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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Affluenza book discussion (chapters 22 - 25)

Affluenza: The All-Consuming EpidemicHere is the discussion post for the sixth installment of the Affluenza, The All-Consuming Epidemic book club.

Chapter 22. Bed rest - One of the first steps in curing yourself of affluenza is to do an assessment of your finances. Many people don't know how to manage their money. In other words, spending their paycheck in an intelligent way that creates savings rather than debt. It's a skill that seems to have been lost in the last few generations.

For those who are not living paycheck to paycheck, paying close attention to their finances may result in being able to achieve financial independence years earlier. For those on a low-income it can be the difference between putting money in the bank versus stressing about their monthly bills.

What do you do or have you done to control your finances? Do you keep a spreadsheet of your expenses or use a computer program like Quicken or Money? Does keeping close tabs on your finances prevent you from overspending?

Chapter 23. Aspirin and chicken soup - This chapter mentions several study programs that focus on the premise that simplifying one's life is easier when you have the support and encouragement of others. Instead of the pressure to consume as we are constantly bombarded with by media and advertising, groups that follow Voluntary Simplicity and Choices for Sustainable Living provide the benefit of that support.

Have you read books like Voluntary Simplicity, Simple Prosperity, or Your Money or Your Life; have you browsed websites like The Simple Living Network or joined challenges like the Buy Nothing Challenge? How helpful have they been in helping you achieve your goals of spending less and saving more? Do you prefer reading books or joining in with a group? What sort of groups or tools would help support your financial goals that you haven't been able to find?

Chapter 24. Fresh air - In 2003, thirty-four percent of Americans ranked shopping as their favorite activity. I just want you to let that sink in.

The idea that the more money you make, the less you need to know or have contact with nature is a misnomer. In fact, the more contact with nature you have, the less money you'll need, or want to make. This chapter advises getting out into the fresh air to help cure your affluenza.

For the most part, outdoor activities can be rather inexpensive unless you get caught up in buying tons of expensive gear (do you really need all that stuff to enjoy camping, hiking or other activities?). Plus, the more you feel in touch with the outdoors, the more you'll want to protect it.

Having that connection with nature changes your attitude in a number of ways. Have you experienced a time when going outside has rejuvenated you? Even if it's just spending some time weeding the yard after a long winter? How does that feeling compare to the exhilaration (or stress) of shopping?

Chapter 25. The right medicine - Buying to save the Earth is not a new concept but it seems to have taken on a new focus lately. We see so many new products out almost weekly sporting how "green" they are. We've all heard of greenwashing, but can you really save the environment by buying?

Surely, if you must purchase a new item or appliance, it makes sense to choose the one with the least impact (whether that be carbon output or less energy expensive) or the one that is organic, sustainable, fair-trade, etc.

When you do buy something, how much time and research do you put into making sure that the product you are buying is the best for the environment? Is it an afterthought? How much does cost affect your decision making?

19 comments:

kelley said...

we use a simple excel spreadsheet to track our expenses, and it's the best thing i've ever done for my marriage. we know how much we have to spend, and we can talk about our spending/saving priorities before the money goes out. i don't buy as much stuff anymore because i see how much we need to save for vacations, the future, etc.

basically, i'm a budget zealot. convert!

DC said...

As far as a cure for Affluenza goes, having a budget can help; reading books on voluntary simplicity can help; making friends with like minded people can help; fresh air can help. What ultimately needs to happen is a fundamental shift in the way we relate to the world and define our place in it. We need to move from associating happiness and success with acquisition to valuing relationships and valuing ourselves.

It is a challenge to go against the tide of materialism. It takes strong convictions and a strong sense of self. It requires us to listen to our own inner voice instead of the voices of consumer culture that are constantly shouting at us from all sides. It's a difficult, uphill climb, but it's worth the effort. Being less dependent on external things for happiness puts us more in touch with our own inner joy, which is infinitely more satisfying than any object we could ever acquire. It doesn't break down, become obsolete or diminish with age.

How long does the happiness we get from buying something new last? A day? A week? A month? It's sort of amazing that we put so much energy into acquiring things whose value to us is so fleeting. If we would put a fraction of that energy into forming loving, healthy relationships with others and ourselves, what a world we would have.

LimeSarah said...

I go over my bank statements periodically, but otherwise don't budget in any sort of structured way other than to put fixed portions of my income into accounts for savings and charity. I find that so far just trying not to buy things on impulse gets rid of the ways I spend money unwisely. I also don't have a car, cell phone, children, or house, which removes some of the larger bills many people have to deal with.

I enjoy looking at shiny objects, but I don't really like owning things once the initial impulse passes. I've been trying relatively successfully to think of artsy stores as museums -- all those pretty little decorations and things are just there to look at. For larger things that I think I really do need, I try to let at least a week pass with no second thoughts before I buy it.

I've found communities like the Buy Nothing Challenge or the R4A to be most helpful in working out the best way to deal with expenses, because books tend to assume that the reader has more expenses to deal with an has been working long enough to be interested in investing and things like that.

Anna Banana said...

I use the SOS and PP methods of saving money: Stay Out of Stores and Postpone Purchases. Thanks for the BNC. Some friends are doing it with me. So far I have nothing to confess!

melanietai said...

i come from a family of overspenders and budgeting is so foreign to me. i never inherited their spending habits but, i've always budgeted by blissful ignorance and believing in abundance. so far there has always been money, but then again there are the credit card bills that aren't getting any smaller. it's time to make a change!

i have trouble getting my parents and such to agree to 'do something' that doesn't have a cash register involved. but i am thankful i can make a difference with my two boys and we inoculate ourselves daily in the fresh air. and i'm a waldorf kindergarten teacher, so my students and i are outside for 1 1/2 hours everyday!

ruralaspirations said...

This book is what got me started on this incredible path to simplicity...We are one of those lucky enough to have a great income and previously ignorant enough to have had very little to show for it. Reading Affluenza killed any consumeristic desires I had left, and set the stage for a radical change around here. I created an Excel spreadsheet where we budget and track our expenses. We are now saving money at a rate that feels extremely satisfying and rewarding, enough so that we will be fulfilling our dream of buying an acreage some time next year. It would be no exaggeration to say that this book changed our lives for the better. As kelley said, it has greatly improved our marriage and I, too, am a budget zealot now!

Grad Green said...

I don't budget, but I do keep track of spending. I read Your Money or Your Life and the Tightwad Gazette and they have been enormously influential on my spending habits. My husband and I frequently calculate how long we would have to work in order to buy something -- which usually makes us decide it's not worth it. In YMOYL, they tell you to figure out your actual wage, considering how much time you commute and spend on stuff like convenience food to recover from work. It really is eye-opening.

CindyW said...

I've always hated shopping (largely due to my sheer laziness), so that bit helps. Still when I do go shopping a couple of times a year, I get sucked into buying all sorts of unnecessary stuff. So Stay Out of Stores (SOS) suggested by anna banana is the way to go for me. I still remember my amazing Target trips where the intention of buying a couple of sippy cups morphed into $150+ spending on crap. Shiver.

SOS.

Leila said...

I don't really budget, I just try not to buy what I don't need. In college this usually meant doing without, because no way would I ever charge my credit card unless I knew I could pay it off. I couldn't understand how my friends could casually shell out $100 to see a concert while they had thousands of $$s of CC debt. It seemed dumb to me. But I once did keep track and itemize all my spending for one year. It didn't change my habits any, but it was invaluable information in figuring out how much mortgage I could afford, etc. I also try to limit purchases to things that last and optimally pay for themselves. Like I bought an energy star fridge that will pay for itself in energy savings over my last fridge in 5 years. And I didn't mind buying a $40 stirrup hoe that is durable and cuts my weeding time in half.

Rosa said...

When I had less money, I lived on cash - go to the bank, put in my check, take out the amount I knew was going to be available after rent/emergency fund. Run out of cash, stop spending. It worked pretty well for a long time.

Now, all the fixed expenses, charities, and savings are on auto-deduction from our joint checking account or our paychecks, and then we each have a separate checking account for other spending. So I guess it's just a variety of the cash allowance system - if my account gets too low, I stop buying things.

crstn85 said...

I look over my credit card bill every month and categorize into food, gas and other. Everything in the other category gets seriously scrutinized. I also keep a simple excel sheet to show me where all my money is going. It includes yearly totals, wow do things add up!

I'm easily amused- a book and a sunny balcony will keep me happy for days. Malls stress me out, and I like that.

Theresa said...

I've used an Excel spreadsheet system for about 10 years now to track my expenses. It's got formulas and everything to keep totals and averages and percentages of things, in separate categories by month, and type of purchase. I enter my receipts and bills into the spreadsheet fairly regularly and it does help me keep on top of the budget and trends in my spending. I use it to track my Riot For Austerity numbers as well. There's nothing like a good spreadsheet!

I do still go window shopping from time to time, but don't feel much of an urge to purchase anymore. Blogs like this one, the Riot For Austerity project, reading books like 'Heat' and Affluenza, along with some Buddhist writings by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron and HH the Dalai Lama, are all helping to shape me from a consumer to a sustainer.

The biggest step I took at once was probably the Diva Cup Challenge - winning that Diva Cup in the raffle gave me the chance to try something I never would have done otherwise, and it was transformative. I learned I could do something radically different and everything would be ok.

Husband and I do put a fair amount of thought into what we are purchasing, especially if the thing is not a necessity (like the TV we had been pondering). When we do buy something, we are willing to pay more for good quality. And I don't know if this is logical or not, but I feel that those who can afford to pay a bit more for sustainable products should do so, so the price can come down for everyone else, eventually.

Billy and Michelle said...

We are dave ramsey fans, and he teaches these concepts. We are on our way out of debt, ready to build wealth. The key is to live within your budget, live debt free (except the house), pay cash for all purchases (or debit card), stock away 15% of net pay for retirement, and save for kids college. What the old timers did, and it worked for them!

The Green Panther said...

Apropos of nothing, a fascinating entry into the "most wasteful" produtct category -- the disposable "Magic Cone"

Is this old news? I've never seen anything quite like it.

Crunchy Chicken said...

GP - I think the Dutch do a much better job of explaining how these things work. Make sure you watch the video at the bottom.

The Green Panther said...

CC -- the video is great! (Though the star does a great dishonor to the hover-piss.)

I guess the Shenis is the reusable, environmentally responsible phallus for the girl who has *almost* everything.

P.S. I have read Affluenza and am sorry for hijacking this thread.

Heather said...

Well, my husband and I are both "savers" by nature. If we're going to buy something, we like to research the heck out of it first (whose product is best? can we modify something we have to do what this product does? Where are we most likely to find it on sale?), before ultimately deciding if/when we will make a purchase.

We used to use good ol' pencil and paper to make our budgets, which worked well for us. But recently my husband has been using this website, mint.com, that tracks your purchases and spending habits for you. Then it tells you how much you're spending on gas, food, etc. based on your bill paying and debit/credit card purchases. From what I've seen, it's pretty cool! We're really conservative with our credit card use (neither of us have ever had credit card debt), but we do use our debit cards a lot, and it's been an eye-opening experience seeing where exactly that money has been going, in terms of percent of our total income. (As a side note, it also has a lot of nice features like alerts if they detect any unusual activity or when you've gone over your budget.)

Also, I am in love with the idea that spending time in nature is the antidote for affluenza. That is the starting point for simplicity in my life. I'm always amazed how sunshine and fresh air work like a tonic to de-clutter my mind. This weekend at the park, laying on a blanket with my toes in the soft, spring grass, I wanted for nothing. :)

Julie said...

I'm a reformed spender, but still digging out of debt. I've never cared about shopping or things, but love experiences, such as travel, love giving big expensive gifts and am addicted to books. Now I buy used books, check things out of the library, make gifts and am working hard at turning my financial situation around. This book was a big part of making me feel that I was on the right track.

Hannah Elise said...

34% list shopping as their favorite activity?

Ugh.

I've never liked shopping, and always felt "weird" because, you know... women are supposed to like to shop.

Or something.

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