Five thieves that can make you feel poorer than you are
by Debi Taylor-Hough
Excerpted and adapted from A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity
omeone recently told me that they were tired of being in debt and were ready to get their spending under control. But they were concerned about the fact that they still enjoyed spending money to pamper themselves. They were looking for inexpensive "luxury" ideas. I didn't necessarily have specific luxury ideas to suggest, but what I've found over the past several years is that my idea of what constitutes a luxury has changed greatly.
When we started on a drastic debt-repayment plan, we had no extra money for anything but the absolute barest necessities for almost five years. I couldn't even shop at thrift stores for clothes--that would've been too expensive for our severely limited budget. We learned to make things ourselves, accept hand-me-downs from friends and family, make do with what we had, or do without.
It was either live like that or be forced into bankruptcy by our impatient and increasingly nasty creditors. We chose to knuckle under and do what needed to be done, no matter how difficult, in order to pay off our creditors (mainly some huge hospital bills from three premature babies).
One of the first things I noticed when we started our debt repayment plan was the discontent that seemed to overtake me almost constantly. I started praying that I would discover where this discontent was coming from so I could overcome it and put it to rest.
Well, it turned out (for me at the time) that the main Contentment Robbers were:
1) Mail-order Catalogs: The beautiful items in these catalogs were a constant reminder of all the "wonderful" things I couldn't have anymore. I overcame this Contentment Robber by tossing all catalogs into the recycling bin as soon as they arrived without even glancing at them.
2) Shopping Malls: I hadn't realized how much "recreational shopping" breeds discontent. I started avoiding malls at all costs unless I had something specific I needed to buy--and even then I only went in for what was on my list and then I hurried back out before I got distracted by some new housewares store (my personal weakness).
3) Commercial Television: Seeing all the latest and greatest constantly paraded before my eyes bred discontent. I turned off the TV except to watch videos from the library or PBS specials with my kids.
4) Womens' Magazines: I cancelled my subscriptions -- I didn't have many magazine subscriptions but the pages of the ones I did have showed perfect homes, beautiful clothes, pampering personal toiletries, etc., which really caused me to begin suffering from a form of lust (maybe "greed" is another word for it?).
5) Shopping Channels/The Internet: I've never watched shopping channels on TV but I suppose they're probably contentment robbers for some people. Also certain malls and shopping areas on the Internet would serve as contentment robbers, as well.
But probably the biggest surprise of all to me was that the longer I practiced frugal living and read books on the topic, I found that I was more satisfied by the simpler pursuits I was discovering than I ever was by all the shopping and personal luxury items that I had previously considered such a treat.
Well, we're no longer in debt (hooray!!) and money's still tight (being a single income family of five means money is always tight), but I'm not discontented anymore. I have great satisfaction knowing that our debts are "Paid in Full." The accomplishment of paying off our debts is a great luxury in and of itself!
Plus, through the process of getting our finances in order, I've gained a new appreciation for the beauty and joy of life's simpler pleasures. Shopping and acquiring new stuff holds little appeal for me anymore. Now I would much rather spend a day hiking a Nature Trail and picnicking in a meadow with my kids, than spending an expensive afternoon sauntering around the Mall eating designer cinnamon rolls and sipping gourmet coffees.
But those weren't always my priorities. I can honestly say I'm much more content since my priorities and ideas of luxuries have changed.
Deborah Taylor-Hough (wife and mother of three) is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: How to cook for a day and eat for a month and the new book Frugal Living For Dummies. Visit Debi at http://hometown.aol.com/dsimple/