I have had a few days off work and made sure I was off grid as well. No phone and no internet in the the depths of Devon. It was blissful.
Then I descended from from serenity into consumer chaos with a trip into the town centre, the citadel of consumerism. A trip to test for any cracks in my frugality armour.
Whilst blending in with the Hordes of consumer zombies so they didn’t recognise me as a saver and tear me limb from limb, I got a text from my sister. Something about the hardships of saving and it included the following (paraphrased) sentence;
The Hordes of mindless cretins that surrounded me at the time would almost certainly have agreed. I put the Xbox One back on the shelf, passing the first test of my powers of frugality and continued onwards deeper into the town centre.
Spend, spend, spend?
Whilst shuffling about mindlessly with the Hordes I started thinking about the text. It is pretty clear that my sister has created a direct link between spending and enjoyment, or the inverse that saving for something must be miserable.
From this you could suppose that spending and fun are an exponential FUNction, like F(Fun) = e^(Amount Spent);
|A spending FUNction|
I see two implications here,
1 – Zero spending = zero fun.
2 – The more you spend, the more fun you are having. That certainly seemed to align nicely with the rate at which people were spending cash in town.
I found myself walking up some stairs, amazed at the amount of people using the escalator to ascend one floor. I guess every single one of them had similar hip injuries that prevented them from climbing stairs and that’s why they all looked so grim. Either that, or the supposed link between spending and enjoyment doesn’t explain the full picture. Perhaps there is more lurking beneath the murky surface of instant gratification.
What about the passing of time and it’s impact on the enjoyment that these Zombies are seeking, I wondered to myself whilst taking a very wide berth around Hollister. If we consider a purchase as occurring at time 0 and then look at the enjoyment generated by a single purchase, fun plotted against time may look something like this;
|Perceived instantaneous enjoyment at the moment of the transaction, we have something new and shiny that we didn’t even realise we needed!|
This peak is short lived and the fun soon starts on a downward slide as the moment of spending moves further into the past. The new shiny thing that serves no real purpose becomes older and less desirable. Eventually the consumer is back at zero and sad, maybe even shedding a single solitary tear.
As most of the shit for sale in a town centre serves no real purpose, it doesn’t provide any lasting enjoyment. The town centre preys on our desire to be part of a group, to want to fit in. How this manifests itself in £5,000 hand bags I will never understand,
The Finance Zombie experienced this short lived consumer rush long ago at a young and cynical age when over marketed toys or video games failed to live up to expectations. “But why do they lie!” he would cry “It’s almost as if the advertisers have a vested interest in the product.” So he learned to laugh at all advertising and went back to guaranteed fun, playing with fireworks.
Having said this I found found myself in Waterstones, drawn by some unknown force, standing in the queue with three books, pulled in by the ever powerful 3 for the price of 2 spell. I didn’t even know I wanted two books, let alone three. Remembering that I could get three books for the price of none from the library, I made a quick escape.
The person who associates spending with fun will look for their next purchase once the initial enjoyment has worn off. They bounce from instant gratification to instant gratification, from the peak of the purchase to the tear jerking sadness at the bottom of the trough. Perhaps by upping the frequency of their purchases they may stave off the consumer comedown. Or maybe for the hard core consumer they hope to breach some threshold with a bigger purchase and never have to come back down. Perhaps that would explain the willingness to spend £200 on a pair of jeans that seem to do the same job as my £30 ones.
As I wandered deeper into the consumer citadel, looking at the frequency of inane purchases or the stupendous amounts being spent I could only assume that both of these hypotheses were being tested, with a large sample size being deemed necessary.
There will be a delay
My trip into town did have a purpose. A selfish trip, with a frugal twist. To pick up a shaver to cut my hair with, £50 for a quality shaver will pay for itself in six months. It was on sale of course, as part of the current fathers day sales. That lovely day where we are made to feel like a cheap bastard if we don’t spend money on our dear old dads.
I left town with a discounted shaver and nothing for my dad.
I felt pretty good about my purchase, not from the rush of spending money but from the delayed gratification of not having to make small talk with a barber again and from saving some cash in the long run.
As I walked out of the centre the Hordes of Consumer Zombie’s stared at me, struggling to understand how someone had escaped with only one small bag. As I wandered off into the sunset like the frugal cowboy I imagine myself to be I text my sister back with a cryptic message;
Skip to the end
Perhaps us PF types searching an escape from the Horde are wired differently, sort of like a more sensible 1%-er. We have managed to rewire our brains, smashed apart the links between neurons that were attempting to tie up spending and instant gratification with happiness.
There are certainly things out there that can be fun without the need to spend money. *Swoons with shock*. Crazy I know, but hear me out.
A walk through some of the great British country side is free and more uplifting than spending on something fashionable. A book from a library is free and you might even learn something. Sawing apart some old furniture to fashion a very hipster TV unit is free, has a bonus added danger element if you do this in flipflops and you can start learning some extremely basic skills to be honed in the future (I imagine about 1% of the distance between level 0 and 1 of the carpentry RPG skillset).
I don’t want to become a miser that regrets every penny spent, scowling at my nephew for the 99p spent on a 99-Flake and vowing never to see the money grabbing little shit again. Spending is fine, even fun sometimes, but it is bad when it is the main source of enjoyment in a zombies life.
My trip into the hell hole of consumerism proved that my armour of frugality has improved leaps and bounds over the last year or so, but it still has some weak spots. Advertisers do hire some exceptionally bright people after all and they are all after the same thing. Our money. Reminding myself of the freedom of Financial Independence should provide some financial poly filler to sort out those cracks.
We all bounce around different states of enjoyment as time plods forwards, whether spending like a maniac or not. It’s not like by simply reducing our outgoings we have found the secret of eternal happiness, this zombie can still be a miserable sod. But it seems like a step in the right direction.
By delaying some of the spending (on holidays, shiny new gadgets etc) I hope to reach Financial Independence, be free from the shackles of regular employment and live a simpler life at the same time.
This is not to be confused with “I am lazy and don’t like working“. It is more like “I want to work on my on terms on things that are interesting to me without my wage being the primary motivator. I also want the ability to change careers to learn new things without worrying about the loss of earnings. Specialising in one occupation seems like a sure fire way to go insane“.
The delayed enjoyment from financial independence can be plotted against time, along side the consumer driven zombie as our base case;
|A scientific graph|
Both the saver and the spender have peaks and troughs. But this is it for the spender, locked into some eternal oscillation driven by spending and instant gratification.
For the long term dreamer and saver, the expectation is that at some point, when our nugget of saving has grown sufficiently, that we reach financial independence. The enjoyment we get from the freedom this offers outweighs any previous spending, £5,000 handbags and BMWs included.
That’s the plan anyway. Strange how a trip into the very heart of spending has provided me with some motivation.
Spend Less, Save More & Escape the Horde