Here comes the wind again. Rushing in, flying branches, popping power lines, simultaneously encouraging quick writing and a post about frugality. Let’s see if I can get this done before the lights flicker again. One of the advantages of frugality and minimalism, it takes a lot less to keep me happy – or at least I have less to complain about when I’m resorting to candles and paperbacks.
One of the great exercises within personal finance is to be aware of how you spend money. What is the benefit that comes along with the cost? When there’s very little money, the benefits are direct and apparent because expenses are reduced to necessities. Those necessities make themselves very apparent when income is equal to or less than expenses. Luxuries are abandoned. When there’s a bit of excess, that extra money becomes such a great relief that it is easy to fall into spending it on those remembered luxuries. The relief feels so good and the luxuries are much more appreciated; that’s also the time to remember to invest in yourself, your portfolio, and your skills. When the excess is great enough, some will feel the abundance, but others redefine the luxuries as necessities and ratchet up their feeling of lack. Someone who is upset that their mobile phone is the wrong shade of purple probably has ratcheted up their expectations and desires.
I live on an island. The power goes out often enough that most people have a supply of candles, paperback books, playing cards, warm blankets – and maybe a generator. If you can afford the generator and the fuel you can become quite popular. Many houses are equipped with emergency generators that seamlessly take over when necessary. For some, that’s a necessity for health or business reasons. The ones I find amazing are the automatic power systems that keep vacant vacation homes lit and warm while the neighbors are rummaging around for matches and there are homeless people struggling with the storm. When the power goes out, the sound of generators kicks in. I get by with a big backup battery that powers the internet router for a few minutes every few hours. The rest of the time is a reason to enjoy an imposed peacefulness – as long as I ignore the noises outdoors.
Frugality, voluntary simplicity, and minimalism were variations on a lifestyle I have enjoyed by choice. For the last few years, I’ve continued the practice by necessity. As circumstances shift, I expect to continue living simply (though, if I won a few million there might be a very nice vacation added to my calendar.)
Various vacations I’ve enjoyed have been in cabins and cottages in the mountains and on the shore. A tiny place with a bit of a kitchen, a bed at least big enough for me, and sanitary facilities covers most of what I’d actually use in some fancy suite. The nicest hotels I’ve stayed in had more in the room than I could use in a week. Let me ski into a cabin with firewood, an outhouse, and maybe a bit of propane and I might just sleep better than in a five star hotel.
I was surprised to find that this weekend is the Super Bowl. Stadium sports aren’t something I spend much time or money considering. If a city wants to encourage sports, I think spending a billion on Parks and Recreation makes much more sense than funding a stadium for millionaires. I’m glad I didn’t miss it, though. I won’t watch the game, but I will watch the ads.
Most years, I wait until after the game, then visit YouTube. YouTube usually has a compilation of the ads. It never seems to be complete, but it does have dozens of ads collected, and provides the opportunity to vote them up or down. My life is unconventional, so I watch to re-engage with mainstream trends. One message always comes through. “People lives aren’t good enough, so they should spend more money on – whatever.” The ads won’t be about necessities. If they are about food, shelter, clothing, or health, the goods and services are probably luxurious versions that add little value relative to their added costs. There will be a few public service announcements, but the main attraction will be how advertisers can attract consumers’ incomes.
The advertisers are smart. Professional sports is about extravagance. Rather than applauding your neighbor for sinking a basket, sit at home and watch a person who has devoted their life and health to amazing feats in dangerously short careers – and then, go buy paraphernalia with their name or the team’s logo, buy whatever they endorse, and buy into the things that were advertised while you watched them whether the goods or services have anything to do with the team, the sport, or your own desires. The people who can afford the time to watch, who can afford the tickets, and who can afford the trinkets represent an enormous market; if they didn’t, the teams, players, corporations, and advertisers wouldn’t be making billions of dollars.
The wind is subsiding and the power is on, for me at least. A few places on the island are out. I don’t wish a massive outage for people to be forced to retreat from consumption. Living is more than just surviving. Living should include thriving, celebrating, feasting, and enjoying more than just the bare necessities (without going to extremes that deny others the same.) Ideally, everyone gets to define their needs, wants, and desires. Ideally, everyone gets their needs met, and has at least a reasonable chance at attaining their wants and desires. I do wish that more people would make that consumption match their needs, to spend on what they want and desire rather than on what they’re told to want and desire.
I know for me, understanding my needs, wants, and desires has resulted in a life where I am easier to please, where a little extra money makes an enormous difference, and where the truest treasure is something that can’t be bought but can be spent: time. Which is one reason I won’t be spending hours watching the game. After my work is done and I’ve watched the ads (and maybe blogged about them), I expect I’ll be reading a book, something I can do with or without electricity. I have the power to do that.