Saturday, January 31, 2009


The conspicuous consumerism rampant in the US needs to shift. By that, I don't mean all those "other people" need to change. I mean I need to change. I'm suggesting that you might need to change too.

As I start this rant, I wonder briefly if it is going to sound preachy. I will do my best to present this as a careful consideration, but frankly, even if it comes across as a rant, I don't much care. My only hope is to trigger some thinking in every reader.

What I know is that this financial crisis has its roots in consumers who did not know how to handle their credit cards. Consumers who bought more house than they could handle. It has its birth in greed. The greed of those companies and advisers who knew the credit was a problem, who knew the mortgage was too heavy, but sold it anyway.

Consumerism also rankles because it is about lying. I cannot abide lies. Lies about money show up as justification and rationalizaton.

Living in a society that buys huge, gas guzzling vehicles drives me crazy. Don't get me started about a culture that gives 6 weeks to a mother after giving birth. How about the insanity of two weeks holiday for workers per year?

Perhaps I'm so vehement because I need to start by sorting through my own thoughts and actions toward consumerism. Do I need to make my own adjustments rather than stand in a position of judgment and righteousness?

As Oprah says, (okay, maybe a bad choice since she is, in many ways, the epitome of this crazy consuming culture) this is what I know to be true. I know that our society values many of the wrong things. I am guilty of believing that a certain thingamabob or a special thingamajig will create a "feeling". I can find confidence with the right piece of clothing, solace in something that makes for a peaceful environment, my kids' lives will be richer with the right toy.

There is the issue at the heart of my own consumerism. I believe that possessing certain "things" will lead to specific feelings. Marketers rely on this being true for all of us.

The truth? (Which we all probably know to be true already). The truth is that I can only create my own reality. There is no external source that can create a feeling for me. I alone choose my responses to external stimuli.

I feel embarrassed that I have fallen prey to the monster of consumerism and its attendant marketing machine. I am ashamed that I wasn't smarter.

Okay, I have done some things right. I do give myself credit for making many smart choices when it comes to my money. But I can do more.

I can begin to approach my life with an intent to manufacture my own power, my own confidence, my own joy. I can focus solely on finding my internal sources of power. I can always question my purchases, my desires, my wants and what I perceive to be my needs.

I don't mean that I'm going to join the ranks of some spartan Luddite. I mean that I can bring a new wisdom and awareness to the outlay of my money.

For example, some of the things that I've done thus far. I have lowered my phone rate, I have changed my cell phone package (a cheaper one)to meet my usage better. I have socked as much as I can onto my mortgage toward the principle. I continually pay down the debt we do have.

I track my expenses to see where my money goes. I monitor my balances weekly. I use my library heavily. I have converted my unused air miles to magazines. We have purchased memberships at kids' museums so we can visit over and over again throughout the year for the price of a couple visits.

I'm always on the lookout for more ways to be smart with my money - please leave a comment with your own ideas and approaches. I hope to become a smart grocery shopper next - I've never watched sales, used coupons or bought bulk. I can make some savings there.

There's a part of me (an outdated version of me) that has been conditioned to believe that frugality is embarrassing. I choose to throw that belief away. I think being thrifty, focusing hard on costs and finding every single short cut there is is the way to dig ourselves out of this atrocious mess. If I can master my own economy - if you can master yours, then the larger economy will heal.


Maria said...

Oh, disregard my previous note.........I see you have spoken up. And well said. And I have certainly contributed to the madness, but after some of the news items lately, I am closly approaching sainthood.

Catherine said...

Yep, I couldn't stop myself :) Glad to hear you are on your way to St. Maria - your bank account thanks you!