Sometimes I can’t help but shake my head that we as a society feel compelled to buy crap just because we feel we “need” it.
There are millions of people here in the U.S. that, although not by choice, manage to live on $2 a day. But when it comes to the middle class, even with increasing salaries, most families buy and buy and still feel like they need more stuff.
Why do people love to waste their hard-earned money on crap?
I’m not above this, but I think I’ve changed tremendously over the past decade. I’ve really become much better at just living more simply.
When I was working during my college years, I was a spender. I’ve talked about how I used to go out with a group of friends to dinner and would just pay the tab for everyone like I was a high roller or something… except I wasn’t.
I incurred so much stupid credit card debt over those years it was ridiculous. And it took me years just to dig myself out of it. What a waste.
Ever since those years, I feel like I try to do what I can to simplify and eliminate the non-essentials.
Why Do We Buy Crap?
I’ve been thinking about why people love to buy crap and here are a few reasons that come to mind…
- Some people have a general dissatisfaction with life. They think that if they buy crap it will help alleviate that problem. HINT… it doesn’t. I think the mid-life crisis might even fall into this line of thought.
- It’s human nature to want what others have. Unfortunately, a lot of us then start to buy crap to keep up with the Joneses. You want what your friends or neighbors have, so you buy what they have… maybe even something bigger or better. Then your friends or neighbors see what you have and want it – so they go out and buy something better. The cycle then continues onward.
- Others crave attention. They feel like if they buy crap it will make others think more highly of them. It’s a matter of trying to impress people with the expensive house, expensive car, and whatever else they can buy. They feel they deserve the best and want others to know it.
- Then there’s the idea that some people just don’t care (or know better). Maybe they don’t have enough money for their future, but to them, all that matters in living in the moment. Sounds great now, but down the line, this is definitely a strategy that will come around and kick you in the $%.
Here are a couple of things that have been bugging me as of late…
Stuck in the Hood
I have good friends who married when they were very young and had a couple of kids. They couldn’t afford much, but still managed to buy a small house in a not-so-great neighborhood.
They’ve lived there for over 20 years now and the neighborhood’s gotten much worse and the property values continue to drop.
It’s an ongoing complaint from them. They want out. They talk about where they want to move to and what kind of house they want to buy. They also tell me their different financial ideas for making the day happen sooner than later.
Sounds good, right?
The problem is that they’ll complain about it and how they’re going to get out, but it’s mostly just talk. They buy nice, new cars every few years. They book vacations a couple times a year. Their kids are grown up and have moved out and so they go out to the bars and grab dinner while there a few times a week.
I get it. They feel like they didn’t get much of a chance to play in their twenties because they were raising kids. But, they’re not going to get anywhere at this pace.
Mrs. R2R is always asking me why it bothers me so much. I don’t have a solid answer, but I’m guessing it’s because they say they want one thing, but then seem to purposely sabotage the goal for themselves. If they were content with where things were today, great… enjoy. But, that’s not the case and it drives me up a wall.
I just don’t get it. And they’re not the only ones that frazzle me – here’s the ongoing saga in the family…
The House and RV Dilemma
This is a dilemma for my parents, but it drives me crazy. My parents have made a living running their own business for a couple of decades now. The issue is that it’s a job that requires some physical labor and they’re both getting to the age where they can’t handle it much longer.
The good news is that their house is paid off. The bad news is that they don’t have a lot of money and want to travel.
They bought a top-of-the-line, Class A $85,000 motorhome.
That makes sense, right?
No, not at all. Just like the typical American, they decided to buy crap and go into debt just because they wanted it and not because they can afford it.
Now they’re stuck working so they can pay for the RV that they can’t use because they’re always working. That’s fun, right?
To make matters even worse, they now keep the motorhome down in Florida (that’s a whole ‘nuther story). So, when they want to use it, they drive their car down from Ohio to Florida to get to it (a couple times a year).
Right now, you might be thinking “um, isn’t the point of a motorhome to drive it from point A to point B instead of your car?”
Yes! I pull my hair out just thinking about it.
The smart move would be to make a choice:
- Sell their house and actually enjoy traveling like Steve at ThinkSaveRetire.com is doing.
- Or cut their losses and sell the RV. Cut back on their hours and then travel using that money they get from working. The struggle in their case is they’re a big victim of the sunk cost fallacy.
- Or find a happy medium to retire faster. Sell the RV, sell the house, and downsize to a smaller house. Quit working and use the extra money from the proceeds of the old house to use toward some occasional traveling.
Unfortunately, they just run through the same routine every day and nothing ever changes.
Since I’m on a rant, I have a couple other wastes of money that are bothering me…
Let’s Start Our Marriage with a $26k Expense!!
According to Cost of Wedding, the average wedding cost in the U.S. is $26,645. What the $%^&????
How much is it to just go and have a Justice of the Peace marry you… maybe a hundred bucks?
Don’t get me wrong, I know that the pressure is on from friends and family to have a big old wedding. After all, it’s your big day and you only live once, right?
That’s all fine and dandy, but who wants to start off their marriage with a bill of over $26,000?! I’m hoping that average is being skewed by the very expensive weddings, but ouch – that’s a lot of money!
The problem is that a lot of us just ante up because that’s just what people do. And most of the time, you’re young and stupid at the time you get married.
I was somewhat lucky. My wife has always been price conscientious, but we still ended up spending a good chunk of change on our wedding day. It’s been 10 years, but I’m guessing our day ran about $5,000.
And it really was a great time. But when all’s said and done, we basically just blew five grand for a party. That money could have been a great down payment on our financial future instead.
If you haven’t gotten married yet, don’t fall for the hype. Sit down together and have a discussion about your future. With so many marriages that end in divorce and money issues being a big contributing factor, wouldn’t it make better sense to at least talk about something less costly?
Why not rock the Justice of the Peace and then have a get-together with family and friends at your house or someone else’s house? You could even take it a step further and make it a potluck. I would take a pretty good guess that everyone would still have a great time and your wallets would be even happier the next day! 🙂
Time to Pay the Reaper
Even when we’re dead, it’s as if we’re still not done feeling the need to spend.
The National Funeral Directors Association stated that for 2014, the national median cost of a funeral was $7,181 (including viewing and burial).
Why do we feel like we need to spend thousands of dollars on funerals?
We’re dead – it doesn’t matter!
Sure, I get it – we want to show how much we care about our loved ones. But spending over seven grand isn’t the answer.
The issue, obviously, is that we usually don’t do enough planning on this beforehand. Your loved ones then spend money on a lot of unnecessary funeral expenses simply because they’re worried about offending your memory.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Have a talk about this with your spouse, or parents, or even your older kids if you have any. Let them know what kind of service you would like. Take it a step further and document it. Make it a part of your estate planning plans you’ve put together (or should).
If you haven’t gotten the message of this post, it’s pretty simple… live below your means and you’ll go far. It’s not hard – don’t buy crap you don’t need. It’ll ruin the financial buffer you’re working so hard to build.
Here’s a great SNL skit that pretty much sums things up:
Shout out to The Biglaw Investor for bringing this awesome skit to my attention in the Rockstar Forums!
Live simply and enjoy your life.
Any thoughts on why people love to buy crap?
Thanks for reading!!
20 thoughts on “Why Do We Buy Crap??”
I haven’t always been great with money. My pattern was 2 steps forward and 1 step back. That allows me to see the wastefulness of most people around me. Over the past few years we decided to light ourselves on FIRE and really get serious about our finances and what we really want out off our life. After that, picking our the stupid things people do with their money is surprisingly easy and frustrating. I try not to judge but sometimes it’s hard. I feel like shaking my co-workers and telling them they really don’t need that brand new sports car! But I don’t. I smile and congratulate them and go on my way. But I totally get your frustration.
I think that’s it MMM – it’s like you wake up one day and you’re like “what the %^&* am I doing? This stuff’s totally unimportant.” And then, you nailed it, you start seeing all the money people are spending wastefully.
That’s a great skit! I’d never seen that before. The story about the RV…what a classic example of things that make you go “hmmmmmmm?”.
I was fortunate that I learned early on from my parents about proper use of debt. They saved money to buy cars with cash, they never used credit cards, etc and those were some valuable lessons growing up. Having good role models was a blessing and developing those positive habits and mindsets myself is what got me off on the right foot young. I’m not immune to buying crap, but I live and learn.
That really is fantastic, JW – I really wish I had that growing up. Not that I have bad parents, just that they, obviously, aren’t good with money. I’m very excited about where we’re at today and how close we are to FIRE, but learning things the hard way set me back a few years… I should be tending a garden already instead of sitting in an office every day! 😉
To give you some food for thought, my uncle bought one of those expensive rvs. He now regrets it because it’s a pain to drive and park. Also his medical condition has changed such hat he can’t use it anyway. Long story short, they don’t hold their value and are hard to sell used. First off good news for anyone who wants to buy used, but for your parents it might not help much to sell at this point.
I think it comes down to our culture promotes shopping as therapy. Even without marketing pitching the latest object to us, how much of a cliche is the picture of a housewife shopping for expensive clothes or the man of the house shopping for tools/old cars. It’s portrayed as the American dream, and culturally ingrained in the psyche. Not a good thing mind you.
That’s a tough break for your uncle, especially if he really loved it. My parents would definitely lose some money selling it, but sometimes you just need to cut your losses.
It is definitely a shame that marketing has become so predominant that it is what defines most people. I almost feel like I was in the Matrix, took the red pill, and then woke up to see reality instead of the pretend world.
Great post Jim, but I think you missed one of the most common reasons why people buy crap — Boredom.
We all know our lives have a limited timespan…and that clock is always ticking. I believe this leads to a lot of silly behavior because people *want to do something with their lives* before they die. The FIRE community is no less guilty of this than the muggles.
Working 10 hours a day, sleeping 7-8 hours a day, commuting 1-2 hours a day, doesn’t leave a lot of time for doing stuff….and watching TV isn’t terribly fulfilling despite the fact that Americans average watch 35 hours of TV a week (on average).
So I think there’s this huge incentive to “do something”….so fancy vacations happen, expensive RV’s happen, and stupid crap gets purchased …. because few people find a life of work, sleeping, eating, and some TV time terribly fulfilling.
Great addition to the list, Mr. Tako! A lot of folks like to use the “you only live once” mantra so they don’t feel guilty making decisions they know might not be in their best interest in the long run.
People definitely need to enjoy their lives, because you really never know what could happen. But you don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy it. A wise man I know once said “Who Wants Free Entertainment?” and he helped to spread the word to the masses. 🙂
Jeez, those stories aren’t very encouraging. I think they are mostly just stuck in that mindset. It’ll take a jolt to snap them out of it.
I’ve always been pretty good at being frugal. I guess that’s because we were poor for a while when I was growing up. It’s probably harder to save if you have good income and life is going very well. People think they can always make more money.
Haha, yeah, definitely not encouraging! What’s interesting is that my mom raised my brother and I by herself from the time we were young until we were in high school. She definitely knew what a tight income was, but apparently still hasn’t figured things out. 🙂
I got ordained and filed my credentials with the county for less than $15 total. So far I’ve done two weddings and I’ll have my third this summer, all for family and close friends and done free of charge. Having a friend or family member get ordained is by far the best option for anyone looking for an inexpensive option while keeping the ceremony special.
Personally, I try to figure out what’s driving my need to spend money. Identifying the underlying emotion helps me understand my habits and learn how to prevent them from ruining my finances. I just wish I had better will power 100% of the time!
That’s awesome, Kate! We had a similar scenario where a close friend of ours got ordained and did our wedding. Just like you said, it actually made the ceremony all that more special.
You definitely make some great points here. I have to constantly analyze my purchases and ask myself why I’m buying it. A lot of my purchases come from convenience/laziness, i.e. let’s order pizza because the kitchen is clean already and we’re both tired. One of my big pet peeves though is when people whine about their situations but do nothing to fix it. I’m all about owning up to my financial mistakes – but no whining allowed. 🙂 Thanks for the virtual kick in the pants today. It’ll make me more mindful of my spending this month. 🙂
Ha-ha, glad something good came out of my venting! 🙂
I think you hit the nail on the head about people whining but not doing anything to fix it… pick one or the other – be content with where you’re at or actually put the time and energy in to changing your situation for the better.
You reminded me of my stupidity during my college days when I picked the tab for everyone. Sure did end up with a huge credit card debt.
I am so glad that I learned my money lesson quickly.
Sounds like we both enjoyed living it up in college without thinking about our future at the time. I think most of us have all been there, but it appears you might have learned your lesson quicker than I did! 🙂
LOVE this, Jim! While I’ve made my fair share of money/spending mistakes, when I see people spending on things they can’t afford, it pains me to watch.
Our wedding was pretty cheap – small town ceremony and community center reception with the locals making the cake and the food. It was a blast. And I’ve told my husband no funeral. Just a party – make it a potluck, with music and dancing. 🙂
Thanks, Amanda! Yeah, those are the kind of weddings and funerals I want to attend – have some fun being together instead of spending a ton of dough on things that don’t really matter.
Hmmm, did I just say I want to attend funerals?? Wow, I have problems! 🙂
People too often act on emotion. Wether it’s spending $ on a wedding, the happy thought of an RV, or a place for friends to visit when we are dead. Emotion and finances don’t mix. Corporate America has figured this out. Sports franchises have figured this out. And worst of all , our government has figured this out. I’m not saying to not have emotion but practicing stoicism (for example) may prove beneficial to many.
Less stuff= simplicity
Well put, Matt… everyone I talk to that’s gotten rid of ton of their crap tells me that they feel like a giant burden has been lifted and they’re much happier now.