Spending: Guru shifts style

The Canadian money-management columnist and TV host Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a straight-shooting woman who brooks no nonsense from financial reprobates who even consider spending an unnecessary nickel now that she's on their case. I've seen her take delusional couples to task on her TV show "Til Debt Do Us Part": "No, $70 for Friday night dinner out is not on. Pay down your mortgage."

I was struck by a quote from a recent interview with her in the Globe and Mail ("Accidental Guru" by Sarah Hampson, January 11, 2010). Vaz-Oxlade was, until recently, "very security oriented."

But then she witnessed the death of a close friend, which changed her. She said:

"You have to not only take care
of the issues so that you have the money, but you also have to have a great life... If we can't learn to appreciate the life that we have and enjoy the small joys then we'll continue to sacrifice what we do have for what we think we need."

I put down my cup of French roast (one of the small joys) to reflect. Every day, I read sales pitches oriented to 50+ people that imply, not very subtly, "Get it while you can", or "You've worked hard, you deserve this, so buy it."

I, too have
fallen for this seductive message. I like to say I want to see more of the world before some tour company has to drag me there. But at the same time, I have a nagging feeling of being led to something I don't wholly want.

my Bucket List is all consumables, what is the point, because things will not make me happy, and bigger things won't make me bigger happy.

A strand of
South Sea pearls would impart a contented glow– but not above that caused by good health, cherished relationships and simply being here. Or being here, simply.

After years of elder care, I've noticed that money (for most of us) and time are limited, but money won't buy you a lot more time.

Small joys need only slowing down to savour. Big ticket joys–whatever big ticket means to each of us–require judgment disabused of hype and fake promises.

Does the purchase represent my priorities or the vendor's image? Will it place me smack in front of discovery, wonder, beauty, peace or adventure? Will it connect to what I deeply value, or is it another example of what C.S. Lewis called "The American Dream: Work. Buy. Display. Repeat."?

Thank you, Gail! I'm placing your words at eye level at my desk.


Susan B said…
Yes, it's easy to get caught up in acquiring, and not appreciate life's simpler pleasures. I've been shifting my interest to acquiring experiences rather than things and travel is becoming a higher priority.
Susan B said…
Also, many of the financial gurus I've seen here promote what I call "fiscal anorexia," sort of the equivalent of a monetary hair shirt. NO treats of any kind (movies, the occasional latte, non-generic toilet paper...you get the idea). I think just as we feel deprived on stringent diets and tend to binge out of them, this sets up a similar mindset and can lead to resentment and rebellion.
Someone said…
You have exxxcellent taste in commercial chocolate, I must say. Orange and dark chocolate is one of the most brilliant of combinations, definitely one to savor!

And I agree with Pseu. I've never been a big consumer, but even my carefully selected things (usually bought at a great discount) are only things, and we've begun to reverse the flow from in to out, and to DO more rather than HAVE more. It is the Geist of the Zeit.
Someone said…
And in response to Pseu's second comment - it is true that some financial advisor types have gone too far into abstinence. But there are several these days who advocate the concentration of spending in areas that really matter to us, so some do "get it."
Anonymous said…
I think it is the small joys which sustain. I have started to see fellow boomers who say they don't want to own they want to do more.To me this is accumulating in a new way. Accumulating experiences. . With just the best lightest carry-on and a few easy to care for casual/appropriate clothes. Sometimes travel is just more consumerism. And opera series tkts and this class and that. How we go after having a life is not in the rush and tumble but maybe in the saunter.
diverchic said…
My problem is frittering my money on not so wonderful small pleasures. DH buys duplicates of everything because he can never find the one he just bought. I think it is hopeless.
"Till Debt do us Part" is an apt title. Advice like "No, $70 for Friday night dinner out is not on. Pay down your mortgage." is a recipe for a dead marriage, simmering resentment of each other, perhaps temptation on the side, perhaps simply a desire to run screaming from the partnership. Couples need some small pleasures together. A mortgage - on an asset that will probably appreciate over the years - is nothing to the cost of a divorce, including two separate dwellings.

I've always been one to favour travel and not want to accumulate a lot of "stuff", but alas now we are realising that travel has a very heavy environmental cost as well (and alas I'm on the wrong side of the pond to take a train to European destinations, and in the Americas, environmentally-friendly railways are so limited. Guess there is no easy solution.

Certainly experiences and pleasures, solitary and shared, are an important part of the equation, at any age.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: Anorexia, actual or metaphorical, does not appeal to me, and I'm sad when I see it in others.

Someone: Must confess that in certain moods I can hoover Hershey's Kisses which is not good chocolate. But I try to aim higher and eat less of it.

Anonymous at 10:02: Re "sometimes travel is just more consumerism", I had written the line "I don't want to be one of those retirees who can only talk about their next trip" but I though it was a peevish thing to say so I deleted it. But you are articulating what I did write, another way. We are being sold 'experiences' as a more noble way to consume.

I also read a quote I loved ,that how happy one is in old age will depend on how satisfied one can be with the simplest pleasures, like watching a sun set.

I request that Anonymous posters sign their "handle" when posting so I can tell you apart and feel a little more connected to each of you.

diverchic: Really don't enjoy buying duplicates of everyday things! Big waste of money.

lagatta: I didn't give enought context in my intro. Gail is not a killjoy. Her advice to "forget spending the $70 for dinner out" is aimed at those couples who spend mindlessly and are sinking under their debt load. They are often at divorce's door because of dire financial shape. She has to re-orient their out of whack behaviour and teach them how to manage their financial life.

Re the environmental impact of tourism, while there is no easy solution, we pass up the more fragile destinations. Like not buying some kinds of fish (more all the time, to my dismay), I accept that certain sights will only be a memory, if we are to preserve them.
mette said…
Sorry, that I came in so late to this interesting conversation. I do agree with the thoughts in the latter half of the woman, you posted about. Yes, it is the little things in life that really make me feel happy. To see a smile on the face of my younger daughter, who is suffering of depression ( already many years ). This kind of joy I receive at that moment, will carry me days on a cloud. It is not something money can buy. I admit to being a materialist in many ways. I splurge when on the mood. Maybe it has something to do with the fact, that I was raised in a very strict way. My mother, her whole life, did not buy anything expensive. She actually kept her very small diamond ring in a bank safe and used fake jewelry instead , although she was a wealthy woman. She did, however use her money traveling all over the world. There were not many continents she skipped. Well, she never made it to the Stares ; ). I turned out just the opposite; I have only traveled very little. Anyways, I´m not sitting on my purse and do get satisfaction of everything beautiful. I´m aiming to enjoy about the little things too. That is my goal.
Duchesse said…
metscan: I recall your comments on your childhood and its effects. It seems you are determined make your family life a very different experience. A smile can be more precious than anything bought.
mette said…
Thank you Duchesse. You understand. I feel an empty hole in me getting filled, when I ( partly subconsciously ) have treated my girls in the way I have never been treated myself. I needed an awful lot of analysis to understand this all :)
Frugal Scholar said…
This has really made me think about what I get real pleasure from (as opposed to what marketers and other people) tell me I should get pleasure from. Thanks for this!

Also, fiscal anorexia is just the flip side of over-indulgence. Both are equally joyless, it seems to me.
Anonymous said…
Hi Duchesse!! The other day, instead of eating dinner at the dining table inside as normal, I set a table up in the garden and the family ate there. My children were absolutely thrilled, we all stayed at the table much longer than usual and then there were games on the lawn. I'm only just beginning to really understand that it is about the simple things (and actually taking the time to do them!).
s. said…
I don't know whether to blame TV for giving us false expectations of what it means to be middle class (even upper class), or the fact that most of my friends are the first in many generations not moving to a higher financial level than their own parents or just the MeMeMe legacy of the Boomers. But too many people seem to think it's their Right to have certain things, travel extensively, throw out their "old" sofa every seven years and replace it with Pottery Barn's latest and greatest. Even this idea that not going out to dinner if you can't afford it will cause the certain death of a marriage sets my teeth on edge. These are the same people who come crying to the private schools begging for scholarships, because they cannot possibly pay for the RCYC membership and house renovation unless someone else covers darling Charlie's tuition. And those who pay full tuition to suport their (and everyone else's) kids? They usually arrive at PTA meetings in clean but inexpensive cars, looking like they haven't been out to dinner in years.
Duchesse said…
Cybill: Thank you for your incandescent example! So nice to hear from you.

s: Whether people "expect" or have been told they should have a certain standard of living, it isn't hard to find examples in every age group of living beyond one's means. I hope private schools require extensive financial disclosure before granting financial aid, but I have no experience with that.
s, I don't own a car and never have, nor would I. Almost all my furniture is second-hand - I refinished many pieces myself. You probably don't even want to know what I think about private schools!

I'm NOT a MeMeMe person, far from it, though I'm most definitely a boomer. Perhaps this is cultural, as I live in Montréal and an occasional dinner out is a big part of the culture here, even for people with very little money.

Your assumptions about me are utterly ludicrous. I've been spending most of my time recently supporting Haiti relief.
Anonymous said…
Lagatta, I'm sure s was referring to the type of people who generally end up on Gail's show.

I love watching the show and the people who insist that they spend money they haven't got on stuff they don't need. A recent favourite episode of mine was one with a husband whose answer to everything was more credit. Dinners out, vacations, sports night with the guys? He'll charge it, thanks. Or the woman who would visit her dream Benz at the dealership. The bank could afford it, but she couldn't. It may not be generational, but where this spendy mindset has taken root, it seems hard to remove.

I hear a new show might be coming up, and I'm sure to enjoy that too.

s. said…
Thanks, Glossy; I'm glad you understood my comment. And PdP, in my experiences as student, employee and board member at various private schools (different decades), I've been disappointed to learn who qualifies for scholarships when there are so many truly needy students "out there."
s. said…
Thanks for this article. I'd never thought to watch this TV show - I don't have debt, and I'm not married. But, now I tape it and watch it and find all sorts of applicable lessons for my own life and spending.

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