lives, too. Here are some of the things you might be spending money on, that you probably don’t need.
A new, fancy carSouth Africans seem to believe that cars make the man (or woman) and we stretch our budgets to accommodate the best make and model we can possibly afford – and often go into debt elsewhere so that we can keep making the repayments. In reality, older models of family cars that don’t have leather seats and a rear camera to help you to park are still safe, convenient and comfortable. If you can just let go of the belief that your self-worth is somehow tied up in the wheels that get you around, you’ll save yourself a packet of money.
The biggest home loan that you can lay your hands onUsually, when people start house hunting, they find out from their bank or a bond originator what size loan they will qualify for. They then proceed to hunt for houses at exactly that price or a little above with the hope of negotiating the seller down. Very seldom does a home-buyer consider buying a cheaper house – one that will cost them less every month, and less over the term of the loan – and yet, this is one of the most obvious ways to save money.
It is better to live within – rather than at the very edge – of your means.
Debt for stuff you want right now Credit cards shouldn’t automatically occupy a slot in your wallet. You should reserve debt for large purchases like a car or a house, and save up for everything else. Financial institutions and retailers are in the business of convincing you that you don’t need to wait, and that you deserve more than you can afford, right away. If you can resist these messages and avoid debt, you’ll save yourself a fortune in interest and gain a great deal in of peace of mind.
Spending more when you earn moreIf you were doing OK before you received your raise, there’s no need to change things the moment you start earning more. We’re conditioned to associate an increase in our finances with improvement in our lifestyle. Actually, the best and most sensible thing you can do with any extra money you start earning is to invest it, and carry on living as if it never existed.
Eating meat regularly We’ve been taught that “meat and two veg” is the proper way to fill a plate. This means that we usually construct our meals around a piece of meat, and a side of two vegetables – one of which is often a starch. Just because this is the way that it’s always been done, doesn’t mean we need to keep on doing it. If you plan your meals around a vegetable dish, and save meat for special occasions (or omit it from your diet altogether), you will be far wealthier and far healthier.
Having big wedding or birthday celebrationsIt isn’t a party unless there’s a tower of champagne glasses, a gorgeous new outfit and a three-course meal served on fine china. While this is the extreme end of the scale, there’s no denying that as a society we spend more money on life’s milestones than we should. Celebration should be about the gathering of friends and time spent together. It shouldn’t be about spending as much as we can to mark the occasion.
This is not to suggest that you should never enjoy yourself or have fun with your friends – the idea is simply that you should focus on the things that are important, rather than the amount of money you feel you should spend.
The bottom lineThese are just some of the many ways that we spend money because society expects us to. Try to avoid any of the justifications that say “you should” or “why not?” or “everyone else is” and instead focus on whether the expense you are considering truly adds value to your life.