Want to learn about crushing consumer debt? In this post we discuss the three key systems of a good defense: embracing minimalism, spending on experiences, and adopting an information light lifestyle.
This is the third post in our Crushing Consumer Debt series. Read more at:
How We Paid Off $20,000 in Six Months
The Dirtbag Millionaire: How To Live The Life Of Your Dreams
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As I mentioned in our post on Becoming The Dirtbag Millionaire it is important to create both a strong offense and a strong defense. A strong defense involves systems that help us avoid unnecesary spending, helping us to crush consumer debt and start on the path to building wealth. Today we examine the three big systems of our defense that help us keep our purchasing in check, leaving us money to build wealth and do what we love.
It’s 5 AM, somewhere in Indian Creek, UT. I raise my head and look out the front window. The sun is just beginning to light the sky but its warming rays won’t hit us for another hour or so. I crawl out of bed slowly, mindful not to wake the sleeping forms of my wife and kids. My body shivers, trying to warm itself as I pull on flannel lined pants, shirt and puffy jacket. I pop the button on the hot water heater and settle up front with the sleeping bag around me. I fire up the van’s engine and crank the heat.
Soon, the heater begins to warm the interior of the van. I hear contented murmurs coming from the back. The water heater provides a hot cup of coffee and I alternate between reading my book and gazing out the front window. The sun is rising now and it’s painting the walls of the Southern Canyonlands. Shadows shift and the canyon walls turn from black to purple to a myriad of oranges and reds. I watch the shadow line of the canyon walls shrink until the sun finally crests and begins to warm the outside air. I look back and see my family playing. It’s time for breakfast and another awesome day climbing splitter cracks.
One of the main dirtbag superpowers is our tendency towards minimalism. My family of four lives for weeks at a time with just what we can fit inside our small campervan. Want to go climbing? Done. A week-long backpack? Okay. Want to sit out the rainstorm and play a board game, make-believe with toys or read? Covered. Delicious meals? We have those too! Tucked into the cabinets and storage spaces we have built is everything we need to live comfortably anywhere we want to go.
And nothing else.
We look forward to hitting the road. The simplicity of eating, sleeping, and adventuring that fills our days revitalizes us. It washes away the stress and worry that comes from the management of stuff and information that seems to eat up all of our available time back home.
We hardly buy anything while on the road.
There simply isn’t room to pick up any new stuff and try to cram it into a space that is already optimized (and maxxed out) for long term travel. In addition, we are generally so busy getting after it and seeing amazing places that we don’t feel the need for the distraction of shopping. Finally, we are often out of cell phone range and so we don’t pick up our phones, check our emails and social media accounts or subject ourselves to the firehose of information available to us 24/7 these days.
So, how do we carry over the simplicity of life on the road to our life back at our house (affectionately called “Basecamp”) in the front range of Colorado? We need a good defense.
A Good Defense:
A good defense boils down to adopting systems that keep us away from buying stuff we don’t need. Those systems are:
1) Optimize our life and home space by embracing minimalism and/or valuism.
2) Seek to spend money on experiences rather than things.
3) Adopt an information-light lifestyle.
1) Optimize your life and home space by embracing minimalism and/or valuism.
In her amazing book on decluttering: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises us time and again to look at each object and discard it if it does not bring you joy. The flip side of this is, of course, not to purchase anything that does not bring you lasting joy.
We all experience the dopamine hit when using our hard earned dollars to purchase something new. “I earned this.” flashes though our minds and the next thing we know we are driving home with yet another hot chai latte from Starbucks or $100 worth of stuff from Target. But then an hour, a day, a week goes by and our monkey brains start craving that dopamine hit again, and again, and again. Pretty soon our well-planned budget has gone out the window thanks to impulse spending and there is nothing left to invest into reducing our debt or building wealth.
The key here is to short-circuit the see-want-buy-dopamine response and replace it with a new system, one that puts your rational brain back in control. Just like learning to recognize and ignore the irrational fear of falling while tied in to a climbing rope so that we can climb our best, we need to train our brains to recognize impulse spending’s messages and ignore them so we can be our best financial selves. Want to know how? Here is the short and simple system:
Only buy things that will bring you lasting joy.
Delay all new purchases for at least 48 hours. (A week is better)
Search for and try to buy it used before buying new. (Thank you Craigslist!)
Now, all new purchases does not mean delaying buying groceries for the week or paying the bills so that you can keep the lights on. What we mean here is buying stuff. That latte, another dinner out, another trip to Target, another full Amazon cart, new climbing shoes; these are the purchases you should put on hold.
I keep a “wishlist” document on Evernote that contains all the items I am thinking of buying. From time to time I pull the note up and assess my feelings of the items on there. If I still think it will bring me joy and I have the funds I will buy it. No guilt involved. However, more often than not, I end up striking them from the list or delaying the purchase even longer.
If you need more help, you can join the Frugal Woods Uber Frugal Month Challenge. (I just signed up for January, 2018 and will be sharing how it’s going throughout this upcoming month.)
2) Seek to spend money on experiences rather than things.
Time is our most valuable commodity. At some level, we all know this to be true. It is always possible to make more money but we can never make more time.
Looking back through human history, it is rare to hear of people who, on their deathbed, regret not having bought more things for themselves. We more often hear stories of wishing for more time. More time to spend with loved ones, more time to travel and experience the world, more time to do the things we love with the people we love most.
Using our hard earned dollars to travel with loved ones, try a new sport or have a new experience will create memories that can last forever. Thankfully, with systems such as travel hacking, embracing the tenets of Vagabonding and slow-travel, these experiences do not have to break the bank and can be done in a frugal, authentic way that doesn’t leave your money resources drained. You can also choose to just walk out your front door and keep going, you never know where adventure or inspiration might strike and you don’t always have to go halfway around the world to find it. That being said, I do think it is important to leave our country from time to time in order to expand our worldview and remember that there is more (a whole lot more!) out there.
The notion of time > money has been subjugated by the media who barrage us with a neverending stream of apparent happiness bought by the pursuit of more and more and more stuff. Our dream of the life we want for ourself and our families is being corrupted by the message that “You can’t be happy unless you have the newest, the biggest, the best, (the whatever) new thing.”
3) Adopt an information-light lifestyle.
Along with the constant media barrage of “Buy, buy, buy!” comes the stress of being on top of current events 24 hours a day. It helps to remember that the majority of news outlets are in the business of keeeping you glued to their information stream. Years ago I inadvertently stumbled ino an information-light lifestyle when I realized that the evening news (this was pre-internet days) was merely an “entertaining” half hour stream of shooting, kidnappings and fluff pieces. It used to stress me out to watch the news every day so I shut it off, walked away, and have not looked back. My information-light tenet is:
If there is something so important that I need to know about it, and if it’s something I can take action on, someone close to me will tell me about it.
Now, I am not advocating being a luddite or avoiding participating in your country and human society as a whole. I consider myself deeply informed in the events that shape the world around me. The difference is that I am intentionally tuning out the noise and the fluff. The news media keep us hooked on their station by informing us that they have the most up to date, most relevant, most important news for us when what they are really serving is a daily dose of stress induced cortisol and causing us to worry about things we cannot control (like extreme weather, global politics or the local sports team/celebrity drama).
Guess what happens when you are stressed and worried? Boom, impulse shopping (or, in my case, eating) “Sod it, the world is going to shit, might as well enjoy myself today because it’s all going to hell anyway. Put it on the card.”
If you haven’t done so lately, take a vacation from media. If you are like me and have trouble unplugging yourself, go travel somewhere that you can’t get a signal. (My favorite place is the Utah desert.) The first few days will be hard, see how you feel after a week. I notice that I come back from these media hiatuses feeling more connected with others, more cynical and aware of marketing messages and, usually, with a pocketful of new memories and photos that I will cherish forever.
(And, if you are in the desert, I can guarantee you at least one if not a week’s worth of splitter sunrises, sunsets and colors that don’t seem to exist anywhere else on earth. Even if it’s one of those rare, crappy rainy weeks you will still be served up a healthy serving of amazing towers, river carved landscapes and cool wildlife.)
Good luck creating your own defense. Without it, you efforts on offense will be less effective and, more often than not, will not be enough to get you out of debt and into true wealth building. These three systems have served me well in creating buffers against impulse and unnecessary spending.
What are the systems and ideas that guide your life? Add them in the comments below!
See you out there,