This is part 5 of a multi-part series on money, prosperity, clarity, and anything else that came up as I wrote it.
There are two discount grocery stores in our town. They carry cheap natural/organic groceries. So, you can get Newman’s Own, and Annie’s Naturals, and Rice Dream and every kind of sweet-potato chip ever made for dollars below retail. This is very exciting to those who gasp at the prices at the two full-price organic grocery stores.
The first time I went into one of these stores, I was amazed. “Oh my god! Look at all this stuff! And it’s cheap!” I loaded up my cart.
But here’s what I’ve noticed about discount stuff like this. And I’m curious if other people do this, too. Most of what I got, I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been shopping at the more expensive stores. I wouldn’t have wanted it without that low price tag. So, ultimately I spent more on stuff I didn’t really want just because it was cheap.
When I got home, I discovered that most of the items had expired the month before, and the chips weren’t even crisp. (Ergo the low prices.) It was disappointing. And gross. (Some of the crackers tasted like what I can only describe as floor.) And by the time I tossed out the items that were bad over the next week, I hadn’t saved any money at all!
The same thing goes for big sales. I know that many people refuse to pay retail for clothing, and that’ great. But let’s put it this way – if you were inspired by this post or this book and then went into your closet to clean things out, did you find things you bought just because they were cheap and then you never wore much? You know the things I’m talking about. At the time you bought them, you didn’t stop to ask yourself if you valued them or if you even wanted them. When I lead retreats, invariably the group gets into a discussion on letting go that involves emotional stuff as well as physical stuff. Most, if not all, of the women talk about the shame they have about letting go of things they bought that they never wore or used. Things that were on sale.
When the driving force is CHEAP, you can be more easily hooked into getting what you don’t really want. You have to learn how to step out of society’s “Get things cheap!” frenzy and say, “No, thanks. I want to do it my way.”
Let’s say it’s Friday night, and you’re out to dinner with a friend. You both go window shopping after dinner (Things are open late! You must be in South Beach!) You see a beautiful sweater. You try it on. You love it. It’ $125. (Or whatever is a pretty high price for you.) You think, “That’s a lot of money.” It feels good though, and you know you love it so you buy it. You go home. You wear the sweater often.
Now let’s look at this with another mindset. In a different scenario you love the sweater, but you won’t get it. You bite your nails. You say to your friend, “I could get something like this on sale for so much cheaper somewhere else.” You pass it up. Later, on some Saturday afternoon, there’s a huge sale at the mall. You drive there. You sit in traffic. You find a parking spot. You go in to the store. The feeling in the store makes you tense. Women are grabbing at stuff, rifling through racks, trying things on, throwing them down in the dressing rooms. You find yourself elbowing people and getting annoyed. You try on a few things. You settle on some stuff. Maybe there’s a sweater similar to that original sweater you liked, only this one is $50 cheaper. You wait in line to pay. You drive home with your bags feeling exhausted and annoyed.
Here’s my question: What got saved exactly?
I know that the comparison isn’t clear-cut. But it might at least make you think about the quality of your spending and the value of what you buy. Do you often pass up one thing you really like and settle for lots of what you don’t? Do you take into account the time you spend going out of your way?
If you’re on a strict budget and you value paying down your house or your debt or whatever, and you decide against buying the sweater because you’re simply not purchasing any extras these days, that’s a different mindset and the decision is made with clarity as well. That action comes from a prior decision about what you value.
Ask yourself what you value and what you DO really want
In Post #2 of this series I wrote about consciously thinking about your money and the systems you’ve set up. It’s also good to consciously think about what you buy. This has been an on-going process for me, and not something I just decided one day. Even beginning to ask yourself what has value for you, and what has meaning, will bring the energy of intent and consciousness to your purchases.
In my early-twenties, I was playing open mic nights and making minimum wage. I was also recovering from bulimia and seeking alternative health care options. My spending priorities became clear to me. Everything revolved around my health and my eating habits. I bought only organic foods because I started to read more and more about the effects of pesticides on our planet and our bodies. I used what little money I made to buy high-quality food mostly grown locally in season.
In some ways, I feel lucky that I started this at an early age because I never could get into the mindset of comparison pricing. I never learned how much a conventionally-grown head of broccoli cost, so I couldn’t become outraged when I saw organic prices. I just knew what I wanted and I bought it. As I said, I was making minimum wage. The weird thing is that I never ran out of money. Any debt I had ever incurred came when I had “a real job,” when I was so rushed and unhappy that I never took the time to ask myself what I needed, so I just bought stuff — food, clothes, cosmetics — with no consciousness whatsoever.
I was telling a friend of mine about this segment of the money series and I asked her about what she buys. Without hesitating she said, “Even before I had money, I always bought only things that were high quality, that were beautiful to me, and that I really wanted.” What’s interesting to me is not her list of things, but that she was so clear about her choices before I even had to explain to her what I was talking about. Clarity has power.
What do you want to spend your money on? What do you value? Are your actions in alignment with these values?
The High Cost of Cheap Stuff
An Ode Magazine article called Eating at Home beautifully analyzes all of the hidden costs of cheap food (on the quality of life and the environment) from super-centers like Wal-Mart. The premise is that cheap in the moment isn’t really cheap in the long run.
That article made me apply that same analysis to my own life and the indirect costs to me when I try to do everything from a mindset of “cheap.” What are the extra gas costs and time costs of driving out of my way to the discount grocery stores? How much of my own valuable energy am I losing while spending two hours in a store sorting through bargain bin clothing just to find one thing I might like? If I am “the product” in my life, how much do I expend of myself for the sake of saving or gaining a buck?
I apply this same line of thinking to performance dates. I used to say a knee-jerk “yes” to any performance date out of a fear (common to artists) of not having enough dates, no matter how much or how little the show paid. Lately I’ve been asking more about how much energy I am willing to spend to get to this venue if it isn’t willing to pay me my full guarantee. Am I going to do that to myself out of the collective belief system that says, “You’re an artist! You should be thankful you’re making any money at all!” I often choose instead to stay at home and write songs. I may be taking chances here, but the value of writing a song (touching someone’s heart, having another CD to record, sending it to my publishing company, the self-esteem and joy I gain from the writing) sometimes far outweighs the costs of what it takes to be on the road, even though I love performing every bit as much as I love writing.
What I’m not saying:
I’m not saying to let your inner diva have-at-it in every boutique you visit so that you end up in credit card debt. I think that credit card debt may come as a result of unclear thinking about spending with our values and desires. When you move into a process where you learn to give yourself what you really want, you aren’t running around trying to compensate for the empty spaces inside with a lot of “stuff.”
What I am saying:
What I am saying is more about clarity than anything else. It’s connected to everything I’ve written so far. It’s about you becoming your own expert and being self-directed in thought and action, and creating your own flow.