Sunday, December 4, 2011

Moderation vs. Materialism: Confronting the Shallowness of Self-Indulgence

A recent news article states that in light of economic hard times "many" Americans are  reassessing what it takes to be happy in life. Supposedly, they are redefining "prosperity" by becoming less materialistic and more focused on human needs.

Yet this assertion is hard to square with reports of violence committed on this year's  Black Friday (Nov.25) by shoppers that is said to becoming more frequent and intense. As a specific example, there were incidents of mayhem at nine Wal Mart stores across the U.S resulting in the injury of 24 people.  In other words, despite the recession are people becoming more greedy, not less?

Judging from the tone of the item that Americans are scaling back, it appears that for the most part these individuals are more affluent and know that they won't lose much in giving up a few luxuries. But, it's a different story on the other side of town.  Customers who stampede their way into big-box stores like frightened cattle and fight each other for bargain priced merchandise that they otherwise would not be able to afford, and maybe still can't, just don't want to pass up what looks to be good deals.  Check out this disturbing video.  Is it really worth risking one's personal safety to obtain them?

Yet these less than well-off buyers still covet extravagances that they really don't need.  Getting 30% off for that latest model flat-screen TV sounds attractive.  Unfortunately they don't stop to consider how they can save 100% by refraining from such  needless luxuries in the first place, and putting the money to more practical  use instead. And for those customers making these purchases with their credit cards and who plan to pay via monthly installments, whatever merchandise discount they received  will likely be eaten up by balance-inflating interest and for those who fall past due (as inevitably many will), late fees as well. 

As a retired bill collector, here's my  advice to those who really want to buy a particular luxury but can't afford it now: exercise deferred gratification and save up for it.  You will enjoy the satisfaction of not owing a dime after making the purchase.   Furthermore, paying in full may give you the leverage to swing a deal for a lower than advertised price even though it's not official story policy to grant one.  For one thing,  a cash transaction t also saves the merchant such expenses as the credit card transaction fee.

But whatever method of payment that is used to acquire the things  we buy, ultimately we need to stop and ask ourselves whether we really need them in the first place or are just chasing after the latest fad / status symbol.  Because unless they provide us a genuine benefit or service, we just wind up being owned by our possessions.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend  To Have or to Be?  by Erich Fromm.  This great book discusses how the misplaced desire to own actually obstructs the path to personal freedom.