The comments from the men’s fashion post made me think about something close to my heart: worldy possessions. Indeed I like them and want more. Yes, I know, filthy lucre and fine-twined linens won’t bring me happiness blah blah blah, but this isn’t a post about that eye-through-the-needle-of-a-camel stuff, it’s about how we spend our money.
First of all, please spare us any platitudes about how we should live in huts and wear thrift store clothes so we can give the rest of our money to the PEF. I’m not asking what Jesus would do, I’m asking what you do. The purpose of this post is to analyze our own psychology as we spend our own money, not how others spend theirs.
Let’s begin with two simple questions:
1) If someone were to give you any car in the world, what would you get?
2) Your expensive meal at a restaurant is bigger than what you normally eat, do you finish your plate?
Now I’m going to slightly change the questions and see if your answers are any different:
1) If someone were to give you any car in the world and you couldn’t re-sell it, what would you get?
2) Your expensive meal at a restaurant is bigger than what you normally prefer and you can’t take home the excess, do you finish your plate?
If your answers changed then you’re like me. I immediately thought of a Rolls Royce, not because that’s the car I’d like to drive but because I could probably sell it for a couple hundred grand, get a nice Volvo (or whatever) and have the rest of the cash to spend on something else. In other words, I think of the car as currency rather than as a car.
I asked the restaurant question because I always have to remind myself (especially at expensive restaurants) that I’m not paying for the quantity of food, I’m paying for the satisfaction the food brings. So often we, especially us suburban Americans, can’t separate the need to “get our money’s worth” from the food, so we keep eating long past the moment we fill our stomachs (or feel ripped off if the plate is smaller than we’re used to)
How often does money get in the way of seeing purchases for what they are rather than for how much they cost?
Sometimes I try to imagine what my life would be like if I were a PFWMINO (person-for-which-money-is-no-object). This is an interesting exercise because it helps me answer the above question. If I were to go shopping for clothing with unlimited funds my purchases would now be based entirely on style, fit, color/pattern and quality of construction. Similarly, the food I would eat, the furniture I’d want in my home and the house I’d buy would all be based on similar criteria.
Can you do this? Can you put your mind in a place that doesn’t care about how much you saved or how much you spent, separating the cost from the object/experience? Can you imagine spending a lot of money on a meal and only thinking, “I am satisfied” rather than “is this all I got for that much money?” or “it was good but that was a lot of money” or “that was worth every penny.”
There’s a saying that I started using in college that still works for me: “When you buy quality you only cry once.” This is almost always* true. Because most of us are not PFWMINO’s and money actually has to be a factor in most of our purchase decisions, we aren’t able to buy quality everything, so prioritizing is healthy. I personally like nice furniture. One of my design teachers at BYU once told me that when buying furniture it’s important to live with cheap junk, save up your money until you can afford exactly what you want, and then buy it (presumably because good furniture can last for generations).
Do you think it’s possible to mentally separate “quality” from worldliness/money? And is it possible to want fine/quality things without falling into the pride trap (explained by ETB/CS Lewis as “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud”)?
*European home fixtures made me cry both at the wallet and at the install. Conversely my Guatemalan bag didn’t make me cry at all.