“The cost of something is the amount of life that you are willing to exchange in order to have that thing.” – Henry David Thoreau
I spend a lot of money. The irony is that I do not make much money. Off of my meager Teachers wage I seem to get by in a style that would not beget a king, but is better than most who suffer the wrath of poverty. I am no celebrity but neither am I a poor popper. I do not know if my spending habits arise from a deep emotional lack or if I simply enjoy the transaction process. Sometimes I think I may be closely aligned to the Pavlovian dogs who drool when they hear the meal time bell. Except for me it is not a noon time bell, but rather the feel of my fake gold debit card in my hand or punching the keys on that little machine that deducts my hard earned money away, away. My therapists (yes I have two now) seem to believe that my spending habits stem from a dis-satisfaction with the present moment of my life. Like most Americans, I have been conditioned to believe that things will get better if I spend some time each day as a consumer. But it is always the same story, I spend money on one thing and am gratified for a short allotted period of ti-me until the next day comes and I am looking for something brand new to buy.
Do not get me wrong, I am by no means a ravenous spender. My purchases are humble and thoughtful and often contribute to my own well being and peace of mind. I am also not an excessive spender, buying up property, stocks, vacation packages, children and costly material items. Rather, because I only make an income that is beneath three grand a month- I have to keep my purchases within the realms of what I can afford. I have been keeping a budget for the past few months and on average this is what I spend a month:
$500 on groceries mainly bought at Whole Foods (or what I prefer to call Whole Paycheck). I try only to purchase organic food and booze which can be pricey.
$400 on gas and other car expenses (I drive an old SAAB with over 200,000 miles on it so I am always having to attend to it).
$500 on eating out ( I do enjoy the Epicurean experience on a regular basis).
$200 on books and music (one way that I experience pleasure is by frequently visiting book and music shops).
$900 on rent and other survival necessities like electric bill, credit bill and phone bill.
$200 on drinking in bars.
$300 on miscellaneous things like clothes, cat supplies, bird supplies and vitamens.
$300 on Therapists
I no longer spend money on prostitutes, strippers, massage parlors and other erotic addictions so at least this is one way that I have managed to save money the past few years. However, before the month is up I am usually broke- or beyond broke lying in a ditch of moderate debt. Now, none of my purchases are what I would label as excessive or exploitative (I consider myself to be a mindful consumer) but I can see how they are addictive. For each thing I purchase I receive a small rush of adrenaline to my brain (it is a sensation akin to accomplishment). Yesterday, when I treated myself to a nice dinner (which I do on an almost nightly basis since there are good restaurants everywhere around where I live), a concert and a new ipod I felt that the rush of adrenaline was more gratifying, almost sensual in nature. I felt as If I had achieved something strangely satisfying– the ability to spend money on things which I do not really need. Is not this the American way?
My chronic consumerism has been concerning me lately. Not only do I feel like I am spending more money than I need to, but I enjoy the concept of “forget savings.” The idea that one should spend what they have today because who knows if they will be around tomorrow to enjoy it has permeated my spending habits and left me little cash to watch grow the flowers of interest. All my hard earned labor has been exchanged for momentary pleasures that leave me feeling empty and searching for more the following day. I have become a consuming animal not that far detached from my cat who spends his days searching for something to eat. There has got to be more to life than this constant need to go out and buy. Recently, I have felt like it is impossible to step out the front door of my home without spending twenty bucks! I watch my friends drop cash that they worked hard to earn on superfluous things that leave them to feeling unfulfilled the following day. Is our material conditioning nothing but an economic hamster wheel that has been set up to keep us working and the cogs of capitalism spinning? Have I been duped and brain washed by the very country that I have grown to love? Sucker.
My concern has grown so large that both of my therapists have recommended that I move to the country where there is less temptation to spend. I have seen the best minds of my generation get tied and tangled up in expenses and spending habits that have caused them to have to trade in their happiness for a fifty plus hour a week job. Chronic consumerism has become an epidemic that has already managed to define me. I am helpless in its clutches and the only way that I can see how to be set free is to move out of the city.
In a month my wife and I are moving to the country. We will hire movers and relocate our lives to the central valley of California, where not much goes on other than the natural cycles of day to day life. We have rented a two bedroom home that will not cost us half of our paycheck a month and it is not surrounded by Whole Foods and five star restaurants. It will be a quieter life filled with bird sounds, barking dogs and late night walks (without the fear of being mugged). We plan on eating the great majority of our meals at home, spending less and enjoying our lives together more. I realize that this will be a difficult life style change to manifest since what I have become accustomed to is consumerist, cosmopolitan satisfaction. I am going to have to dust off my old poetry books, set up a chair in the back yard and be content just staring at the redwood and the things we will grow for food. Neither of us knows what we are going to do for work (there are so few jobs around where we will live)- but one thing will be certain, I will finally have the opportunity to heal from my chronic consumerism and find a new way to be in this world without needing to spend a single buck. But for now, my wife is waiting for me in the car, because I promised I would take her out for a nice lunch.