Following on from my introductory post, I want to start this next entry off with a confession. My girlfriend and my friends frequently accuse me of being ‘tight’ with my money. And to be completely honest, according to most people’s standards, they’re probably right.
Let me provide you with a recent example. I’m out for dinner with some of my friends, at one of our local chain restaurants. I’m a bit of a rebel, so naturally I’ve looked the menu up online before we get there. The main course that I’m going for costs £10.95, which I think is pretty reasonable. However, the starters at this restaurant have an average price of £7. I think that is pretty unreasonable.
In order to address this dilemma, I do something that most people would never dream of. Before I leave the house, I raid the cupboards and have a little snack at home. Not only does this satisfy my pre-meal craving, but as an added bonus I get to pocket the £7 for myself. To me, this is winner winner, chicken dinner (sorry). To others, it verges on blasphemy.
Your girlfriend and friends are right, you ARE tight. Just buy the starter and move on.
Fair point. Other valid criticisms include:
- “I’m going to have a nice meal, why the hell would I want to eat something beforehand?”
- “I want to enjoy myself when I’m out with friends, why should I worry about a few extra pounds here and there?”
- “What trifling difference will a meager £7 make anyway?”
I hear you. Perhaps you have a point. But let me elaborate a little. Clearly, there is a divide between my way of thinking and the majority at large. Some people are more than happy to fork out their cash for the starter whilst the ‘tighties’, like me, balk at the idea of handing over seven hard earned pounds for something which costs a fraction of the price to produce. Why does this divide exist? And why is it so contentious?
Well, allow me to explain. I believe that we have been programmed by modern society to believe that our happiness is synonymous with consumption, excess and greed. *Thunder claps overhead*. Sound a bit extreme? I’ll prove it. Flick on your television right now.
I guarantee that within fifteen minutes, you will be bombarded with advertisements trying to convince you that you need the latest perfume, the most up to date phone or even a brand new car (I’ll be making a separate post on this later). You might even be lucky enough to see an advert which tells you that the TV you’re watching the advert on isn’t a big enough TV, and that you need the bigger TV to tell you which TV you need. You catch my drift.
It’s not just the television, either. Take the average commute to work, for example. You hop in your car, switch on the radio and boom, advertisements for car insurance, new conservatories and package holidays. You get a little way down the road and boom, electronic billboards flashing the latest designer gear, or street signs overhanging the road luring you in with promises of discount deals and buy one get one free. When did we start to accept all of this as normal?
The real question we should be asking ourselves in these situations is whether buying any of this stuff actually makes us happy. Sure, there’s the initial hit of dopamine. But ultimately, this is a fleeting sense of satisfaction. How does it compare to other things that bring you happiness, like going outside for a walk or spending quality time with your loved ones. Often, these activities bring us a sense of joy beyond that which can be attained through the consumption of arbitrary material products. They are also a hell of a lot cheaper. And much better for our planet, too.
Okay, I see where you’re coming from. But still, £7, really? Will it actually make any difference?
Maybe I’m a bit extreme with my £7 starter. Some people may value a starter over something that I deem necessary, like a gym membership. Others may go further and say that restaurants are a waste of money full stop. And that’s absolutely fine too.
The £7 starter serves as an illustrative example. The real message I’m arguing for here is to take a step back from our busy lives and evaluate what we consider to be valuable. And that analysis starts by asking what makes us happy.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we instinctively know that there is fulfilment to be found in a lot of things that don’t come with a hefty price tag. We also know that there are a lot of things with a hefty price tag that don’t bring us much lasting contentment at all (like £7 starters).
Marketing is a multi-billion pound industry, and there are smart people out there who make careers out of devising ways to trick you into thinking you need the next big thing. Those tricks surround us everyday, in our newspapers, on the radio, and on our screens at home. My objective is to drown out all that noise and highlight what really matters instead.
So you’re saying I need to forgo all luxuries, sell my earthly possessions and go live like a hermit in the woods?
No. Not exactly. We all deserve a little luxury in life, that much is for sure. I’m merely suggesting that the vast majority of happiness exists beyond the purchase of material objects. I’m not advocating anything new here. Arguing for a life of restraint and moderation has been a prominent worldview since the days of Aristotle. I just want to point out that the the mindless consumption of material goods is not the path to happiness we’re led to believe. Who would have thunk it?
You will see that preaching the virtues of frugality is a recurring feature of my blog. I’m not suggesting that it’s the answer to all of life’s problems, but it does stop many of them from beginning in the first place. Once you embrace a more analytical attitude towards what makes you happy, the frugal way of life comes automatically as a by-product. It’s one of the miracles of nature.
Okay. I see what you’re saying. But I’m still not convinced.
If you’re not persuaded by my exaggerated explanation of the dystopian nightmare in which we find ourselves, then let me attempt something a little more practical. I would like you to try an experiment.
I want you to evaluate the things that make you happy. I also want you to look at what these things cost you, in monetary terms. Make a list, either on paper or on your phone, and once you’ve done so, re-arrange it so that the cheapest things are at the top.
Your next task is to analyse each entry on your list to see how much joy it brings you. I want you to rank each one, on a scale of one to ten. I guarantee, without any doubt whatsoever, that you’ll be able to come up with at least five activities that give a level eight of happiness or above for virtually no money at all. Try it out and leave me a comment to let me know how you get on.
In my next post, I’m going to show you how making small everyday decisions (like not buying a pricey starter) can build up into big savings and form the cornerstone of your newfound wealth. I’ll see you in the next one.
Note: I’d like to thank Mr Money Mustache for helping me to begin this journey, many moons ago. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m his long lost son from across the pond, so we have similar views. You can see his blog here.