Why Can’t We Stop Spending? The 2 Things We Need to Understand

Building a life we love when we’re always working & broke

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Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

When Will We Finally Be Happy?

I was raised in the kind of childhood that suggested to me that if I made enough money as an adult to pay all of my bills without government assistance, I’d be happy.

My guess put that at making somewhere around $30,000 a year.

Then I graduated college and was making almost exactly that…and I felt like I was just scraping by.

A year later, I successfully switched my career path. I had been working my butt off before and after work to make it happen, and I ended up tripling (3x) my income that year. (You can read more about why and how I did that if you’re interested.)

I felt massive relief at first. I didn’t have to worry anymore about checking grocery store prices or driving out of my way to get cheaper gas. I could afford my inhaler and had insurance. What a luxury in this country.

Then I started to want, and buy. It was a perpetual cycle and it started slowly. I found myself wanting to redecorate some new space in my apartment that I had more space, or be just a little bit more stylish at work.

I was saving, but I was spending so much more than I used to on a month to month basis. I thought I would have just been saving all this new money. I should have been more content…But why was it so HARD?!

The stats show me that I’m not alone in this tendency to suddenly come up with more wants out of “nowhere”. Here are some sobering stats:

78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet.

Nearly 1 in 10 of those making $100,000 a year or more live paycheck to paycheck.

- CareerBuilder Survey.

Pretty quickly, I realized that I’d have to be on my guard against this lifestyle creep if I wanted to be able to use this new income to buy myself any kind of long-term financial security.

I wanted to know why so many of us were failing in such an important area in our lives, so I started digging and this is what I found.

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Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

What We Need to Understand About Our Economy

Around the world, we have shifted largely to a global economy not limited by production, but by demand. This means that we’ve gotten so good at making things, that we don’t have enough people wanting to buy everything that we can actually make.

In short: Overproducing goods would be bad for businesses because we’d drive prices down in a flooded market, and we’d potentially have a ton of wasted things sitting around. (On the other hand, it can also lead to some extremely cheap products for many of us).

So our main limiting factor today is not how much we can make, but how much we can get people to buy.

Meaning: We are heavily incentivized to convince people to buy in a global economy obsessed with continual growth.

How does this directly affect us?

Aside from us always judging ourselves and our belongings against the hyper-materialistic culture that we see around us, we are also constantly being advertised to. Digital marketing experts estimate that Americans see between 6,000–10,000 advertisements every day, up from 500–1,600 per day in the 70’s.

Mix that with a world that is continually spending more and more time on social media, and it’s easier than ever to feel discontent with who we are and what we already have.

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

What We Need to Understand About Ourselves

  1. The pressure to buy will never really stop. The growth of the world economy is directly tied to how much money every business can get you and I to spend on what they’re selling. Meaning: They’re not really interested in taking losses so that you and I can save up for an emergency fund or get out of debt.
  2. Humans will always naturally want more. This has been referred to as the “Hedonic treadmill”. It’s the idea that no matter what you get or accomplish, you’ll always get used to it and always want more.

So the world wants us to spend, and we want to spend.

We want to buy experiences and things that we’ve been told (and have internalized), will make us happier than we currently are.

We get stuck in this cycle of chasing fleeting happiness.

We work more to afford more. Chasing that high again and again even though we have so much experience saying that it never lasts very long.

By nature, we will be perpetually wanting.

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Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

So What Do We Do About It?

Well…we have to learn to get comfortable with always wanting something. We have to figure out how to make it work for us if we can’t expect to escape it. We can define our own vision of a successful future filled with things and experiences that we actually care about.

Some starting points

  • Take the time to step away from the noise and distractions of what you’re being told you should want, and try to imagine what you might want. (even if it seems odd)
  • Avoid comparing yourself to your friends and family (or influencers). You’ll surely find an endless list of things that you could purchase in an attempt to keep up.
  • If you’re really stuck, imagine that you only have a short amount of time left here. What would you prioritize in your life? What wouldn’t matter at all anymore?

To build a life you love, you have to take the time to see what you’ve already started filling it with. There are bound to be things there that aren’t serving you. Once you start questioning what matters, you can start to define what experiences and things will have the most impact on the life you want to live.

We can’t standby and let companies and social expectations dictate what our wants are for us, with only their own profits in mind.

If we leave it up to chance, our wants will be thrust upon us; and might very well crush our wallets and dreams in the process.

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Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

As always, thanks for reading!

Keep in mind: There are definitely people around the world that don’t make enough money to adequately survive. This article is aimed at everyone that already makes enough to live, and still always finds themselves endlessly chasing things that don’t make them happy.

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Designing my best life & helping others do the same | Digital Nomad | UX Designer & Innovator

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