Have you ever spent your hard-earned money on something that you feel will give you instant gratification or happiness while being unmindful of the consequences, and find soon enough that you made one of the worst money decisions of your life? What made you decide to succumb to that wanton spending urge? What would you change if you had the chance? By identifying “deadly” money views that could prove fatal to your future security, and understanding what triggers them, you can save yourself a lot of regrets and spare your loved ones the burden of dealing with your money mismanagement.
This article aims to give you life skills to transform those spending urges into savings urges. It aims to enlighten many of us who are torn between enjoying our money here and now, and keeping the faith in savings and its relation to a good future.
There comes a moment in one’s life (and this is especially true for those who have been working hard for a long time) when one just feels the need to throw caution to the wind and ‘let go.” After all, when the urge to just spend it becomes too strong, you may just give in, thinking “I deserve this,” “it’s my life,” “this is why I work hard,” “we only live once,” and that common view about money and spending, it’s just money, and money cannot buy happiness.
These defenses on drastic big spending decisions are the common views about money that cause misunderstanding between those who see money as a tool to enjoy life, and those who see it beyond being an instrument of pleasure. Many major spending decisions have been made because of wrongly interpreted views about money and its use and purpose.
Because our topic involves personal attitude, life views and mindsets in relation to how we look at and use money, we will be dealing with life skills on proper money views and its application to decision-making. Hence we won’t be tackling functional skills on managing your finances such as making a weekly or a monthly budget or balancing your income and spending. We will however give practical guides on how to fight off the irrational urge to spend your savings which you can use as preparatory steps to develop the money-life skills.
This article speaks straight to the hearts and minds of all readers needing to re-examine their views about money and their life in general. The heart because our financial management discussion involves very strong and personal emotions, and the mind because it entails good amount of self-control, understanding and open-mindedness to live a life of security and therefore happiness founded on a healthy, prudent yet realistic view of money.
The approaches to sensible financial management and spending suggestions offered in this article are best for:
Before tacking in depth the Five Deadly Money Views, let us first talk about why some people lose their spending control despite the fact that they may have good money management education, recognize how hard it is to save and how important it is to secure a good future. Knowing where these people (and that may include you and me) are coming from reveals an all-too human tendency to “misrepresent” the good intentions one has in few and far between financial splurges, expressed in the wrong interpretation of the money views we will be tackling.
Psychology purports that people do the same thing or exhibit the same attitude for various and different reasons altogether. The same is true when one drastically overspends to the tune of several years’ worth of savings.
According to psychologist Thomas G. Plante, one of the unintended consequences of our many technological advances as well as how our cultural values have evolved is the ability to secure instant gratification. We all want our desires met right away but now so many of these desires can actually be met right away.
Why do some people lose all practical sense and become willing to throw away everything in one swift moment of happiness and fun? There are many reasons, and most of them are understandable, meaning they are coming from a situation that may warrant such a decision or an action. The issue now boils down to how to manage these impulsive spending triggers, which we will provide in our solutions.
A common thread among these causes is the so-called “breaking point,” when one reaches the weakest point of the willpower and just simply “let go.”
Rebellion is a very strong feeling, and may involve issues with family or the general environment, condition or society one lives in. In any case, this willful desire to break free is expressed in actions that deviate from the norm that generates shocking results which is the purpose of the rebellious act.
Liza A., a caregiver in Austin, TX, is the sole breadwinner in her family and has been silently rebelling from her obligation of paying for so many of the house bills. Reaching her breaking point, she decided it’s time to be relieved of this big responsibility and she suddenly moved out. When the moment of rebellion had subsided, it was too late. She had committed her entire savings account in post-dated checks issued to pay for the $850-a-month studio she drastically rented under a one-year contract. She had no choice but to preterminate her lease, paying for the 30% of the entire contract price.
To be liberated from an oppressing situation may be a common reason for rebellion, but while rebellion is a strong feeling against an oppressive state, liberation involves a more personal turmoil against a repressive state, when one feels being too limited in personal areas of life, although this feeling may not be manifested in public. For instance, a person who is saving for a big goal, like his or her own house in the next five years, may feel too stifled by skipping life’s simple pleasures year after year for a vision of a house that may or may not happen, and may just reach that breaking point.
Ego is a complicated thing, and may strike in a specific situation or may be an attitude one is accustomed with. Ego boost satisfies the need for control, to gain respect or feel important. And these often involves money or manifestations of spending big to have something to show for the people one tries to impress or satisfies.
When society or peer pressure proves too much, the person lacking in self-control may just be too glad the money is there (even if it took years to accumulate) to save face. This is the case for Javier T., an immigrant worker in Nevada. Every time he comes home to his native Guatemala every five years, he feels the need to “feed the entire village,” so to speak, who expects him to do so, costing him years of money saved up from his double-shift bartending duties, and returns back to work to start saving all over again.
Escaping from one’s reality, especially when that reality is very limiting, can be an irresistible trigger to blow away years of accumulated funds or money earned from hard, back-breaking work. Getting away from reality may not have very serious or deeply personal reasons as that of rebellion or liberation. Often, the person may feel the need to break away from life’s daily grind and indulge in some form of the good life occasionally. Not really harmful in moderation. However, a one-month leave from work to check in at The Plaza and live one’s inner Eloise is definitely setting one’s self to return to reality worse than when one left it.
Hopelessness may be the total opposite of escape from reality. While an escapist holds on to the hope of better things (whether true or imaginary) that suits his or her wishes, one who is hopeless loses all sense of drive, desire to move on, even imagination. While we all have a tendency to feel hopeless at some point in our lives for various reasons, most of us can still think clearly along the lines with help from good advice and a good enough time to think.
But when hopelessness treads the line towards desperation, there is a fragile spot where one can just throw away everything that represents hard work and long years. When one spends like money is the enemy, especially when one does not have it in unlimited supply, hopelessness may be hovering on a serious or delicate issue and a professional help or intervention may be in order.
Bottomline is, these causes, all involving powerful emotions with an accompanying restless urge to do something, are satiated with instant financial freedom courtesy of your savings funds. But the big question now is, is it real financial freedom? For how long will it last? When your money ran out, what will you do? What will your family do?
What are the deadly money views that are often cited to express the highly powerful feelings in the causes of irrational spending we just tackled? How are they misinterpreted, to ill results?
Our perspectives and life views are directly influenced by our environment, the people around us or by our education. When we get older, these life views (including our formed personal values) are challenged by changes – in environment, in the people we deal with, in the places we go to, and in the many things that we learn both in formal and informal ways.
As one matures, life’s experiences become one of the most, if not the strongest influence that shapes the way we look at things. Money-related experiences from the stages of maturity instill different financial views on a person, some good, some bad and deadly for one’s future.
Here are five of these money views that fall on the deadly category.
Many advertising copies consistently play around this money view. Spend for our product or service, no matter how ridiculously expensive it is, because you deserve this! Nothing less. This is why you work hard. The emphasis is on “you,” not your friend, not your neighbor, not your co-worker, but YOU. After all, it is you who work hard and earn your money. It is only right that you spend it for yourself. The way you want it.
The ad then makes schemes to implant a vision that will supposedly tell you what you want, often a luxury item or service. Then, an echo of the programmed mindsetting: This is why you work hard, right? Then, you buy it. Boom! There goes your savings in exchange for a time-sharing vacation house that never gets used, or a new “power” gadget that you cannot even get the hang of using and just duplicates all the other ones you already have.
A good story of a family who became overnight millionaires but who was never outsmart by the I deserve this money view was the West family. Working hard for most of their lives, they struck gold when they won the biggest single-ticket Powerball lottery jackpot in 2005 worth $340 million. While they bought things they’ve been dreaming of before, like new houses, cars and trips and bags, shoes and toys for the children (they also gave away some of their fortune), they never became one of those stereotypical lottery winners who spent it all in one go and returned to their former pennies-a-day life.
Their secret: they never, even for one day, thought that they deserve gargantuan luxuries when they hit luck after years of working hard. In fact, Steve West still clips coupons from his favorite family steakhouse while Carolyn retains her bookkeeping job working 30 hours per week. They also downgraded their investment counsellor’s $300,000-a-month budget for them to only $100,000, and the rest they put aside for the future.
Interviewed back by People magazine who first featured them in 2005, Steve said, “We found out when we didn’t have the money, we dreamed about all these fantastic things you think you need,” says Steve. “Then, when you have the money to buy whatever you want, you realize it’s not the stuff you can buy that’s really important; it’s still being around family.”
Indeed, breaking the foundation of the I deserve this money view does not mean it is right to dismiss the importance of recreation, finding one’s self, and enjoying things that money can give us (not doing so is not normal). It’s only important to note that the I deserve this money view is a ploy manipulated by purveyors of commercial spending. Responsible money management and a careful hold on savings like what the Wests did coupled with a sound view of what’s more important than instant luxuries will always defray the call of wishful spending.
This is the common mantra of the self-help believer, one that advocated putting the self first, for once, after everything that was done and sacrificed for, often in an effort to satisfy other people or to make them happy first, always putting the self the last priority, or so it seems.
The book Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir of author Melissa Gilbert’s 2006 travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia on a journey of “self-rediscovery” after her divorce. Gilbert’s story of a total turnaround from scared, mentally-tortured housewife to a single woman enjoying the good life – good food, meditating and finding a new love championed what mainstream media termed as feminist enlightenment.
Gilbert’s book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 187 weeks and was made into an equally successful movie starring Julia Roberts. Despite its mainstream popularity, Gilbert’s story received heavy criticism for its priv-lit (privileged literature) nature, which promotes putting the self (self-love) first through spirituality and enlightenment achieved through a culture of commercialism.
Priv-lit critics lash out on the idea of splurging to get or regain self-recognition without addressing the costs, and if a person do not want to compromise (say his or her savings or her job or family responsibilities), that person fails to prepare enough, does not want “it” (the enlightenment) enough, or not loving his or herself enough. (While self-help indulgence is commonly associated with women empowerment, it also applies in every sense to men.)
Critics Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown wrote, “There’s no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she’s willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.” (It is also best to mention that Gilbert’s publisher Viking subsidized the expenses for the yearlong vacation for her book.)
So how much does self-discovery cost?
In their analysis of priv-lit materials, Sanders and Barnes-Brown also mentioned a piece by the Los Angeles Times in 2009 about “well-off women (and some men) leaving their full-time jobs to meditate in seclusion for three years, to the tune of $60,000 a year. Another feature on young, female self-help gurus (their exact qualifications for guruhood remain murky) charging hundreds of dollars an hour to advise other women on spirituality and eating well was granted prime real estate on the front page of the New York Times’ Style section.”
Sanders and Barnes-Brown put emphasis on the underlying messages of priv-lit media: “Women can or should be willing to spend extravagantly, leave our families, or abandon our jobs in order to fit ill-defined notions of what it is to be “whole.”
While we cannot argue with the need to take care of and reconnect with one’s self especially in challenging periods in our lives, doing so in the way that mainstream media promotes it is always a major money decision. Jumping into self-love and “enlightenment” activities unprepared just because of the mindset “I needed a change” can result to regrets when lifetime savings have been depleted in a spur of the moment (in)decision.
We can aptly call advocates of this money view as the one-day millionaire. Urbandictionary.com defines the term one-day millionaire as “someone spending money impulsively because you just got paid, then regretting it the next day.” In some instances, the cold cash on hand may also come from an unexpected windfall or from proceeds on short-term savings like time deposits, and even piggy banks.
For those without a vision of their future, foregoing savings in favor of instant gratification, what satisfies the here and the now, is a tempting situation that they cannot fight. Willpower alone is not enough especially if there is no strong vision of a future one wants to have, or simply doesn’t care enough.
Time and again, real stories of one-day millionaires came to us often in entertainment format or for their shock value, when an unhappy ending follows the once millionaire’s financial binge.
History is replete with stories of once rich people who died poor, leaving almost nothing to family. George Best, the Manchester United footballer died at 59 from kidney infection. Asked before he died what happened to the money he had earned, he replied: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
African-American celebrity hero Sammy Davis Jr. was also one of them. As a superstar in Broadway and Las Vegas, along with Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack,” one would think he’s got more than enough money tucked away in times of need. However, he died in 1990 of throat cancer heavily indebted with tax obligations.
More than being amazed and amused, these kinds of real stories should be taken for their lessons on money management (or aptly, mismanagement).
So why are there people who spend it all in a one-time big-time fashion rather than keeping some for tomorrow’s needs? And why do they do it?
Consumer Education president John Ulzheimer explains “we’re wired for instant gratification, while David Bach, author of “The Automatic Millionaire” explains that counting on willpower alone is not enough. “When you rely on willpower to meet your expenses, important financial obligations such as timely payments and depositing to an emergency cash or retirement fund are left up to your personal choice and can easily be mismanaged.”
The one-day millionaire is the exact opposite of the ant who saves every crumb for the rainy day. And like the familiar lesson of the hardworking ants, a penny saves is a penny earned which not only gets one going in the midst of winter, but season after season. These type of big spenders need to strongly think and envision a good retirement, a comfortable future rather than living on “good” days, which is not a constant thing.
Rather than being a one-day millionaire, aspire instead to be a millionaire one day, through hard work and dedicated effort at earning and saving more. Try to be a $5-a-day saver and become a millionaire in a few years!
No one could have said it any better than Scarlett O’hara (played by Vivien Leigh) in one of the most memorable lines in movie history. “I’ll think of it all tomorrow, after all, tomorrow is another day,” muttered the tempestuous heroine when uncertainties confront her anew upon Rhett Butler’s leaving her for good. This line has been taken to heart by many who lives for the day, and leave tomorrow’s concerns for tomorrow to take care of.
There is some truth and logic to it. After all, who knows what tomorrow brings? Some people may also cite a very inspirational biblical passage about the birds and the flowers in the valleys being taken cared of everyday by our Supreme Protector, and people being more important than birds and flowers. So true, and while we do not contest our trust to the Source of our life, most of us will agree that this lovely passage speaks more about enduring faith, and does not refer to the literal interpretation of slackening about and waiting for manna to come from heaven anew after an out-of-control spending. Isn’t it that God helps those who help themselves?
In the 21st century reality of steady unemployment, stagnant wages and higher taxes, tomorrow brings bleakness and hardship when one does not take savings security seriously and can afford to slack, worse, throw a life savings away in one single shot of expensive leisure.
This is the case for Tonya of Kansas City, MO, who helps her mom in sending her younger brother Geoff to college. The story is always the same whenever it’s time for her brother to pay off his school dues – Tonya stresses about looking for urgent interest-free loans from relatives and close friends to help pay the term’s fees. “She would spend on expensive hair services and spa treatments with her friends, and I just knew she’s putting off saving for “tomorrow,” laments her mother Tina, who along with Geoff, also gets a lot of stress from Tonya’s putting off her pledged savings for tomorrow.
Unlike Scarlett who still had her lovely velvet gowns and the Twelve Oaks estate should Rhett never return, the real person today who always thinks tomorrow is another day to save anew will definitely have nothing in the end, with all that money saved gone with the wind.
But you might say “I have a back-up fund that will see me through on other days.” Good for you. There are people who save like ants, accumulating money by making small and big sacrifices. But there are also people who live like a horse always geared for a big race with a one-track vision, without a concrete goal of what these funds are meant for and without setting aside for peripheral and unforeseen needs ahead. If one always rely on a back-up fund, it is easy to just give in to many of life’s irrational reasons to splurge and indulge. Life savings should be viewed as a whole, not compartmentalized to give (or fool) one’s self with a fake idea of being a responsible saver.
We’ve heard this philosophy over and over again, especially in situations where money may buy all sorts of things, including medicines, but in the end, fails to give contentment, or provide cure. In short, money cannot buy happiness. Which others interpret to mean go ahead and spend everything you’ve got, it’s just money and you can always earn it back.
True or false?
False, because money can buy you a ticket to Paris, a deconstructed Caesar’s salad in a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, or an Hermes Birkin bag. These things may make you happy, and hence, we say that money can buy happiness.
True, money cannot buy happiness, and with that, we mean lasting happiness. The kind that makes you sleep soundly at night and look forward to waking up every morning and seize the day.
So how do we resolve the million-dollar question? Money can buy happiness or Money cannot buy happiness? The conflict lies in the definition of “happiness,” and in its manifestations, what things bring happiness that money can and cannot purchase. The first statement involves pleasure. The second one involves peace of mind.
The first statement involves money management (deciding where your hard-earned money goes). The second one involves good, sensible and “sensitive” money management, the kind that takes into consideration consequences for you and others around you stemming from your decision to allocate (spend) your money on something.
What we are trying to say is quite easy to understand: that good, sensible and sensitive money management helps bring on happiness, not money alone and in itself.
Money (which is always a good thing when used in the right way) can buy you happiness and all the good things that comes with being happy like contentment, peace of mind, well-being and security if spent and used in the right way.
Tennessee Williams once said “you can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.” This strongly emphasizes the need to save, while one is still capable of working and earning, and not being swayed to disregard the future by philosophical money views like it’s just money, it cannot buy happiness.
As emphasized a number of times in this article, people are different and there is no sweeping or one-size-fits-all solution when spending and money management problems arise. As such, an array of solutions depending on a person’s spending challenge, the exact situation, and other things need to be analyzed to effectively address the challenge of correcting wrong money views, for the future and for the better.
Here are two sets of solutions, first, life-money skills to develop and practice, and the second, practical steps to take to immediately address a dilemma brought on by wrong financial perspectives.
Here they are:
Psychologists define self-control as a willpower that “separates us from our ancient ancestors and the rest of the animal kingdom, thanks to our large prefrontal cortices. Rather than responding to immediate impulses, we can plan, we can evaluate alternative actions, and we can refrain from doing things we’ll regret. We can also take advantage of these innately human abilities by developing wisdom and willpower.”
Aside from developing willpower, what people with deadly money views need are sound advices on savings and investing. Sanjiv Vohra, country manager for Citi, said that promoting financial literacy means going beyond the client base, and this is something that big spenders who seek guidance and reform can take advantage of. “When consumers are engaged on discussions on savings, budgeting and investing, it raises awareness on the importance of being able to make smart financial decisions to make for their future.”
People become impulsive when they feel bad. They also tend to decide or act harshly when in fear or in doubt. For others, when something good happens, they do not want to break the chain (remember the gambler’s philosophy?) and believe more is in the offing. To continue, they needed to spend more.
Some people are so emotional to the extent that they take irrational decisions that they regret later on. The good news is it is possible to control your emotions, as espoused by Psychology in Action. “True, there are times when we are swept away by a powerful emotion, but being tossed to and fro by every emotional experience would undoubtedly spell disaster. However, humans are highly adaptive creatures and we have developed the capacity to influence what emotions we have, when we have them, and how we express them.”
The key is not to make any quick decision when one is at a highly emotional state, since chances are it will lead to wrong directions, wrong actions and regrettable decisions. When one is very emotional, one can be easily influenced. Because your feelings are not solid and stable, you are highly vulnerable to persuasions and suggestions that may not be in your best terms.
This step simply echoes the importance of discipline. When you are highly focused and committed to that future goal: to retire at age 65, settle into a modest retirement home, live off on interest from a good savings investment, help out in the education of your grandkids and take on more volunteer hours, you will always think that every unplanned withdrawals and debits off your savings funds equate to steps away from achieving your future goals.
When you view senseless splurging as a threat to your goals, it will be easier to totally close your heart and mind to calls of tempting yet deadly money views.
Feeding the entire town doesn’t mean everyone will think highly of you. Aside from real and lasting happiness, another thing that money cannot buy is respect. You have to earn it, and most of the time, through means where money is of no concern, like goodwill, charity and acts of kindness and fairness.
Having a vision of the future you want is a very powerful thing. America’s pioneering business executives Tina Santi Flaherty and Kay Iselin Gilman underlines the importance of envisioning the future Good Life in careful financial planning, by saying that “Presumably, one of your reasons for working is to participate in the Good Life to come. While you don’t have to have megabucks to do this, you do have to be willing to take control of your financial life. Taking control means you’ve got to pull yourself out of fiscal illiteracy and educate yourself in the ABC’s of personal money management.”
Reach out and just talk to someone – a friend, your spouse, your elder children, your parents. It is not advisable to think things out by yourself during these moments since your emotional state will only favor the “easy way out, here and now.” Talking about your feelings can alleviate the stress and most probably reward you not only an outlet to let steam off, but a good knack on the head in the form of wise advices and encouragement.
Impulse spending and even simple recreational shopping when done in secret from your spouse or family can put a strain on both your finances and your relationships. Most often, your family bears the brunt of any wrong financial decision you make and cannot undo. Family support is very crucial in this moment. Being honest enough by Involving the family during highly indecisive periods or breaking off points in your life not only shows your respect to them, but also affords you the strongest weapon to ward off spending temptations – family love and care.
Do not finalize any major spending unless you have a budget plan for this specific expenditure, which is tied with or a part of your bigger, general financial plan. If you really want to take that trip to Paris, by all means take it at some point in your life. Just have a good, working plan. While it is best to have some extra dollars for emergency, make sure it will not deplete the rest of your savings by paying more than what you intended, like upgraded rooms for a special price, or EUR300 room-service massage. Check your financial plan against daily or weekly spending. While you should be prepared to shell out a few wads more for the rare opportunity to try out new things, you remain on track with your earmarked funds.
If you are already strongly tempted to spend a chunk of your savings on something, ask a what if question? What will I gain if I spend for this thing? How will my life improve? How will the lives of my loved ones benefit?
What if I do not buy this thing, will it have a serious and immediate effect in my life? My job? My family? My future?
Some financial views may be too extreme or out of control that a professional help may be in order, and it may not necessarily be a financial adviser. Psychologists and relationship counsellors may provide the appropriate answer that the person with this kind of problem has.
Easily resisting spending urges is easier said than done, and when it involves deeply emotional causes that make some people (especially those who have been working hard and skipping what others call life’s simple pleasures for a long time, the person cannot be fully at fault for giving in to that breaking point. However, what cannot be rebuilt anymore are the important life goals and future plans that get derailed because of savings funds gone for good. Knowing the important life-money skills and the practical steps to take to avoid regrets will help you and your family keep that savings faith going, protecting that money which everyone helped saved and kept secure for so long.
People have different views about money and its uses, and there is no absolute social “standard” on why and when a person should enjoy the good life using hard-earned money intended for the future. Only, there are long-held money views (some personal, others learned from immediate environment) that are commonly misinterpreted to justify wanton spending and depletion of savings. The result is a lifetime of regret, and many more years of hard work and stringent life anew, not only for the big spender but those who depend on him or her.
Every hardworking person deserves a better life founded on a strong, long-term financial security rather than a spur of the moment spending spree. In pointing out wrong money views that prey on lifetime savings, everyone will agree that it does not mean advocating strict stinginess, unfazed frugality and tiring tightwadness. These are extreme money management practices that some people often pass on as savings habit, to the point of leading a life of abject want and misery for them and their family.
Knowing the reasons why some people lose their spending control is important so that we can better establish where some people (and that may include you and me) are coming from whenever they justify a spur of the moment spending with arguments which at first seemed right and fair, but on closer scrutiny reveals a tendency to misinterpret or worse, misrepresent the good intentions one has in truly justifiable financial splurges.
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