Sunday, September 15, 2013
My sister and I were recently discussing our shared love of saving money. When I say “saving money,” I mean not spending it. I don’t mean saving money the way the average retail advertisement suggests you can save money—by shopping their sales. Have you ever shopped at Kohl’s, for instance? The cashier at the end of your transaction usually says something like, “You saved $35 on your visit today!” But did you really? Most retail “sales” are just hot air. They make a huge profit, even on sale items, and you are tricked into spending money on items you usually don’t need or could have bought used for a fraction of that sale price.
Retailers have marketing down to a science; they know our weakness for shiny new products, and our need to feel like we’re taking advantage of the store, rather than being taken in ourselves. Nobody would go to a Gap and ask to pay for their purchase above the sale price. Nobody wants to feel like they are losing their dollars hand over fist to big, greedy companies. That’s why the “Sale” is a brilliant marketing tool, and one of the most dangerous stimuli for those of us poor souls with a psychological need to de-stress with shopping.
I can definitely say stress shopping is attractive for me on an instinctual level. I have a hard day, something in my life feels unstable or inadequate, and all the sudden, I find myself at Target, or an online clothing store. It’s not even always a frivolous purchase—I often buy household supplies or something I can easily validate as a need. And yet, deep down, I know I was fine without those things before, but the low I was in couldn’t resist the high I get when I shop.
Still, if you ask the people who know me well, they’d say I’m a very frugal person who only shops at thrift stores and garage sales and never spends too much money on material things. And for the most part, that’s true. I’ve learned discipline, and that discipline has helped me make habits that inhibit my stress-shopping instincts. But to say that none of my shopping is motivated by emotion, rather than convention, would be untrue. Even spendthrifts can emotionally binge on a shopping trip at Goodwill. Even frugal people who don’t buy anything new get addicted to garage sales, and finding deals, and couponing—all of which aren’t bad on their own, but can lead in a very subtle way to the same kind of materialistic idolatry as any other kind of emotional shopping.
What I’m talking about here isn’t how much money you spend, how well you follow your budget, or where you shop. I’m talking about contentment. The emotional urge to shop is an agreement in your heart with the lie that God won’t provide enough to meet your needs. I’m not saying shopping is wrong! It isn’t. It’s amoral, like money. It’s not shopping that is the problem, but the love of shopping.
I thank The Lord that He has placed David and I in the financial spot we’re in. We have enough, we are well-fed and clothed, and we don’t have to work three jobs each to keep a roof over our heads. But oddly enough, what I’m really thankful for is that we don’t have too much; that we do have financial pressures and bills, and a student debt-load which we must use fiscal discipline to conquer. If we had started out our marriage without the debt, sure, it would have been easier—we would be in a house by now instead of downsizing to a snug little one-bedroom, but we wouldn’t have had to learn the kind of contentment that comes with having just enough, and no more. I wouldn’t have to search my heart before a trip to Target if we were riding on easy street financially, but perhaps that lack of introspection would have been an unnoticed barrier between me and real contentment.
In the end, what matters is not how little money you spend, but how much contentment you choose to have.