May 06

How to Want What You Have

Want what you have. Isn’t this the easiest way to kill two birds with one stone? If you want what you have, you consume less.  If you consume less, you save more.  You also lower your impact on Earth.  Is this not the highest realization of both frugality and sustainability?

This is a fairly simple line of logic.  So why is it so hard to practice? Why do we seem to be pre-programmed to desire more and more? Is it simply centuries of social conditioning or is there more to it? The consumerist society that we have become today is certainly a product of social conditioning, but wanting more than you have is an intrinsic value to human beings.  If we didn’t strive for more, we wouldn’t have what we have now. No high-speed transportation. No internet. No modern medicine. The reason I write this blog is because I desire to educate myself and become a better writer.  I also hope to eventually monetize Frugally Green and earn some extra income from it. Increasing your income goes hand in hand with being frugal and wanting more can impel you to better yourself.  Desire drives innovation and propels civilization forward. What’s so bad about that? Nothing, necessarily.

But where’s the line?

So we’ve determined that a desire for more is actually a good thing, but where is the line? How do we know where positive, character-building want stops and greed begins? This line is unique to each and every person and finding it is actually not that difficult. All you have to do is ask yourself, “Am I happy?” I say, as long as the answer is yes, you’re still on the right track. If your desire for more is driving you to become a better person and not hampering your ability to be happy NOW, then you’ve little to worry about. However, if you find that your desire has turned to greed and your focus lies solely on obtaining the things you don’t have to find the happiness you think you deserve, you’re going to find yourself in the throws of a vicious cycle. Each achievement you make will be dwarfed by your desire to make the leap to the next rung of the ladder. Happiness will become a myth, unable to be attained through this line of self-destructive thought.

What Path are You On? How Can You Improve?

It probably goes without saying that no case is completely black or white.  You’ll likely never be able to look at yourself and say, without a doubt, you are one type of person or the other. This concept exists for each person on a spectrum and you’ll never make it to either extreme.  As long as you are leaning towards the healthy, sustainable side, you’ll be ok.

If you take a good, hard look at yourself and decide that you’re not happy and want to change the “way you want,” start looking at individual decisions you make. Look at the “things” you’ve bought in the last week, month, or year and categorize each one. Ask yourself, “Did I buy this to support a goal that will make me a better person?,” or, “Is this something that will truly bring me joy?” Tally up your answers. Examining your past purchases will give you an idea of what direction you’re currently headed and asking yourself these questions as you go forward will help you put your spending in perspective and avoid the pitfalls of making placeholder purchases – things you buy to keep you “happy” when you can’t afford what you truly desire.

As the old adage goes, “If it can be measured, it can be improved.”  It won’t be easy, and you won’t achieve 100% success. Learn from your failures and then put them behind you.  Focus on each little success. Success begets success and you may find that the more you focus on it, the more it comes to you.  Don’t get caught up with finding perfection, just make sure you’re headed the right direction. Fail forward, so they say.

There’s a great post about this over at The Motley Fool that can be found here. There’s a great point in there about shifting your wants from “having” to “doing.” They also make some points that I thought related well to my post last week.

This is one of the deeper topics of frugality and sustainability and one that I would like to revisit from time to time.  It touches on becoming frugally green in a fundamental sense; a building block, so to speak.

What was your reaction to this post?  What do you do to keep yourself focused on fundamental issues like these? How do you deal with the inevitable failures that come with this pursuit and how do you celebrate your successes without undoing them?


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  1. Smitherines

    Speaking as a brand spanking new small business owner, my life is all about goals right now. While I have always been a goal oriented, go after your true desires and dreams kind of person, never before have my goals been so intwined with finance issues. Nothing will give you sticker shock quite like starting your own business.

    I have had to make sacrifices most definitely, shopping for myself-frivolous clothing trips (I miss you!) have almost disappeared. And while I still buy most of the groceries I want, I am aware of deals and taking coupons. And if I need something new to wear, I go to a consignment shop to get my best deal.
    I may not have cut back it the little treasures of life (getting a drink with a friend, a cup of coffee, my favorite ice cream-yes these are all food based goodies I realize)I am aware nonetheless everytime I spend what my larger goals are all the same.
    I think as you get older in general, your ideals change concerning money. You become, as you age, more and more aware of the world of money; its pitfalls, its blessings, etc. And in turn, as you get older the strength of your goals should improve.

    -Jessie Smith
    Portland, Oregon

  2. Michael Thomas

    @Smitherines – Thanks for the comment, Honey. I have definitely seen a shift in the way you approach money since you’ve started Confectionery. I think, perhaps, that you’ve found a goal that can make you truly happy and, in turn, you have shifted your life resources (finances, especially) to accommodate it.

    The biggest part of being frugal is living below your means, and the easiest way to do that is to earn more without changing your lifestyle. Sometimes achieving that means spending money to make it. You’re definitely sticking your neck out, but rewards are always proportional to risk. Keep it up and don’t be afraid to spend when you can calculate the returns.

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