Every now and then, do you ever question your consumption?
I do. I realize that when one no longer desires for more income, the only way to improve one’s saving rate is to reduce consumption.
Just like the journey to finding your one true love, it seems that as the big-ticket items, like a house or a car, take too long to save up for, we often consume cheap and often low-quality goods or cheap unnecessary services to amuse ourselves until the real thing comes along. This needlessly delays the saving process as most people incur credit card debt* at the cost of finding that “forever” or you know, that house or car, or whatever big-ticket item that you may be chasing.
Consumption of goods to console ourselves
Essentially we only spend money on two things—goods and services. As to goods, one common and visible weakness is apparel, such as bags, clothes, and shoes (and for men, electronic gadgets).
As you start your first job as a first-year lawyer or a young professional in any corporate job that requires a formal or semi-formal dress code, buying office clothes may actually be seen as an investment. Which is how I used to justify things every time I went shopping on Saturday afternoons after spending sad Saturdays working at the office. On good days, I squeezed in a workout after working weekends, while on bad days, I went shopping. And oh did I buy stuff, like some heels to go with some suits and some pants or skirts. Back then, I bought all kinds of stuff like makeup, bags and more shoes.
Looking back, it would appear that shopping was a source of comfort and a form of consolation for the bad work hours and weekend work. I remember having phone conversations with friends or family while shopping, bitching about work while perusing the shiny stores at Greenbelt in Makati. The narrative may be different for others. Some find comfort in being able to buy a new dress or new shoes for an upcoming party or event, or maybe just any random Saturday. Others feel royal for having the money to buy not just one, but two pairs of shoes or maybe a dress or two (or three!) every payday.
Consumption of travel (services) to console ourselves
You choose your poison of course. For some, their poison of choice is gourmet (Starbucks) coffee or travel. For travel, the current narrative is, it is better to travel than to accumulate material things, “travel now, pay later,” or “travel now, pulubi (poor) later.” Flights are now cheaper than ever before. Hotel rooms and Airbnbs no longer cost an arm and a leg. As it becomes cheaper to travel, many resort to it.
As a traveler myself, I totally get the appeal. I used to fantasize about just escaping work and just flying somewhere else where I do not know the language and where nobody from work can reach me. With an unpredictable schedule** I was never able to indulge this fantasy of course. Travel does have its merits but let’s view it for what it is, a form of materialism and consumption. Then you can start thinking about it rationally the next time you itch to book that ticket whenever you’re having a bad day at work.
Travel may be a welcome escape for many who get tired of the corporate grind, the low pay, and the consequent inability to buy that big-ticket item that you want, for now. Instead of having, say, about half the cash to buy those mutual fund shares, brand new car or townhouse, many settle to live IN THE NOW, and book that ticket to travel for a few days in a foreign country to accumulate some stamps on their passport.
The danger lies in the little things
Buying cheap goods or services (whether fast fashion clothes, shoes, or cheap gadgets) is consolation for being unable to buy important needs which may require way more money, at least for the time being. As these things come cheap, you hardly miss the money from your bank account. You keep indulging, thinking, well, it’s just a PhP500.00/USD10.00 dress every week/day/payday/occasion how can it really make a dent in my future, right? With repetition, that becomes a habit. Before you know it, you’re in your thirties/forties/fifties with nothing to show for it but a lot of clothes, shoes, bags, and stamps in your passport.
It is all good when you’re in your twenties and still carefree, but once you enter that stage of financial literacy and start planning your future, please reconsider your consumption of cheap goods, as a form of consolation for the things you cannot afford right now. It’s okay to find comfort in these things, but not at the cost of your future. Don’t compromise your house/car/emergency fund just to live in the now. It is not too late.
I realize that clothing is a basic need. But do you really need to shop for new clothes every month/week/occasion? Do you really need to pay using a credit card as you’re salary wouldn’t last you until the next payday? Is it really that bad to be photographed (posted on Facebook) in the same outfit twice? If yes, why? Are you a celebrity? Do you live under the delusion that people care? Are you lying over a sh*tload of money that allows you to perpetuate this lifestyle, albeit using cheap clothes of course, to the detriment of having real assets that actually make you more money? Those things take some time to save up for but all good things are worth waiting for, just like the proverbial “one.”
I often wonder how people can afford to get new clothes all the time and yet keep lamenting on their lack of savings or assets. I still use clothes that I’ve had since law school, many years after I’ve graduated. I avoid trendy clothes and often buy classics (boring neutrals, classic styles) which allow me to keep reusing clothes. This is made easier by living in a country with just two seasons (rainy and sunny) so clothes can be on consistent but not repetitive rotation. This is most of what motivates me to lose weight as weight gain obviously requires new clothes once the old ones no longer fit. Getting fat isn’t only unhealthy, it costs a lot of money as it requires you to shop for new clothes that fit. Sure, you may get a lot heat for not following the herd and buying trendy clothes all the time, but rest assured in the knowledge that you are helping your future self. Don’t be sheep.
Cost to the earth
Some may be comforted by the erroneous notion that their fast fashion shopping benefits others as these stuff may eventually be donated to the poor. Does it?
No, excessive useless consumption harms not just the poor but also the environment.
In the US, not everything that’s donated to Goodwill goes to the poor. Goodwill allows the poor access to used quality clothes sold at cheap prices. Those that don’t get sold? Well they are shipped to countries like the Philippines, presumably as trash—countries like the Philippines which do not have adequate facilities for garbage disposal, which may be harmful to the environment.
The other Goodwill stuff are bundled up and re-sold*** as UKAY-UKAY (used clothing/used stuff) without regard for others’ safety. These stuff do not appear to have been checked by government authorities, prior to being sold, for harmful chemicals, fumes or whatever harmful stuff may be in there. On the plus side, at least the clothes are recycled by people who re-wear them. The downside is, I can only cringe at the thought as to how the unsold UKAY-UKAY stuff are disposed. Presumably, that USD10.00 shirt you disregarded after one wear is now lying in some landfill here somewhere, its chemicals seeping into the earth, contaminating the ground water and maybe the agricultural products, which may be eventually shipped to your country and may end up on your table for your next restaurant meal.
As a former shopping enthusiast, I have let go of my fast-fashion habit. I can now walk by a fast fashion store with a 50% off sale and just keep walking, money intact. Stop buying things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t even like.
Do you ever question your consumption?
*which only keeps accruing interest, unless you religiously pay in full every month of course.
**Law firm work mostly requires you to be on-call for the most part as clients or cases may have some urgent matter that needs attending. Also, some clients can be very needy. Lol. I once went on vacation and never felt “away” as work keeps emailing, calling, texting or messaging online, which was really annoying. At the worst, one may be required to work while on vacation.
***I found this out from personal experience, after receiving one such item from UKAY-UKAY which still bore a Goodwill price tag.
If you have some time to spare, checkout the documentary The True Cost, which offers a pretty thorough discussion and graphic depiction on fast fashion clothing and its harsh effects on the environment. It’s well-made, organized and aesthetically pleasing, making it pretty fun to watch.