Choosing a Luxury Eccentricity
One piece of the "keeping up with the Joneses" problem is external. It's not just that you're inclined to want what others have; it's that your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, business contacts, and mentors tell you that you need to have certain things — otherwise you're a bad spouse or unprofessional or a blight on the neighborhood. I have a trick for dealing with that.
This is separate from dealing with your own internal wants. Those can also be tough to deal with, but at least there the path is clear: prioritize. When I was making the shift to spending less and saving more, I was able to deal with my own wants because I'd decided that what I really wanted was to arrange my life so that I could be a full-time writer. However much I wanted a faster car or a bigger house or a newer gizmo, I wanted to be a writer more.
But in the real world there are a lot of other pressures on you to spend money. Maybe your neighbors want you to have a weed-free lawn. Maybe your boss wants you to carry a nicer briefcase when you meet clients. Maybe your kids want you to own a cooler car. Maybe your girlfriend wants you to upgrade your wardrobe.
A luxury eccentricity helps you stand firm against those pressures while deflecting the ill feelings that can otherwise result.
The Luxury Eccentricity Trick
A luxury eccentricity is just some small area of your life where you pay up for top quality. Having one helps make other people more comfortable with your choices. It does this two ways:
- It makes it clear that you're not stingy, depressive, a miser, or a guy who has no life.
- It justifies your frugality in other areas.
When other people see you take joy in some little thing that obviously matters deeply to you, they're less likely to worry about you, and they're more likely to accept it with good grace when you don't act on their suggestions about other stuff you ought to buy.
What to Choose
To be effective, a luxury eccentricity needs to meet several criteria. It should be:
Something that you can sincerely appreciate
Otherwise, you're wasting money. Don't make fine wine your luxury eccentricity if you prefer beer.
Something that's comfortably within your budget
The whole point is to save money. If your luxury eccentricity is owning a private jet or a European castle, it's not going to help.
Something that other people can relate to at some level
The point is to make other people say, "What a charming eccentricity!" Collecting paintings is fine. Taking up painting as a hobby is even better — cheaper and more eccentric. Collecting string is a poor choice. Collecting stray cats is even worse.
Something where style counts
When there can be sincere differences of opinion, there's a rich middle ground of moderately priced options. When pretty much everyone agrees what's best, that choice tends to be expensive — and everything else is viewed as inferior. Ideally, your luxury eccentricity should be one where people agree that "the best" is a matter of personal taste.
Something where knowledge of the field matters
Knowing a lot about your eccentricity — and sharing that knowledge — is a big part of signaling that it is your luxury eccentricity and not just a whim. You don't want to annoy or bore people, but you do want other people to sense that you could bore them if you weren't so well mannered. This is how you make sure that people don't try to argue you into buying whatever they want you to buy instead of spending the money on your luxury eccentricity. They need to sense that any such attempt threatens to produce a long boring lecture on just how much more fun / cool / sophisticated / exciting / educational your choice is than theirs. Most people won't do that twice.
Keeping your budget aligned with your own needs and wants is tough enough. When there's external pressure — especially pressure from people who only mean to help — it's tougher yet. Choosing a luxury eccentricity is a useful tactic for deflecting those pressures.
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