I was out to a ladies lunch not long ago and one of them women there, a vivacious and interesting friend of a friend, was telling us all about a course she’d love to do overseas. This course was just what she wanted to do to move her career into a new and exciting direction.
The downside? It was expensive. Several thousand dollars for the course itself, then the travel costs on top of it. By the time she got herself there, accommodated and fed herself, did the course, it was going to cost one pretty penny. Several thousand of them actually.
Ooooh, the agony and the ecstasy! Knowing the course existed and that it excited her so much – ecstasy! Knowing what it cost – agony!
We all lamented along with her, Yes it sounds like SUCH hat a great course, and Oh yes it could really move her in this new direction she dearly wanted to take, and Yes, what a bummer it was so expensive!
A fascinating thing happened
As we were all leaving, saying our goodbyes, air kissing and promising that we must do this again sometime and soon!, as is the process of farewells at this type of event, something quite fascinating happened. At least I found it fascinating.
This same vivacious and interesting woman drew our collective attention to her shoes and handbag. Gorgeous things! The interesting colour combinations, the unusual shape of the bag and oh its clasp!, the leg lengthening heels! We admired these lovely things, which wasn’t a strain. Oh, and not only were they fabulous but they were new! She’d only just purchased them. Weren’t they fab?
Well, yes they were.
But what intrigued me so much was the absence of a connection, at least an expressed connection, on this woman’s behalf about the buying of these new items and the inability she had to pay for this overseas course she so longed to do.
She hadn’t connected the dots between the spending she was doing on non-essentials – new handbag and new shoes (which were definitely not essential for her, she has quite an extensive collection of both, she’d told us) – and the overseas course she yearned to be able to afford.
So what was getting in the way of this intelligent woman connecting those dots?
Spending vs saving
The new shoes and handbag are spending activities. The big overseas course is a savings activity.
One has an immediate payout and payoff – I have them now!
The other requires long-term discipline to save and the persistence to stick at it and watch while the money grow slowly in the ‘overseas course’ fund.
Now vs later
The spending she was doing on the shoes and handbag were immediate. Possibly not quite what Eckhart Tolle had when he encouraged us all to tap into the power of now. But now was indeed when these new shoes and handbag were being experienced/enjoyed in. No waiting required.
Vs. the overseas course. This one requires some discipline and time to save for. And depending on how slowly she contributes to the ‘overseas course’ fund, it could indeed be quite some time before that money grows. Lots of waiting required, lots of ‘later’ focus. And of course discipline to keep on depositing into that fund.
Small vs big
The spending she was doing on the shoes and handbag were relatively small in outlay. A few hundred dollars. Easy enough to let slip through your fingers and discount as being of little consequence. And an expense of little consequence in a few ways – financially, emotionally and energetically.
The overseas course was a big-ticket item, totalling many thousands of dollars all told. Impossible to let slip through your fingers and discount as being of little consequence. Not only is this item a big financial expense, but it’s a huge emotional and energetic one, too. It has the power to change the direction of her life. That’s about as big as it gets!
Mindless vs mindful
One of these is a mindless purchase – I saw them, I loved them, I bought them. Mindless buying. I know a lot about mindless buying and engaged in it quite a lot before my conscious consumption journey began (even though I probably would have argued with you about how mindless it really was!). I once went through an entire shoe sale purchase (from seeing the shoes in the window as I was walking past, going in, trying them on, deciding to purchase, paying for them, walking out) whilst talking on my mobile phone. Now that’s what I call mindless shopping.
The other requires real mindfulness – awareness of the big goal and why it’s important, and focused attention to achieving that goal and turning the vision into reality.
Easy v effortful
The shoes and handbag were easy to purchase. No effort required, and the effort was all fun – aren’t these gorgeous, I’ll have them! Yes, on Visa thank you. I’m very familiar with this kind of ‘effort’ and it’s oh so easy to do.
The other requires genuine and enduring effort. It requires doing something that may not be much fun (saving), over a long period of time. It’s an real endeavour to take on, and a real accomplishment when achieved.
“But it only cost….!”
And this is where the title of the post comes in. I recall a close friend sharing her exuberance over a new coat she’d just bought. My jaw literally fell open and before I could stop the words from coming out, I found myself saying “But didn’t you just tell me you can’t afford to go to your cousin’s wedding in Sydney, and you’re buying a coat, to wear in our tropical winter?” Of course it’s absolutely none of my business what she spends her money on, and I was aghast at my lack of diplomacy.
But I’d been so shocked at this incredible inability to connect the buying of this item of clothing — an impulsive purchase — and the overarching financial situation she was in that could only be described as “in need of careful monitoring and management”.
Surely she could see that this coat was one thing among others, when added up with all the other impulse buys for shoes, earrings, handbags and lip glosses, that was preventing her from doing the bigger things she really wanted to do, like fly to Sydney for her cousin’s wedding?
Er, no. Seemingly this connection was indeed escaping her.
I also recall her response to my ungracious question, which was “But it only cost….!” naming the figure that this winter coat had cost. And in her mind, that low dollar figure, in comparison to the trip to Sydney at least, somehow made it all okay. It rationalised the purchase. It justified the expense.
And that’s what we do when we overshop, when we compulsively and impulsively shop. I know because I’ve done it too.
We disconnect the smaller purchases from the bigger financial picture.
We disconnect the pennies because we can’t look at and take in the thousands.
We disconnect the smallness of the shopping activity because we can’t face the bigger energetic and emotional issues.
We disconnect the constant shopping from the glorious wonderful life we so desperately want to be living.
I’m here to say to you: let’s reconnect.
Let’s connect the pennies to the hundreds and the thousands. Let’s connect this small impulse purchase to the bigger financial situation we’re in, and the bigger financial goals we have.
Let’s connect the everyday shopping back to the bigger landscape of our lives.
Let’s reconnect to our selves. Let’s reconnect to the feeling of a life well lived. Let’s reconnect to those we love, and the things that make our heart sing. Because shopping isn’t the answer and none of those things happen in a mall.
Your life is too precious to spend it. Whether you’re spending it $1, $100 or $1000 at a time, it’s far too important and precious to spend it.
Live your life instead.