photo © 2011 Michael Senchuk | more info (via: Wylio)
Here is something to think about – When you see something in a store and say it is expensive, do you realize that your statement is incomplete? Expensive compared to what? Things are expensive compared to other things.
Also, do you notice that expensive is an idea in your mind? Different people will have a different idea. What is expensive to you might be just all right to someone else and cheap to yet another. While this may depend on your financial status, that is not all.
You might be wondering why I mention this today and how does this question help in your growth. I think this phrase -‘That thing is expensive!’, many a times, is used as a cover to hide our own feeling of helplessness and low self worth. We use it to avoid the pain of accepting our own lack of belief in ourselves. Being aware of when and why we use it, can help us become aware of negative thought patterns and remove them. Let me explain with a little of my life story…
My story with buying things
Growing up, I remember that anything that was brought into our family was, for the most, considered on monetary price. What my parents wanted, but could not afford, was called expensive. There was always a lot of focus on saving money. Although I understood the benefits of saving, I found it taken too excessively in my family. I saw this as an attitude of scarcity.
When I started off as a software engineer, I inherited some of this same mentality. The friends I found had the same thinking too. Later, since I was fiercely ambitious and wanted a good life for myself, I saw myself to the US and changed a few jobs there. I developed the idea of focusing more on earning money than trying to save money. Even today, I believe that if you think you don’t have enough to buy everything you want, focus more on earning more money, rather than trying to save by depriving yourself of what you want. So I changed jobs and focused on getting a higher salary every time. I started earning more than my friends from previous jobs. I started spending more too. I wanted the best and I was getting it. I bought a lot of stuff and did a lot of things that I would previously have considered outrageously expensive. I would buy only the best product.
Over time, I realized that lasting happiness doesn’t come from these externals. They may give a temporary feeling of elation before the desire to get something else sets in.
When I left my job in the US some 7 months ago, to follow what I felt closer to my heart, I left behind that life style. I have not gone back to the previous one of a feeling of scarcity either. I feel differently about buying things today. Today, I feel my needs are less. This is a genuine feeling. I am more focused and excited about what I am doing and don’t care as much for getting more ‘things’. If, though, I grow a desire for something and I feel it will add to me, I just buy it. In case I don’t have the means right now, I make myself a conscious promise to raise my value to heights where I can own that thing. I have an unwavering faith in my capabilities.
These days, when I feel the desire for something, I check it against a few parameters.
My parameters for judging whether to buy something
1. Don’t spend more than you earn. I have always believed in spending less than I earn. This means I don’t take loans and never find my self in a situation where my monthly income finishes before the month does. If I need something and can’t afford it, I will first raise my value enough to buy it.
2. Does it help me towards my goal? I want to keep my focus towards what I really want. My passion and enthusiasm is towards personal development, becoming good and popular in what I am doing, helping others to become better themselves and bring about collective, positive change. I make sure what I buy is conducive to my goal.
3. Minimalism. This is the most important reason. I am wary of accumulating things. My life so far has taught me that accumulating things is a drag on my life.
Sometimes, it seems like things will make me happy but I know they only do so for a short while. After that, they demand maintenance and space for keeping them. They ask for attention and focus. To me, attention and focus are very precious commodities, more precious than money. I can not spend them on these things. Having more stuff also means that if a good opportunity calls for me to move to another place, I will have to think before deciding, just because I have a lot of stuff to move, maintain and arrange. The more we accumulate, the more energies and attention this stuff demands and the less we have to give to things that are truly important to us.
I have friends who want to do different things but can’t, because they have bought a house to live in and need to either stay in the same city because of it, or can’t leave job because they have to pay monthly installments, or both. Do they need that house? Not right away, they can stay in rented accommodation for decades. Some may ask – ‘But don’t you need a house after you retire? What if something goes wrong?’ You can find answers to these in my post on security . Here is a live example I know –
My father was very passionate about building a big house. He built one with great pains. He was also thinking of the future, he made it big enough to accommodate my future family(wife and kids) and my brother’s future family if need be. This was more than a decade ago, when both of I and my brother were in schools. My father has never lived there because his job has kept him moving around. He was ambitious and moved around when he saw better opportunities. He is quite well off now. I and my brother also got into colleges, and then into our professions in other cities. Now it is a pain for my father to find out tenants and get the monthly rent(it is a problem in my parts). The house requires regular visits, maintenance and attention. It seems unlikely now that my brother or I would ever need it. When I recently asked my father to reflect upon this decision, he smiled and had this to say – ‘I did it because I was going through a period where I was not doing as well professionally. All my frustration went into making the best house I could. Now that I have lived in different cities with different people, and come to appreciate other things, I wonder whether I can go back and feel happy and satisfied in that environment.’
He also feared one or both of us might not do well and need that house. Now, after all these years of seeing us progress, he knows we are both capable of taking care of ourselves.
So much for future planning!
I know that what I wanted 10 years ago is very different from what I want now. It follows that what I want 10 years from now will be different too. Why make something for that time, if I am not sure whether I will like it or need it?
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller
Most people look down upon simplicity and minimalism as practices based on scarcity. They think only poor people or losers resort to these things. That is not true. The poor have no choice, the losers are lying to themselves, they are giving themselves and others false reasons. The truly simple people realize that stuff accumulation is a devil in disguise. It is a loosing battle towards filling the emptiness in life. It is like an addiction that causes you to indulge more when you are already suffering for what you have done previously. These are people who give more attention to what they find really important after careful contemplation. They are the ones who have stopped looking for happiness in external stuff.
How our focus affects our buying
Being right with your buying choices has a lot to do with how clear you are about the direction and focus of your life. A person with a rudderless life may seek fulfillment in buying things. He will never know what to buy and what not.
A person with a clear sense of his/her purpose in life , will take no time to decide whether something is actually needed. Time and again, we find people who seem to have stayed successful and happy for long. We admire how humble and simple they are. This simplicity is not an add-on, it is a requirement if you want to keep your focus on what is really important to you.
Also, fulfillment can never be found in external stuff. It is something you develop internally. Things are only means to achieve something, they are not goals unto themselves.
The next time you find yourself saying something is expensive, check yourself, check the reasons behind your statement. Consciously say to yourself that you don’t have the means now but you have the capability to get whatever you want in life. If you decide not to get something, it should only be because it has no value for you.
Also, the next time you feel the urge to buy something, think once about how it helps towards your purpose . If it does not add to a purposeful life, it is going to become a drag soon.
Become a conscious and intelligent buyer