I recently bought myself a new Iphone 6 Plus with the profits I’ve made on Matched Betting (appropriate, because I bought it largely to cope with mobile betting websites. My Sony Xperia wasn’t handling them too well!) After a year of pretty much watching the retirement fund pennies, what a thrill it was to treat myself on something quite frivolous. Forget the “24 hour rule”, forget the fact that I had been doing the mobile betting perfectly well via an ipad tethered to my Xperia, forget the opportunity cost (I could have bought 100 pairs of quality socks instead) forget the notion that I’m a bling-and-brand-headed numpty, yes, forget all of that. Treat yourself. Live a little.
On the day of the purchase I was on the Early Retirement Extreme forum when I came across a post from a rebel within the herd. “What’s this all about?”, he asked. “Live twenty years frugally in a camper van so that you can live another twenty years living frugally in a camper van? Sod that. I’m going to enjoy myself”. I had to chuckle, because I sometimes catch myself feeling exactly the same way about consumerism.
Now, I’m as cynical as the next man about the capitalist and consumer society we seem to have created. I hate shopping for shopping’s sake, I literally cannot watch any TV, such as the Kardashians, that extol the cult of celebrity and mindless, tasteless consumerism (given I’ve never actually watched The Kardashians, I’m making a big assumption that it is actually about that! And, if my wife reads this blog, she’ll have another go at me for being an intellectual snob.) It hacks me off though, that there seem to be countless TV programmes about making money and very, very few entertaining ones about saving and investing, or even being frugal. If Kim Kardashian is the poster girl of mindless consumerism, fair enough, but who is the poster girl for frugality? I can’t think of one, but why, when I try to, does the image of Hilda Ogden keep springing to mind? (Coming to think of it, we used to have a “poster couple” for frugality, Tom and Barbara Good. Ah, “Felicity, Felicity, you fill me with electricity” as Rik from the Young Ones ….jeez, I’m getting old.)
As I often mention, I’m a fan of the Tim Ferriss podcast but one thing that bugs me about it is that he increasingly seems fixated on money and celebrity. Just because you are a tech billionaire or a Hollywood celebrity with something to plug (Kevin Costner) doesn’t make you intrinsically interesting. Am I much different ‘though? Haven’t I just bought an iphone when I had numerous much more financially sensible alternatives? I’m just as influenced by branding as anyone else, providing I have the financial means to indulge them.
Let’s face it though, frugality is not sexy nor exciting. It’s dull, dull, dull. Mr Moustache can harp on about the virtues of his Honda Accord, but I think we all know that what he really wants to have in his drive is a Ferrari. Ladies, come on, have you ever seen a hot bloke in the aisles of Poundland? And men, Victoria’s Secret or The Women’s Institute?
Not only is the frugal life unsexy it’s also, in the long run, boring. The novelty of shopping in Lidl and Aldi begins to pale after a year when you’re standing in the store staring at the same old selection of meats, ready meals, cheeses and beers. I found myself in the beer aisle the other day looking at the relatively limited selection of standard ales plus the one or two “guests” that some supplier is trying to shift. I’ve tried most of these now and increasingly leave my beer buying until I pop into Tesco’s to see what their relatively vast selection has to offer. And, although I try to tell myself it’s not true, I’ll feel differently about reaching into the fridge and grabbing a bottle of ice cold Peroni versus a can of Tesco lager (mid-tier version, not Everyday Value Lager. I do have some standards!)
With regards to other things I buy, I can spend an hour happily enough in the Oxfam bookshop, but if I could afford it, I’d much rather spend that hour browsing in Waterstones. I often think that if I won the lottery, I’d visit Waterstones on a Saturday morning while the wife went shopping, buy half a dozen new hardback releases that I fancied, and then relax in their coffee shop to browse through them, treating myself to maybe two large, ridiculously priced, cappuccinos. And a biscuit.
The psychology of money is a funny thing and I can’t work out my own contradictory attitude toward it. What I think as “Value for Money” will differ from you, fair enough, but when it differs for myself I begin to question a lot of other stuff too!
I think it’s a fair assumption for me to make that the majority of folks reading FIRE blogs probably aren’t going to end up retiring as multi-millionaires. We’re probably going to be financially secure and comfortable according to our own material ambitions, but I doubt that those ambitions will have anything to do with Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton handbags. All the same, those financial ambitions shouldn’t be solely aimed at eating lentil stew every night and sawing dishwasher tablets in half. Consumerism isn’t a crime and hankering after Apple gadgets doesn’t make me a bad person. Does it?