The seven deadly sins of consumerism (and the frugal redemption).

By Paul Michael on 17 April 2007 (Updated 9 June 2007) 10 comments

demon

Sit ye down, hold your loved ones tight, and get ready for the seven deadliest sins of the modern day consumer.

(By the way, I know I’m a movie buff when I can reference two of the greatest films ever made in one blog headline. If you don’t know what they are, shame on you. But even more shame on you if you’re committing these sins right now.)

Who says they’re the seven deadly sins? Well, I do. I’m no authority on the subject, I certainly didn’t write the consumer bible. But life experience has taught me that indulging in any of these sins leads to a path of debt, disillusionment and despair. If you find yourself in the position of indulging one or more of these sins on a daily basis, seek the frugal redemption.

 

greed

“I’ll take that, and that, and that, and that…and who cares how I’ll pay for it. In fact, I’ll put it on the good old credit card and think about it later. Hey, it comes with six months no interest anyway. Sweet!”

Sound familiar? Greed is fairly ugly and I see it everywhere. Our obsession as a society with material things has gone beyond the norm. As Madonna once said, we’re living in a material world. But I don’t think anyone realized how bad it’s become. The ‘buy now, pay later’ mentality is rife. But when our own government is in debt to the tune of $8,892,888,862,434.37 (that was at the time of writing this article, and climbing $1.93 billion per day) they’re hardly setting the standard for fiscal responsibility. An argument for another time perhaps. Still, the message is clear. Give in to greed, make way for debt.

The Frugal Redemption

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. By that I don’t mean save up $300,000 and drop it on a new house. But examine your budget (better still, MAKE a budget…the first step on the road to debt is not having a budget). Have three bank accounts – one for saving, one for bills, one for fun. If you spend your fun money for the month, hey guess what, you’re done.

Get out of the cycle of wanting things you really don’t need or can afford. Stop and think. Often my wife will go shopping for baby clothes for our newborn. She’ll get to the counter with an armful of clothes, then think again about what she really actually wants or needs. The pile gets much, much shorter.

 

sloth

It can wait. "401k? It can wait. Savings account? Next month. Paying off the credit card? I’ve got time. Coupons? Waste of time. Deal-hunting? Why bother?”

Sloth is a great enemy of frugality. And I know, I was a former indulger of sloth. I put off the 401k contributions because I wanted to use the extra money. I hated clipping coupons, and they were only worth 50 cents or a $1 so who cares? But boy, those little amounts soon add up.

Basically, you snooze, you lose. Put off saving in your 401k (especially if your company matches it) and you’re literally throwing away money. Plus, you have to put a whole lot more away later on to catch up. Make the minimum payments on your credit card and you’ll be paying it off for decades.

The Frugal Redemption
Why put off till tomorrow what you can do today? Make it the day to finally start getting your life in order if you haven’t yet made plans for the future. Ask your HR officer about the 401k plan. Look through the coupons in the Sunday paper. You will find some that apply to you, I guarantee it. Start adding more to your savings account, even if it’s just $50 a month to begin with. Add more to your credit card payments if you can. This is all about forming good habits.

If you can get a better deal by walking 10 minutes further down the high street, do it. Shop around whenever and wherever you can. The exercise won’t hurt either, we’ve become a nation of drivers. Use Internet shopping comparison tools to find great bargains. Check out sites like The Bargainist , The Consumerist , and of course, Wisebread. It’s very easy to be lazy, but in the long run you’re only fooling yourself and hurting your future. Seize the day.

 

gluttony

My dad used to say to me “your eyes are bigger than your belly” and he was right. I was always happy to take more, be it candy or extra roast potatoes on my Sunday lunch. But all too often I didn’t eat them and they went in the trash, or went bad. Or I made myself sick.

Sadly, I am still the same today, although I’m really trying to get out of it. “Hey look hon, 8lbs of cheese for $10, bargain!” It’s only when my wife tells me that, as usual, the cheese will go bad before we finish it that I’ll think twice. I’m a sucker for BOGO deals, regardless of whether I need two, or even one of the item on sale. Buying in bulk is deceptive. Great for things like rice, toilet paper and diapers. Not so great when it’s got an expiration date that’s fast approaching. No-one wants cheese sandwiches three times a day.

The Frugal Redemption

Again, this is all about asking yourself a few questions before you pop something in the shopping cart. Do I really need 5 cartons of orange juice because I can save 20 cents per quart? Will my family benefit from this buy 10, get 10 free offer? Is it a deal, or false economy? As those great infomercials often say, when you throw away food it’s “cash in the trash.” Remember, just because it’s on clearance or a bargain, it doesn’t mean it’s the bargain for you. Being a glutton for special offers could make you a glutton for punishment.

 

pride

I know people who tell themselves, “heck, I deserved it” when they’re sporting a new jewel-encrusted watch or hand-made pair of the finest leather shoes. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t mean it’s a wise move. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but making a habit of it can lead to all sorts of problems, including shopping addictions.

Worse still, pride has this nasty habit of making you do things you don’t want to do. People will borrow cash to go out on the town rather than admit to being short of money that week. And that means buying a new dress, or buying a few rounds of drinks, plus the expensive meal. All because pride won’t let them admit, to their friends no less, that they’re trying to save money or that they just don’t have the cash.

The Frugal Redemption
Give pride a vacation. It’s good to be proud of an achievement, or something your son or daughter has done at school, but embracing pride to allow yourself too many luxuries is never going to have a happy ending. Avoid places that will tempt you. If you have a habit of going nuts in Target or Macy’s, stay away. If you’re a sucker for a particular section of the store (watches, shoes) steer clear.

As for feeling too proud to admit you don’t quite have the cash to go out, your friends will understand. Your co-workers will understand. In fact, anyone who doesn’t is probably someone you really don’t want to know. There’s no shame in staying home on a Friday night if it means you avoid the cycle of borrowing, debt and depression. Pride has its place…but it can be a frugal shopper’s worst nightmare.

 

wrath

“Don’t get mad, get even.” Wise words, although the ‘getting even’ part is not always appropriate either. I think it would be more apt to say “don’t get mad, get what you want.”

Anyway, the point is this. I’ve watched people blow up at customer service folks. I’ve seen angry letters, I’ve heard angry phone calls. I’ve witnessed huge lists of demands spouted by human versions of the Tazmanian Devil cartoon. Most of the time, all it gets them is higher blood pressure and a security guard showing them the door. Anger is the first way to show you’ve lost control of the situation.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

The Frugal Redemption
A frugal shopper knows that you get way more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. My former article on complaining highlighted this process, but it’s not just about making a complaint. It’s about life in general.

Guess what happens if you treat you waiter with appreciation and a smile instead of disdain. Quicker service, more fries, bigger drinks, you name it, I’ve had them all. A polite conversation with most people will get you much further than raging and expecting something for nothing. Be nice.

envy

This can best be summed up with that old “Keeping Up With The Jones’” adage. And I have several friends who are both house-poor and car-poor because of it.

Why are so many people in this country living in houses they cannot afford, driving cars they could never afford and wearing clothes that are way too expensive? The simple answer is still way too long to print here, but a big part of it is envy.

I remember being told that people measure their own misery and success by their surroundings, and it’s completely true. If you live in a nice little home and are surrounded by other nice little homes, you feel good. You’ve done well. Transplant that nice little home into a rich area filled with mansions, swimming pools and landscaping. Now, it doesn’t look so good. Actually it sucks. It’s not fair, it’s not fair, I want a big house! I want a Cadillac Escalade! I want a Rolex!

The same applies to your job, your clothes, in fact, everything around you. But it’s all relative. And most important, you have no idea what the people around you do, or how they pay for what they have. Maybe they’re in debt up to their eyeballs and spend every night crying themselves to sleep. Maybe they work 24/7 to pay for the things they can never really enjoy. Maybe they had rich folks. But you should never compare, it will only lead to jealousy and misery.

The Frugal Redemption
This one is not easy. After all, as a species we’re always going to compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors. But before you stop reading this and look out of your window to stare at the new Ferrari parked in your neighbor’s driveway, here are a few facts (as of Nov 2006, provided by www.globalissues.org ).

• Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
• Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.
• According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty.
• Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation

Now, I didn’t mean to bring you down. But it certainly brings life crashing into perspective if you think you’re not fortunate. Trust me, if you’re reading this then you’ve got access to more than most people will ever have. You’re lucky.

lust

First and foremost, you can relax. I’m not about to tell you that sex is not a good way to be frugal (actually, a romantic night in bed with your partner is a lot cheaper than going to the movies…and much more fun).

No, the kind of lust I’m talking about is that longing, aching desire that takes over you and cuts off the common sense to your brain. In my case, I’ve been lusting after a 42” LCD TV for about, hmm, a year now. And every week, it grabs me a little bit more. It doesn’t help that every time I go into Best Buy they have more of them, and they cost less. But the frugal shopper in me is winning, so far. It’s saying “wait, the price will drop more, the quality will go up, you don’t need it.” But it won’t be long before the lust wins, telling me that I could be watching my Blade Runner DVD in HD on a huge screen and be drooling at the mouth in movie nirvana.

The Frugal Redemption
It’s all a question of willpower. The 32” goldfish bowl TV I have right now is not great. But it’s not bad either. It’s just a TV after all, which I watch less and less these days as my babies get older. Put things into perspective. You’re a smart cookie…you’re a frugal shopper after all.

My advice is this. Concentrate on what you really need, not what you want. There’s a big difference. And think for a second about how much better life would actually be with that object you’re lusting after right now. If it’s a new car, how much time do you actually spend in it? Is the one you have all that bad? Could the money be spent on something way more important or impactful, like perhaps a family vacation (life experiences stay with you forever…a car, on average, 5 years).

At the end of the day, wants are fleeting. They are all too often replaced by bigger and more expensive wants. The objects of your desire will one day be put out with the garbage, or sold, or given away. You can’t take them with you. So, calm your lusts.

There you go. Seven deadly sins. Not a short tale, but a worthy one I think. We all succumb to them from time to time, but we can be strong. We can.

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Andrea Karim's picture

No-one wants cheese sandwiches three times a day.

Um, this is news to me.

Guest's picture
Guest

This is one of the finest articles I have ever read on this or any other personal finance blog. Well done.

Paul Michael's picture

And they mean a lot to me. I know this article won't get the mega hits of something like my free drinks post, but this is perhaps the most important post of my short blogging career. Thanks for the readership, it's really appreciated.

Guest's picture
Crystal

This is a very helpful and well-written article with a lot of common sense. I am inspired to change my ways.

Jessica Okon's picture

bravo paul. but where can I BUY a cupcake eating gremlin? I want one BAD!

 

Paul Michael's picture

thegremlinseatingcupcakesbazaar.com

Guest's picture
nomi

Very nice post, I enjoyed reading it a lot.

Lola Michelle's picture

Fantastic post, Paul. Hope you get that tv soon, with time and budget willing, of course ;)

Lola Michelle, 25

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Guest12345

your GLUTTONY

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nicosia

Extremely good article. This helped me a lot in understanding. This is just what I need for my test tomorrow. :D Well done. Kudos to you.