The Chronic Consumer

“The cost of something is the amount of life that you are willing to exchange in order to have that thing.” – Henry David Thoreau

dscf1917I 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.


  1. I love it Randall — are you realling moving?

    The two therapists — I would think you need at least that as you are too smart for them to figure out alone.

    By the way, I had a little something I wanted to send you and I wonder if I could have your home mailing address. If not no problem. If so, just put it on my blog comment and I will reject the comment but have the address.

    Totally get it if you don’t want to.

    Love Renee xoxoxo

  2. It looks like you are spending a lot on Booze.
    Part of $500 at whole foods, part of $500 on drinks
    when you eat out, $200 at drinks in bars.

    Strangely, for an English teacher you make so many
    spelling mistakes. How can students learn from you?

    You know you can save money without moving
    to central california don’t you?

  3. Thankes fooor thee posiiitive feydback. Eye have nevver maade any claaims, tooo being a goood spellller. I havve onlyy so muuch tyme in my daye too right and unfortunaatly not enuough tyme too editt. .

    However, I like to think that I am teaching my students much more than simply how to spell.

  4. Terrific quote. I think more and more people are realizing how much LIFE they sacrifice for things that are petty and meaningless. Another quote I’ve heard/read fits here, too: The things you own end up owning you. I envy your move to the country because my life has become filled with petty things that own my life. With a car payment, gas for long commutes and sitting in traffic, and insurance costs, I spend nearly $1,000 just for transportation. That means I have to work nearly two weeks just to be able to get to work. Then I look around at all the unhappy dopes in their cars, WAITING to trade their lives to slavery to the dollar. It is a sad existence we have accepted, so I applaud you for taking stock and doing something about it.

  5. Thank you for this thought provoking comment. You have caused me to think about how we (in American culture) forget about what is really important in LIVING when we are trying to make a living. We seem to trade in security for freedom so that we can have a few material things. Is it worth it? Well I suppose if you are earning a living doing something that you really love, than the materials that follow are like a reward for your hard work. There is no harm in this. But most of us get stuck and like you say “filled with the petty things.” I suppose this is the time when we should start to focus on things like meditation, prayer and other spiritual pursuits so we can have peace of mind.

  6. Like yourself, I am not a ravenous consumer. I spend a large chunk of my income on great, wholesome, organic food that I always make myself. I believe that my body is my temple, and that the food that I lay down at the altar of my being as an offering indicates what I want myself to become. Garbage in garbage out – or the converse. So I choose to offer myself only the best, which is both a blessing for and sacrifice on my part. I can’t “grab a bite to eat” because I never eat out. I don’t go to lunch with co-workers because everything they eat is crap. I can’t buy cheap, processed foods because it is associated with so much garbage, I can scarcely imagine how others get through in life eating that crap. In fact, I spend 30% more than most people for groceries because I refuse to eat REFuse. Then I see how extremely selfish and unhappy people are – even those believed by most to be among the upper echelons of society. They don’t take care of their minds, their souls or their bodies. I can let myself get down about the bullshit in my life because I am entrenched within a system of control that I despise, but rely upon for some unknown reason. Yet my mind and heart are so much better off than most people I know because of the choices I make. It is a known fact that “the system” is broken, yet we continue spinning the broken wheel, trying to get somewhere and we’re just cutting a deeper rut into the ground as we go. What we are seeing in society at large is the en masse breakdown of so-called civilization and the realization that we can no longer sacrifice freedom for security in order to maintain comfortability. The comfortable lifestyle of things and conveniences is strangling us, and our primal, individual and free selves are aching to rebel and be unconstrained by the artificial impositions of society, technology and finance. We are so much more than any of this, and this is the fact that both saddens me and fills me with joy. Because I am both a slave and a King, an individual and everyone, alone and a part of everything. There is little peace of mind when I find myself riding the fence between the two. This is why I applaud individuals who are discovering that their happiness runs counter to the mores, beliefs, system of operation, and stagnant desires of modern “civilized” society – all foreign constructs that attempt to stifle and destroy the innately free, creative Self we all feel within us. I find it encouraging when people like yourself are willing to step out of such belief structures and embrace their own inner peace.

    Thank you for your blog.

  7. I have this theory, Randall. It has to do with the corelation between very high intelligence and a tendancy to cruelty which often manifests in a very hidden sardonic and satirical style. No idea why this suddenly popped into my head.

  8. We travel through this world on a similar wave length Joseph. Even though I eat out much too much (I only eat where good quality food is served) I am in disbelief over the crap others eat. If you do not mind I would like to read your comment to my English class? Sounds like you are living an almost Tolstoyian existence within to battle against the culture of death that is every where outside us. This is an honorable battle- one that I find inspiration from in people such as yourself.

    Paul- this theory of yours reminds me a bit of Sade or French existentialism mixed with some Freudian psycho-therapy. I wonder if this is what I am doing at times- expressing disdain/cruelty through satire? I think you may have hit the nail on the head.

  9. wow Randall some one other than me has finaly called you out on your spelling good job Alphonse. Randall I cant believe your moving that sucks so much. I will visit you, you do know that. =)
    Paul-I agree with you theory,and you did hit the nail on the head as Randall previosley stated, but if you saw him as a teacher it would no longer be just a theory, it would be proven

  10. Yes, the word is out in the street- I need an editor. Again I will say it- I have made no claims to being a good speller. I could not spell my way out of a difficult situation.

    I must do some research so that I can find out who this Distant Memory is (so that I know who it is that is coming to visit me).

    Thank you for this comment- but I must ask, “do you really think that my teaching style has an element of cruelty to it?” It is good to know these things about one’s self.

  11. Yes your teaching style does have an element of cruelty to it but in a good way, alot of your students wouldnt listen without that satirical cruelty… and dont worry Randall I too am a horrabel sepllleer. do you know who I am =)

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