How We’ve Found Contentment without All the “Stuff”

In my recent post about controlling our money, I discussed the impact that following a budget has had on my family. Little did I know the deep, personal impact budgeting would have on me. Attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) opened my eyes to so many things inside myself and to the world around me.

Artwork made of cut up credit cards. Photo taken at Financial Peace Plaza in Nashville, TN

Artwork made of cut up credit cards. Photo taken at Financial Peace Plaza in Nashville, TN

One of the biggest things that stuck out to me in the class was the power of advertising in our lives. It’s everywhere – on billboards, commercials, in our TV shows (including our kids’), our workplaces, and in our schools. We are constantly inundated with messages telling us to buy this…upgrade to that…treat ourselves…give ourselves a well-deserved reward. Retailers want to give us the best products to enhance our lives, right?

It would be nice if that were always the case. Yes, I want to believe that most companies are run by genuinely caring, compassionate individuals who are concerned about enhancing their customers’ lives. At the end of the day though, it’s a money-making game. Almost every store we go to, we’re invited to “open a credit card to save an additional 20% on your purchase!” At many retailers, the employees are evaluated based on how many customers they get to open credit accounts. We’re encouraged to purchase upgraded protection plans and additional accessories that we don’t really need (or want, but somehow we’re convinced we do, right?).

Up until going through FPU, I hadn’t much considered the manipulative nature of the retail industry. I was all in. I had several credit cards, a bit of credit card debt, and I loved having the latest and greatest. During the class, Jeremy and I cut up any credit cards we had, closed all our credit accounts, and paid down a decent amount of the principal on a loan.

And that was the easy part. What was difficult was wrapping my mind around the feeling I had inside that I “needed this” or “have earned that.” When I would think of a purchase I wanted to make, I had to stop and consider if it was something I truly needed and if I needed it right now. Most of the time the answer was “no” or “not yet.” Many times my “not yet” turned into a no after sleeping on it.

So on we went on our Financial Peace journey. We experience our ups and downs like anyone does when starting a budget. I found myself in stores less frequently as I came to appreciate what I already had and found new uses for household items or clothing. I realized all those great gadgets out there for kids were unnecessary. The less Jeremy and I focused on improving our stuff, the more we could focus on improving ourselves.

Slowly my desires to have the latest and greatest were subsiding. I used to see a cute purse or pair of shoes and immediately think, “I want that!!” Not anymore. I’m welcoming this newfound sense of contentment I feel in my life.

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A few weeks back something strange happened. I had some extra time after errands before meeting a friend for lunch. I stopped in a department store to browse for a bit. I hated every minute of it. As I entered the shoe section, I immediately felt the eyes on me. I felt like a piece of meat. One employee approached me and asked if he could help me find anything. I politely said, “No thanks, I’m just looking around.” In my mind I pleaded the others to leave me alone as I avoided eye contact.

Then I started noticing other things. The smells of the shoes and the nearby perfume vendors. The bright colors and flashy signs. The loud music and conversation. It all overwhelmed my senses. I couldn’t believe that I used to find outings like this enjoyable. I texted a friend, “I’m such a retail Scrooge!”

I’m not saying I hate shopping. What I’ve found is that the things that used to appeal to me simply don’t anymore. In a way, I enjoy shopping more because I walk in knowing exactly what I want and how much I’m going to spend, so I don’t feel pressured or overwhelmed by the other enticing items. I can enjoy the simplicity of the experience now.

I’m so grateful that I got to this point while my daughter is young. Not only do I rarely have Margaret out in a retail store (and therefore can avoid the pointing and crying out for things), but also I have learned how to handle her requests appropriately and redirect her. Just as I’ll likely forget about that pair of shoes 10 minutes after we leave the store, so will she likely forget about the princess dress she so deeply desired. I don’t feel the need to make purchases to appease her. I don’t feel the need to provide her with the latest and greatest because I know it’s not what’s necessarily best for her.

Take some time to think about the impact consumerism may have on you. Do you turn to “retail therapy” when you’re stressed? Do you feel the need to have the latest and greatest? Do you feel like you’ve earned a pretty new item because of all your hard work?

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing things we want. The issue arises when our spending is out of control or we’re spending on things we want and not leaving money for the things we need. Begin to challenge your mindset around spending and having “stuff.” I know, it’s hard. It’s also life-changing. It’s a (free) gift to yourself and your family that will keep on giving for years to come.

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