If you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck without any savings to speak of except for a retirement account at work, that list in your head might be the problem. You know what I am talking about. It is that list of things you want to buy, places you want to go, and services you want to subscribe to that you keep in your head. How many times have you said to yourself, a family member, friend, or co-worker, “Once I get my hands on some money, I’m going to buy myself that new whatever, or I’m going to go to wherever, or I’m going to join whatever.” And when you finally have the money, you spend it on the list. If it takes too long to get something on the list, you finance it with debt. You just have to have that next whatever.
The list never ends
And the list is never exhausted. In fact, it grows and grows. Advertising convinces you to add to the list. Your family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers purchase something new, and now you want to acquire it; so you add it to the list. You watch a movie or television program and want to emulate the lifestyle of the characters, the accoutrements of which are added to the list.
The list does not create lasting happiness
You think the next thing on the list will make you happy. And it does for a short while, but there is always the next thing. You live in expectation of acquiring the next thing. You live in the future which is not living at all.
The list in your head keeps you from getting ahead
Year after year, the list bleeds off your extra money: salary increases, income tax refunds, gift money, and windfalls, large and small, but you never satisfied, never really content despite your consumption and material acquisitions. Your finances never improve. Just like contentment, financial security eludes you. You can blame thirty years of stagnant income, globalization, the one percent, monetary policy, and government fiscal policy, but it is that list, that list in your head that keeps you from getting ahead.
Unconscious spending vs conscious spending
That list in your head is evidence of unconscious spending. An awareness of the list and its effects on your finances are the first steps to becoming a conscious spender. Conscious spending has a purpose behind it, not a list. Long and short-term financial goals based on your values and a plan to achieve them provide a rational basis for making conscious spending decisions. A budget that reflects your long and short-term financial goals and your plan to achieve them provides the information necessary to make prudent spending decisions. Conscious spending moves you toward your goals rather than just satisfying the latest form of material gratification on that list in your head.
Moving from unconscious spending to conscious spending
If you have grown tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck and getting only fleeting satisfaction out of consumption, forget that list in your head. Ignore it and set some long and short term financial goals that reflect your core values. Make a plan to achieve your goals and create a budget to implement the plan. You will become a conscious spender who is moving relentlessly toward the fulfillment of your goals, and you will enjoy enduring satisfaction as a result of your efforts.
K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages