Do You Really Need that Stuff? Think Twice Before You Spend

Americans love their stuff.  We can’t get enough of the latest doodad, the latest hot new product on the market.

We love stuff so much, research has been conducted on our behavior.  According to Boston.com, a team of archealogists spent 4 years studying 32 middle class Los Angeles families for their new book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century.  What they found was fascinating and depressing.

According to the study, ” The rise of Costco and similar stores has prompted so much stockpiling — you never know when you’ll need 600 Dixie cups or a 50-pound bag of sugar — that three out of four garages are too full to hold cars” (Boston.com).  And it’s not just the parents.  “The study found kids’ stuff everywhere, crowding out their parents’ possessions to such an extent that even home offices and studies (more than half of the 32 households had rooms dedicated to work or schoolwork) were crammed with toys and other child-related objects” (UCLA Magazine).

All the while, many Americans are swimming in credit card debt, which may be a direct result of the need to have more and more stuff, even as the stuff leads to less life satisfaction.  In fact, stuff creates stress for many people.

If you feel the need to buy more stuff, keep these things in mind:

The More Stuff You Have, the Less Satisfaction You Have

Do you really need all that stuff?We often think that if we get the latest and greatest item, we’ll be happier or life will be easier, but that isn’t often the case.  In fact, having less stuff leads to all sort of important changes.  If you have less stuff, you can live in a smaller space.  Live in a smaller space, and you pay less for rent or your mortgage, and utilities are also less expensive.  You may need to work less to afford your lifestyle, and instead have more time to enjoy life, which brings greater happiness.

The New York Times states, ” New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.”

Tammy Strobel, the blogger behind Rowdy Kittens, downsized her life, and now she and her spouse live in a tiny house with minimal possessions.  Because of this lifestyle change, she was able to quit her job and support herself and her spouse when he was in school on just $24,000 a year that she made as a freelancer according to The New York Times.

Your Stuff Is Worth Nothing

Besides considering the improved life satisfaction you will have without more stuff, there is another important reason to curb your consumption of stuff.

While stuff can cost you dearly in out of pocket expense, once you have it, making any money off of it, should you choose to downsize your life, is very difficult.  Yes, you can sell your stuff on Craigslist or Ebay or have a garage sale, but in general, you only recoup 10% or less on the original purchase price.  How is that for depressing?

Just visit a garage sale in the summer and see the huge spread of stuff to be sold.  How much money does all of that stuff represent?  That is money that is just gone, never to be recouped.

If you want to improve your life and your financial situation, just stop buying stuff.   You’ll be amazed how much better you feel when you have less stuff in your life to manage.

Source image credit:My Dad’s a Hoarder, By Simon Scarfe, on Flickr

Living on What We Earn: A Learning Process

For the last three years, my husband and I have had a very low income, well under the median income level of the average American family.  This was a result of my decision to launch a freelance writing career and my husband finishing his Ph.D.

We live in the suburbs of Chicago, so living expenses aren’t low.  Simply put, we couldn’t live on what we earned the last three years, which is why we incurred credit card and student loan debt and went through our $12,000 emergency fund.

Things Should Be Looking Up, But. . .

Now, however, the tide is changing, and our income is increasing.  My husband has a post-doc position, and my freelance business is growing.

We now are almost at the median income level of the American family in 2009, which was $60,088 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  While this should afford us some comfort financially, it doesn’t because we are still cleaning up the financial mess from the past.

Preet Banerjee, author of the website, Where Does All My Money Go, in a recent speaking engagement, classified the ability to incur debt as the bank allowing you to borrow money from your future self.  As he says, “One day you will be your future self, and you won’t be happy.”

This is where we are at.  Three years ago when we took on student loan debt and credit card debt, we were borrowing from our future selves.  The selves we are now, and as Banerjee says, we aren’t happy.

Avoiding Mistakes of the Past

My husband and I both feel that we are in an important phase of our financial life.  If we can get through this period of paying down debt and growing our income without incurring any more debt, we should be in a comfortable financial position a few years from now, ideally debt free and with an even greater income.

However, that means a few more years of struggling now.

For instance, we are facing $2,000 in car repairs, and we just don’t have the money now.  A few years ago we would have put the expense on our credit card, but we refuse to go that route anymore.  Instead, we are scrimping and saving for the repairs, and meanwhile, I’m trying to walk rather than drive to buy us more time until we need to make the repairs.

I find it a bit humorous that credit card use allows people to fool themselves into thinking they have more money than they do.

Using credit cards now would help us float through for another year or so until our income increases greatly, but we won’t do that again.  We are living on what we earn and paying down debt even though it isn’t a comfortable process.  We are done borrowing from our future selves.

Banerjee puts it succinctly when he says, ” Think of borrowing money today as negotiating a pay cut with your future self.”  He also asks, “How much money do you want to pay to spend your earnings earlier?” i.e. pay interest on borrowed money?

Our answer is clear.  We aren’t going to negotiate any pay cuts with our future selves.  We are struggling now, so our future selves can have a more comfortable life.

 

Bathroom Remodels on a Budget

DIY home projects are not for the faint of heart. They require extreme patience, determination, and time. If you have these things, you can save yourself alot of money-especially when you start thinking about selling your home.

The bathroom is one of the easiest rooms in your house because it’s usually the smallest. Redoing a guest bathroom can sometimes be done within in a day or two. With the help of some paint and a little ingenuity, you can renovate your bathroom without ever picking up the phone to call a contractor.

Redo The Fixtures

Change the light fixtures to revamp the bathroom. I found an old chandelier at a Salvation Army and ended up redoing it and using it as the focal point of our master bath. Don’t let the process scare you-it is actually an easy fix.

Look at bathroom faucets for inspiration: you can mount them on the wall or make them appear seamless with your sink. I like to look at home improvement sites to check for trends and see if I can duplicate them on my own. FYI: This is a great idea if you’re looking to sell your home.

Paint

I can’t stress this enough: painting is the most economical way to change the look and feel of a room. You can choose to paint the walls or the hardware. The beauty of paint is that if you decide you don’t like the color once it’s on the walls, you can try another one!

Choose a mood. Going for warm and cozy? Choose rich, deep colors like ruby and gold. Going for a peaceful and tranquil feel? Stick to cool and muted colors like periwinkle blue. If you have more of a vibrant style, go with reds, blues, and yellows.

Change The Mirror

Whether you’re adding a frame or switching it out with another mirror in your house-it will make a big difference. Find one that inspires you and design the bathroom around it. Try a modern frame and make your bathroom a “spa getaway.” Find an ornate oval style mirror and go vintage.

Buy Second Hand

Need something extra to make the space really pop? Stick to Craigslist ads and thrift stores. You can find anything from shelving units to vanities for the sink. By the way, you can turn a regular piece of furniture into a vanity by cutting a hole in the top for a drop-in sink.

This is the best way to get creative with your bathroom. Just keep in mind, the less clutter the better.

Add Finishing Touches

Flowers, framed art, decorative vases and bowls. All of these touches add something to your bathroom. If you have the space, add a small chair or an oversize ottoman.