Ramit Sethi’s work on the psychology of money, especially around spending, is wonderful and desperately needed. To put it simply: He encourages people to spend more money on the things they love.
A lot of people need this advice. Observing the joy and relief that people experience when they finally break through their “invisible scripts” (in my profession, we often call them “money scripts”), especially in his recently launched podcast, is pretty cool.
I see similar work being done in the life-planning movement. The training I received as a Registered Life Planner® taught me how to help our clients uncover and describe their ideal lives, and that creates the motivation to do the things necessary to get there.
When I went through this process myself, my two biggest goals were:
- Buy a wingback reading chair with an ottoman (which I have since learned was at least in part proxy for “time to read, being left alone”)
- Take my two daughters to France for a month in fall 2023 (this plan has since become a little squishy due to the pandemic)
And for the most part, I love this. Aligning your money with your values, your passions, your vision of a good life…what could be better?!
But here’s the part that has always niggled at me:
Focusing on your own spending is important…and selfish.
Yes, spending better can positively impact your life, your relationship with your partner, and your family.
But your spending, or more accurately, your consumption affects everyone. And that idea is given no consideration, as far as I can see, in the important work that people like Ramit and particularly “enlightened” financial planners are doing.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently for a few reasons:
- I am listening to Ramit’s new podcast, where there are lots of stories of people who are going to start spending more.
- Now that my firm is over 5 years old, I’m once again earning a good income. (Year 1 featured an income of $0. Whee!) And I’m feeling safer around money.
- I have been implementing more rigorously the Profit First system in my firm. That process encourages you to take profit from your business and use it for something fun! Not just paying your mortgage.
So, for example, I just upgraded my family to first class on our trip East this summer to visit my dad and my husband’s aunt. (The kids were delighted!) It was delicious to feel comfortable doing that. (I have my own pretty profound money scripts from my youth, tracing back most likely to habits established during the Great Depression and then passed down for many a generation. Which is to say, I’ve long been frugal, bordering on cheap.)
And yet I struggle with this.
We’ve all “known” for a while that climate change is a real and dangerous thing. But this last summer really brought it home to me. All the raging fires and heat waves in places where “heat waves don’t happen.” I live in the Pacific Northwest, and our heat wave, and the resultant low water levels and yellow scrub, frankly have me wigging out. (Didn’t I leave this behind when I left San Francisco?)
Consumption has a direct impact on our climate. And Ramit is encouraging consuming more.
Sometimes spending more can be good for our world. For example, buying:
- Broccoli grown locally instead of broccoli grown in Florida and then trucked cross-country
- A meal at a restaurant that pays its workers a living wage and provides healthcare, which let me tell you, is way more expensive than eating at a restaurant that does things the “traditional” way
- High-quality furniture or clothes that will last and please you for years, instead of stuff you’ll toss in a year
But, as far as I can tell, most spending, most consuming is bad for the world. The product or service—in its production, transportation, and sale—uses up our precious natural resources and pollutes the earth in one way or another (air pollution, water pollution, fuller landfills, etc.). Not to mention the human impact at all stages of this economy.
- Flying first class instead of coach
- Flying anywhere in any capacity
- Buying more clothes
- Buying a new car every 5 years instead of every 15
- Ordering delivery by DoorDash or UberEats
- Using BlueApron
I’m guilty of many of those items myself, so don’t think I’m just sitting on my high horse. (Though BlueApron, girl, don’t get me started.)
I am at a point in my life—professionally, personally, and financially—where I could responsibly (from a financial perspective) spend and consume way more. Part of why I don’t is those money scripts I mentioned above. That’s not a healthy reason.
But the other part is that I can’t help but think about the environmental impact of my choices, and by extension, the cumulative environmental impacts of everyone acting just like me.
So, even if we get to a point of having a healthy relationship with our money, does that truly entitle us to spend more?
Or maybe the kind of consumption I’m talking about is a rounding error when compared to the average lifestyle in the US or the behavior of global industry. Which is to say, should we even bother focusing on individual consumption?
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.