Warning: This is an excessively deep post that could cause a life-altering amount of self-reflection. Read at your own risk.
A reader recently wrote to me and asked for some advice on breaking her addiction to spending without turning to food. As an overweight blogger myself, I’m not sure I’m qualified to help with the food issue, but because I am trying to slim down, and because I’ve learned the hard way how to unplug from overspending, I thought I would share my answer here. Not to minimize what can be very real addictions to both shopping and eating, I have found a common remedy that can best be summed up in one word – contentment.
Contentment is a powerful ally
Websters defines contentment as “happiness with one’s situation in life.“ In my own words, contentment means to be thoroughly satisfied with your current place. In terms of material possessions, you are satisfied with your belongings and can think of nothing that causes you to drool over catalogs or showrooms. It is natural to have wants, but if you are truly content they should be few.
I do not honestly believe most people turn to addictive shopping because they really want more possessions. I think most shop-a-holics shop to mask some other emotion. They are trying to replace some void in their lives with stuff. Maybe it is the housewife of an inattentive husband who shops to show herself the love she wished he did. Maybe it is an insecure guy who buys an expensive car because he doesn’t think anyone would have interest in just him. Maybe it is a parent who buys their kids tons of toys to compensate for working 60 hours a week. The point is, stuffing ourselves with food, or things, is a symptom of some other problem.
Does this mean skinny people can’t have debt?
No, in fact many people with good looking exteriors are deeply in debt because they have substituted one vice for another. This is why many people gain weight after they give up smoking. They replace cigarettes with food. Excessive dieters often binge on food, just like excessively cheap people occasionally binge on expensive stuff. When we go too far in one extreme direction or the other, it usually takes a binge to bring us back to center, where we should have been all along.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Sure, the grass is greener on the other side, but the water bill is higher, too.” And yes, I coined that phrase (unless someone else can claim it). What it means is that while things may appear to be rosy on the outside, behind the scenes people are paying for their shiny exteriors. We all have at least one neighbor who buys a new car every two years, just installed a swimming pool, and takes exotic vacations every six months. We wonder to ourselves how in the world they can afford it. They probably can’t!
The secret to finding contentment
Listen to the little voice inside your head the next time you think you really want something. Ask yourself the following questions before you reach to swipe your credit card:
- Do I already have a comparable item that meets my needs?
- Is this something that will improve my quality of life?
- Is this something that will improve the quality of life of those around me?
- Am I willing to give up x hours of life energy at work to pay for this item?
- Am I purchasing this item because my best friend has one?
- Did I only start wanting this product after seeing an advertisement for it?
Based on your answers to the above questions you probably now have a better idea of whether or not your purchase is a need or a want. If it is a want you now have a better understanding of why you really want it, and can make a rational decision to buy it or not. Ultimately, it is possible to control both spending and eating if you are content with where you are in life. Be happy with what you have, not unhappy with what you don’t have. Find happiness in non-material items like your children, or your profession, or the nature that surrounds you.
Image credit: ahisgett