The compulsive consumer believes in immediate gratification. YOLO is his favourite acronym. The austere saver believes in delayed gratification. Frugality is his favourite word. The two do not see eye to eye. Whose side are you on?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines consumerism as:
- the state of an advanced industrial society in which a lot of goods are bought and sold, and
- the situation in which too much attention is given to buying and owning things.
So on the one hand, our consumption of goods and services drives the economy. On the other hand, our preoccupation with the acquisition of things has resulted in swelling debt and financial stress on families and individuals.
Consumerism permeates modern society and materialism is often blamed for our rampant consumption behaviours. We have been conditioned to think that affluence is about accumulating material possessions. If a person stays in a big house and wears designer clothes, he must be rich. We are motivated to have the same lifestyle as those around us and we yearn to live the high life like the celebrities and influencers we see on TV and social media. Keeping up with Joneses? Nah, the Kardashians are the new benchmark!
BUT deep down, we know that the pursuit of material comforts should not be the central focus of our lives. We know that it is dangerous to overspend, especially if the lifestyle is mostly funded by debt. We know that it is imperative to exercise financial prudence.
And therein lies the problem — our desire to spend conflicts with what we have come to know as the sensible thing to do, and that is to save and invest for a better financial future. This conflict is something everyone grapples with. Just recall those times when you bought something nice for yourself, only to feel guilty afterwards because the item was unnecessary or too costly.
And therein lies the problem — our desire to spend conflicts with what we have come to know as the sensible thing to do, and that is to save and invest for a better financial future.
In principle, everyone will agree that it’s best to strike a balance between spending and saving. In practice, most people tend to lean more towards one. Age matters too. For instance, I used to buy a lot of clothes and shoes in my early 20s. Now in my mid 40s, I hardly buy anything.
We also see two extreme camps: the compulsive consumer (aka the big spender) and the austere saver (aka the miser). Both have very different money values and disapprove of each other. The compulsive consumer thinks the austere saver is deprived and does not know how to enjoy life. The austere saver thinks the compulsive consumer is shallow and irresponsible.
Any form of extremism is, of course, unhealthy. But let’s not be quick to pass judgement. We should instead attempt to understand the motivations of these two characters and draw lessons from them:
- Money Values of the Compulsive Consumer (aka The Big Spender)
- Finding Joy in Saving
- Money Values of the Austere Saver (aka The Miser)
- Finding Joy in Spending
1. Money Values of the Compulsive Consumer (aka The Big Spender)
Madonna famously sang, ‘Cause we are living in a material world and I am a material girl.’ The melody of this 80s hit may sound incredibly dated but its lyrics aptly describe the compulsive consumer of today. A major driver of the economy, the quintessential compulsive consumer is anything but a saver. When money reaches his hands, he always finds a way to spend it all, buying things that others would consider needless extravagance. People often criticise him for his lack of financial discipline.
But hang on. Is the behaviour of the compulsive consumer really due to the absence of self-control?
No doubt some do suffer from willpower deficiency and struggle with overspending. They can’t seem to stop making impulse purchases despite knowing that they are digging their own financial shithole. But not all compulsive consumers match this profile. Many do have self-control. They just choose not to exercise it because their outlook on life is based on one single mindset: YOLO.
YOLO stands for You Only Live Once. The expression reminds us that we only have this one life, so we should live it to the fullest. If there’s something we wish to enjoy or experience, we should just do it. Someone who subscribes to the YOLO mindset doesn’t see why he should be made to feel guilty for a little self-indulgence. ‘I will buy that expensive winter coat and splurge on a two-week vacation in Switzerland this coming December! YOLO!’
The YOLO mindset can be good or bad, depending on how one interprets it. Sometimes, it is important to live for the moment. Nonetheless, we are doing ourselves a great disservice if we think we can live and act without thinking about the future. The compulsive consumer might declare YOLO and spend freely now, but is it sustainable?
Sometimes, it is important to live for the moment. Nonetheless, we are doing ourselves a great disservice if we think we can live and act without thinking about the future.
Check out: 5 Reasons for Vacation Overspending
2. Finding Joy in Saving
I think the way forward for the compulsive consumer is to find a balance between present and future. Relish the moment but at the same time, find satisfaction in planning for what lies ahead.
Spending money you do not have is unsustainable. The consequence is almost certainly disastrous. Imagine this. Just when you think you have it all under control, life throws you a curve ball. You are suddenly jobless but you have an enormous credit debt. Your stress level is off the charts and you cry yourself to sleep every night. How is that a happy and fulfilling life?
Your financial well-being has a huge impact on your overall well-being. To enjoy life without worries, you need to first get your finances in order. Start by saving regularly. When you have money set aside for emergencies, you have peace of mind, which in turn, gives you the freedom to lead your desired lifestyle. It’s a very reassuring feeling.
Once you have prepared an emergency fund, you can channel some energy into building wealth for a secure financial future. No, you don’t have to lead a spartan life BUT you do have to moderate your spending. You might say ‘But that’s not who I am!’ Then maybe it’s time to change who you are. YOLO doesn’t mean a complete disregard for tomorrow. You can’t just live in the present without a sense of future. That’s reckless behaviour and self-sabotage.
YOLO doesn’t mean a complete disregard for tomorrow. You can’t just live in the present without a sense of future.
3. Money Values of the Austere Saver (aka The Miser)
The austere saver gives new meaning to the word ‘frugality’. He is perpetually trying to save money for a better future, to the extent that he often denies himself of even the simplest pleasures of life. People think he is mistreating himself and call him a penny-pincher, but he remains firmly committed to sacrificing short-term gratification so as to accumulate wealth for the long run. In his mind, everyone but him has no financial discipline.
Not too long ago, I was the archetypal austere saver. I lived for the future, seldom in the present. Despite having a budget for everything including dining, social and leisure, I was always looking for ways to slash expenses further. As you can imagine, Mr Wow was quite fed up with me.
Past dining experience with me:
‘Why do you need to order soju? It’s so overpriced here. Can’t you just drink at home? I questioned Mr Wow.
‘Because I’m in a Korean restaurant and I feel like having soju with my meal! Haven’t we gone through this already?’ Mr Wow replied in exasperation.
Now, who can blame Mr Wow?
4. Finding Joy in Spending
Like the compulsive consumer, the austere saver needs a wake-up call. It might sound clichéd, but he needs to stop obsessing about the future and start living. NOW.
I was lucky that Mr Wow gave me a no-holds-barred lecture. My zeal for saving money had reach an unhealthy level and it was affecting our relationship. As he correctly pointed out, it was a sign of anxiety — something I didn’t recognise up till then. Although it’s good to plan for times ahead, I shouldn’t have let my worries about the future dominate my thoughts and actions. Our overall financial health was good and my worries were unfounded. I hope you won’t make the same mistake.
Although it’s good to plan for times ahead, I shouldn’t have let my worries about the future dominate my thoughts and actions. Our overall financial health was good and my worries were unfounded.
It really is important to find joy in spending, especially on meaningful experiences. Some things must be done at the ‘right’ age; for example, taking a month-long backpacking trip in Europe with friends in your 20s. Once that age is passed, you might not want to engage in the activity anymore. You neither have the energy nor the interest in your 50s, and none of your friends are free.
If you spend most of your life delaying gratification, you will probably be rich one day, but what kind of memories would you have? When your mind leads you back into the past, would you feel a tinge of regret because you missed out so much? In spite of your wealth, would you you feel that the prime of your life has already passed you? Don’t sacrifice too much joy for the unknown future. YOLO!
When your mind leads you back into the past, would you feel a tinge of regret because you missed out so much?
The compulsive consumer and the austere saver are the exact opposite of each other. One needs to moderate the ‘play now, pay later’ mentality and remind himself that there is value in thrift and joy in saving. Another needs to moderate the ‘save and save more’ mentality and remind himself that life is not just about compound interest. People say opposites attract, so maybe the two characters should get together and rub off each other. What do you think? Do leave us a comment below.