In 1950s America, the average middle class couple had enough money to buy everything they needed. Only one person of the couple would need to work to cover all the household expenses (usually the man, back then) and the retirement age was 60, with a great pension. Nowadays, across the developed world, both partners in a two adult household usually have to work full time, and the retirement age is 70 plus and rising. What happened here?
The seminal financial lifestyle book Your Money or Your Life points to the creation of consumerism as the basis for this unhappy shift. In essence, we now work harder to buy more stuff. The undesirable side effects of this consumerism are that we have less time for family and friends, and less time to enjoy ourselves. We have also depleted our natural resources, and clogged up a lot of our world with post consumer debris.
So, how do we avoid working hard just to fill up all those landfill sites and dead whale corpses with plastic? Here are my tips…..
Derr! Yes it’s obvious. And no, it’s not as easy as it sounds. One thing that I do when faced with a purchase is to calculate how much time it takes to actually earn the thing that I want to buy. Most people will say they earn a certain amount – but that will be the headline rate, before taking off tax, costs, etc. The actual hourly rate may be a bit more meagre. Try this calculator to work out your actual hourly rate. Then look at the thing you are thinking of buying. So – purely by way of example – will that motorised ice cream cone bring you enough happiness to justify an hour or more doing whatever it is you do to earn cash? Could you put it somewhere else that would make you happier? Some things will of course be must haves, and they will improve your life. Buy them, if you can afford them. But leave the rest on the shelf, and hope that eventually they will fall out of production.
Some things are just no good if they aren’t new. but the list of items this applies to is pretty small. For everything else, there will probably be a secondhand option on Ebay that will do the job perfectly. It will save you a fortune, and it also prolongs the life of lots of items that would otherwise end up in landfill. We live in a pretty affluent area, and so our local charity shops are a fantastic source of clothes, books, films, furniture, and all sorts of other useful things for a tiny fraction of the cost of the new item.
If you really need to buy something new, then it’s worth buying quality. We all know that – with a few exceptions – cheap shit breaks quickly and will need to be replaced sooner. As the saying goes, you only cry once when you buy quality. It’s always worth filling in your warranty details on big items so that if it goes wrong you can get it replaced easily.
If you only occasionally need something, you may be able to borrow it from a friend or neighbour. I have a number of friends with whom I regularly lend and borrow power tools with, for unusual DIY jobs. This is how communities used to work, and it still can, if there is a certain amount of give and take….
Kill your television
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin once sang it, and ok, it might sound a bit wide eyed and radical. To be more precise (and probably achievable) I am really recommending that you kill your TV advert consumption. The aim of advertising is to encourage you to buy more of a product or a service, of course. This is mostly achieved by making you feel dissatisfied in some way with what you have. Cutting out this stimulus will save you a fortune, and thanks to the rise of Netflix, Iplayer, Digital TV and a host of other technological innovations, it is now very easy to choose not to have adverts.
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