Live Below Your Means & Build Wealth
I work very hard. I deserve to have nice things. I remember my first promotion at work and immediately planning a shopping spree to break in my new salary. I bought a new Coach tote bag, lots of shoes, work dresses, and jewelry. It didn’t matter that I was paying only the minimum amounts on my student loans each month. I was paying them, along with all my other bills. I mean that’s more than some could say. I was being responsible and this was my reward. It felt good that I could pay all my bills on time and splurge a little. I was living at my means, so I was good right? Not quite. Now I know my experience with shopping isn’t the worst there could possibly be, but as I’ve gotten older, personal financial management has become very important to me and led me to explore the behaviors of why we spend the way we do and how we can begin to think differently about our finances.
Why do we, as rapper Fabolous might say, “Just throw it in the bag?”
So when did we as a society move from minimalism to a life of materialism? My grandmother’s house is approximately 1100 square feet. Two adults and three children lived in that space. I currently live in a 1600 square foot home with my husband and almost two year old and feel like we will be outgrowing the space soon. According to NPR.org, the average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s. Double the space to consume things, most of which we probably do not need. What would compel a person to spend money on items they don’t need. Here are a few of my thoughts.
Dress to impress – We want to keep up with the Joneses. We want to make a good impression around our friends and family. Our need to impress others can sometimes come down to our sense of self-worth. Self-worth is important and necessary, but can cause us to try to live up to a standard that isn’t achievable nor sustainable (goodbye savings account).
Bad Habit – I never once have gone to the mall to just “look.” Some people shop because they like to look around. If you’re one of those people, realize that you probably have a shopping habit you need to break. Buying in to the concept of window shopping is the gateway to overconsumption. Being around all those new and shiny things is temptation that most can’t handle. Break the window shopping habit and “Shop with Purpose!”
Poor Planning – I hate when I come home from the grocery store only to find out I’ve spent money on items already in the fridge or pantry. Buying too much of something you don’t need right now can lead to waste and for food that means money in the garbage. With other items like clothing, I’ve adopted the concept of first going “Shopping in my closet.” I see what I have first before adding more to the closet. I often find that I still have things with tags on them. Thinking about what we already have and finding contentment in those things can help us avoid unnecessary purchases.
Instant Gratification – We live in a world of instant gratification, but this can lead to poor financial decisions. We seek fulfillment in material things. I got a promotion, I went shopping. On the flip side, people use shopping to recover from sadness or depression. Typically people aren’t thinking of being fiscally responsible when shopping for happiness.
Time to start living a #LAMFreeLife
Once you understand why you spend the way you do, you can work towards changing your mindset about shopping and how to manage your finances differently. I thought I was doing well living at my means and not above them. But I was focused on maintaining the life I had then, not what I wanted to work towards in the future. It’s very hard to build wealth living at or above your means. The goal is to live BELOW your means. Here are a few ideas on how to break the overconsumption cycle and get a hold of your finances.
Cash is king – There’s something about using cash to purchase things that makes us more aware of what we’re spending our hard earned money on. Maybe it’s because it’s so tangible compared to swiping a debit or credit card. Using cash only for purchases can really assist in stopping overspending.
Track your spending – Although many people already use a budget (great job!) to plan their spending, the majority of people also routinely spend more than they can afford. This can lead to inappropriate use of credit cards to make up for the lack of funds in your bank account. The key to living below your means is to know what your expenses are and to spend less than you make. A good monthly budget can help ensure you pay your bills on time, have funds to cover unexpected emergencies, and reach your financial goals.
Sell it/Donate it – There are so many online sites and apps where you can sell things you longer need. I personally have grown fond of the site Mercari because it protects both the seller and buyer during the transaction process and have lower selling fees than other sites. I also love giving my gently used clothes and other household items to the goodwill to help someone else. There’s also a great tax deduction for donating that can help at tax time.
Find a different past time – Volunteering or taking up new hobbies (other than shopping of course) can both help limit excessive shopping, put money back into your pocket, and help you seek fulfillment in more purposeful ways.
Breaking shopping habits as an adult can be hard. But ignoring your means to live the life of a LAM makes adulting even harder. If you build financial goals rooted in commitment, consistency, patience, and reasonableness, you will begin to see positive changes to your financial circumstances. #LAMFreeLife