Over at Beating Broke, the question was asked, “Are we doing personal finance wrong?”
It’s hard to truly condense the post because it touched on a lot of points. The overall idea seems to be that our natural instincts (even after all the frugal training we’ve done) tend toward the materialistic life of the Joneses.
That the desire to have nice things and the desire to be responsible cause a sort of identity crisis. (Although, the writer points out, we may just envy the freedom that comes with financial obliviousness.) And so we try to have everything the Joneses have, but frugally.
According to the post, most of us spend “an inordinate amount of time” trying to have what the Joneses have, in a budget-friendly manner.
I don’t buy it, as it were.
Most frugal people have long ago decided that there are things that matter and things that really, really don’t. Things that they will find room in the budget to splurge on and things that they will (sometimes happily) do without.
I don’t think that all the railing against the Joneses points to some deep-seated envy of their stuff. Or fighting against our natural inclinations.
I think that it comes from either embarrassment or bewilderment.
Plenty of now-frugal people used to live like the stereotypical consumers. It’s always cringe-inducing to see shades of your past. On the other hand, some frugal people were raised that way. They look at consumerism with puzzlement, if not downright repulsion.
Either way, I don’t think we’re hollow in our condemnation of rampant consumerism. I think we either don’t get it or don’t want to remember. Either way, we want no part of it.
Perhaps we do sometimes envy the spendthrifts their fiscal irresponsibility. Who wouldn’t want to lead a stress-free existence?
Instead we concern ourselves with pesky details like bank balances and retirement accounts.
But we’ll still find room in the budget for some indulgences. Those splurges don’t mean we’re trying to live like the Joneses. It just means that we won’t lead lives of total austerity.
And if, in those pursuits, we don’t buy top of the line? We’re not looking for a low-rent version of financially imprudent living. We’re just weighing cost and benefit, even in our splurges. No deeper meaning.
The writer seems to think our railing against the Joneses is akin to James Dean’s famous line “What have you got?” That we’re rebelling against everything in this consumerist society and running toward nothing. Or, at least, that we’re not running toward a cogent goal.
Once again, I (respectfully) disagree.
I think frugal people are moving very determinedly toward their goals. For some, it’s simplicity; for others, financial security in retirement; for others (like my mom) saving where you can to spend on where it’s important.
The PF community is strong, and I think that most frugal people have gravitated away from the Joneses and toward it. That we are choosing — have already chosen — our own leaders. Ones whose values better match our own.
We’ll always be exposed to consumerist messages from main society. But you can tell we’re tuning it out because so many of us tune in to the PF blogosphere. People come to it for inspiration, conversation and entertainment. (And, yes, some trolling.)
Yes, there are times when constituents of the blogosphere — bloggers and writers alike — forget that personal finance means different things to different people. But then angry readers snap those folks back to reality (and off their high horses) quickly enough.
So, no, I don’t think we’re doing personal finance wrong. I think that, with the occasional blip, we’re doing it just fine.