It’s New Year’s, the traditional time to make resolutions to make next year better than the last. So Billshark would like to suggest one that could make all the difference in your financial life: Take your power back.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) said shoppers were expected to spend $730 billion on the holiday season that just wrapped up. Good for the economy, perhaps, but we have to wonder how much of that three-quarters of a trillion dollars came from the pockets of people who couldn’t comfortably afford it.
And of that number, how many charged it? At what interest rate? How long will it take to pay it off? How many pulled money from savings, or borrowed it because of the pressure they felt, whether internal or external, to spend, spend, spend on largely forgettable gifts?
Don’t let others control your finances
The best gift you can give yourself is freedom from the dictates of others. That is, don’t let them spend-shame you into going over your budget. “No” is not only one of the shortest words in the English language, it’s also the most powerful.
So you need to take your power back from:
Peer pressure isn’t confined to high school; it extends long beyond that, when your friends or family—perhaps with all the good intentions in the world—press you to come along to a venue you know you can’t afford, or buy clothes or new technology or attend a destination wedding or live in a “better” house or neighborhood. They may just want you to be as happy as they (think they) are, but you need to know yourself well enough to say no.
The biggest influence to buy these days often comes from social media. The fear of missing out (FOMO) isn’t confined to fear of missing an important text or tweet or friend update. It’s also the fear that everyone else is living better than you, and the solution is to buy things that will help you catch up to their lifestyle (more on this later).
Marketing is all about making you buy things you don’t need. The trick—which they’re very good at—is to make you feel inadequate if you don’t buy their product. They’re not above using guilt, fear, or envy to induce you to open your wallet. Or, more likely, to swipe that card.
If you’re having a bad day/week/month, retail therapy is short-term reward for long-term deprivation.
Tell yourself a new story
To take your power back, you have to realize what is happening to you, and to realize all the ways you’re spending more than you intend to, or perhaps can afford.
Conspicuous consumption was a term introduced in 1899 by economist and sociologist Torstein Veblen, which referred to people who buy expensive items to display wealth and income instead of buying only what they really need.
In the 1950s it was known as “keeping up w/ the Joneses.” That is, if your neighbor had a swimming pool, you had to have one, too, preferably bigger. Or if she had a mink, you immediately went out and got a sable. If he bought a Corvette, you needed a Porsche.
People allowed their sense of self worth to be defined by what they owned, rather than through more intangibles such as kindness, empathy, honesty, or generosity.
You need to tell yourself a new story about what you want your money to bring you, to do for you.
You need to keep your eye on long-term goals, like saving for that home, or for an early—or at least a comfortable—retirement.
You need to remind yourself how good it will feel to live debt-free, without constantly having to play catch-up, and how good it can feel to have money set aside for emergencies.
This year, resolve to buy only what you need. Only what you truly want to spend money on. That’s what independence is. That’s what real power is.
And if you’re making resolutions, why not resolve to let Billshark help lower your bills? We charge nothing to review them; you pay only if we can save you money.