Spending power

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What are the three topics everyone tells you to never bring up in “polite” company? Religion, yeah, because that means something different – and often deeply important – to everyone. Then there’s politics, which at this moment is a subject with a lot of wires and a short fuse. (I’ve talked before, however, about the perils of avoiding difficult conversations, especially along those lines.) So, what’s the third one, then…?

Ah, yeah, that’s right.

It’s money, honey. 

People LOVE the stuff. It drives decisions about everything from how we spend our weekends to how we spend our lives. Even people who aren’t motivated by it are happy to have more of it.

So why are we so reluctant to talk about it – even with ourselves?

I mean, you may work in finance, and be sitting here thinking, all I do is talk about money, all day long. But usually, it’s other people’s money, right? Plenty of us are doing that, even if it’s managing the budget of a small start-up or a school. Your cash is a different story, though. You want more, or at least enough to live the lifestyle that makes you feel happy, but you avoid the subject like it’s a text from your ex.

The reasons for this are plentiful and various. Money is laden with emotional baggage for any of us who have ever, even for a day, thought we might not have enough of it to take care of our basic needs. Even for those whose accounts have always overflowed, money can be about control, power, influence, and distraction. It may not buy happiness, but it does make certain problems a lot less difficult.

Oh, and it can make a free weekend reeeallly fun.

In the upper echelons of business, including the business schools associated with it, the biggest questions about money may actually be outside of the boardroom and classroom. Where’s she going this weekend? Didn’t she travel last weekend, too? Didn’t he just get a new car last year? Have you seen her place? Did you notice his watch? And that’s the one he wears to class…

I saw this Instagram post not long ago, and I laughed out loud. It’s not just millennials, though. Consumer culture and social media are making “the Joneses” and their lifestyle look more enticing than ever. Meanwhile, Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt, with the average household over $8k in the red. There are a lot of socioeconomic reasons for these stats, and not all of them are about champagne and shopping sprees. We have, however, become comfortable with the idea that “sometimes,” life costs more than we have to spend. To the extent that you can make choices about that spending, you could, be, well, you know…mindful about them.

You know I’m right. You also know I’m always talking to myself on this blog, too, so let’s all have listen.

Your brain loves to shop (this is, in part, connected to impulsiveness). Even if you dislike the browsing or scrolling itself, buying something new releases a stream of dopamine into your brain as you anticipate the fun of using your new purchase. This feels great, and makes you want to do it again, and again. What better way to support that habit than flashing a little plastic, signing your autograph, and moving on?

Like all actions we discuss on this blog, one mindful moment before that swipe can make all the difference. Becoming aware of what you’re doing, and also why you’re doing it, gives you the chance to choose whether you do it. You still can, of course, but at least you’d be doing so on purpose, and with full recognition of whether the move is based on an actual need, or is in pursuit of a short-lived “fix.” Whatever you choose is ok. Mindfulness is about becoming aware, not becoming judgmental.  Leave the lectures to your accountant.

Getting in touch with – and getting real about – the thoughts and feelings that seem to mysteriously disappear when you engage in certain behaviors is the bottom line of getting mindful. Whether it’s on items, services or travel, saying yes to spending money you don’t have isn’t always the wrong move. If it isn’t intentional, however, then you’ll be in over your head, and “yes” won’t be an option for anything before you know it.

Money is a good thing, to the extent that it can enable you to have meaningful experiences and do good in the world. You can own nice things, treat them well, and use them until they become useless. Money is fluid, however, and you have, aren’t, and will never be defined by the amount you have, or the things that belong to you.

As for those Joneses, as much as you think you know, you will never really understand what’s going on in other people’s 1) relationships or 2) bank accounts. Making decisions about yourself based on what you think you see in other people’s lives will never lead to happiness in yours. Focus on your path, your journey, and what it is you really need. Your resources are simply your means to that end, and you will always have enough for that purpose.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

One thought on “Spending power

  1. Pingback: “No-Fail” Friday: Paper trail | MindfulMBA

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