Defending Consumerism

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Addicted

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?

 

37 thoughts on “Defending Consumerism

  1. Hankering after gadgets isn’t wrong in my mind if it’s something that will be useful and won’t blow your plans out of the water. Despite being on the FIRE journey, I’d always fancied a sports car. When the children were growing up we always had functional cars that could take sticky sweets, drinks and various other nasties. But as I approached my 50th birthday, my wife suggested I should treat myself (although of course she would benefit too!). So I sold the Ford Focus and bought a Mazda MX5 – nice fire red convertible. It’s been fun driving it even on my mindless motorway commute and eventually it’ll be sold for something more functional when we retire. Was it a sensible financial buy? – probably not. Have I enjoyed it? – most definitely. The important thing is it didn’t put a dent in our FIRE plans or timeline.

    I had no idea who the Kardashians were – I thought it might be a range of mountains in Mongolia! The evil monster Google put my right – I don’t think I’ll ever get over the images!

    FIRE is something we aspire to, but we also want to live for today.

    Paul

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    • Cars are another strange subject. I feign disinterest over them most of the time, but if I could buy a new one every year….I heard on the radio yesterday that most people who come into some sort of lucky cash bonus take it and put the deposit down on a new car. And all those pensioners buying Lamborghinis with their tax free lumps sums….

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  2. it all depends how much you hate your career…

    We keep our business ticking over comfortably to be able to afford “stuff” when we feel like it as opposed to living a more frugal/budget driven life

    The lifestyle plans being cooked up by folks looking to retire in their forties on a £ million or so look suspiciously like living on minimum wage to me

    I don’t understand why they just don’t work another 5-10 years, even part-time/ a job they like just to live better

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  3. Careful bandying around such heretical views, people have been strung up for less

    The two killer beers in Aldi are Hobgoblin Gold and Brakespear Oxford Gold, a snip at 1.25

    The Banks at 89p is definitely drinkable. These 3 are my regulars

    Tried the San Miguel, 1.25 but for 660ml, bargain, – that was pretty good with a curry.

    Happy days

    I think the trick with FI is to use it to give you the time to become way more capable and interesting than everybody else. I.e. become the sort of guy who can fix everything, and the one who can do stuff that leaves the rest in awe.

    To make it concrete, I mean you can do plumbing, electrics, IT, cars, bikes, building, decorating etc.

    And on top you can do something mad like big wave surfing or downhil MTBing or you can paint like rembrandt.

    I think ERE nailed the psychology of it when he talks of becoming a renaissance man

    This is the big idea that gets me fired up – the rest is just details.

    consumerism is a dangerous beast, best kept well locked down – it takes a lot and doesn’t give much back – theres definitely no art in it, that said, I bought a chromecast the other day and its freaking awesome (the all4 comedy back catalogue is massive) – i did get it at a knockdown of 22 from tesco though

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    • I forgot to add ‘spearfish for sea-bass’ under the category of awe-inspiring activities. This has never failed to spark interest at parties when asked, ‘so what do you do?’ Can you do it? I can..

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    • I seem to remember at least one UK financial independence/early retirement blogger (Mr Squirrel) was driven off the internet for excessive spending habits…

      …which I have to say was quite funny…

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      • He did disappear suddenly – which is a shame as he could write well. My speculative reasoning being his missus found the blog and went postal..

        UTMT has effectively gone due to having more pressing matters to attend to. Also a shame as he had some very handy articles on practical matters like how to BTL.

        Getting Fired has gone. Won’t cry myself to sleep over that one as it was largely filler with some nice graphics.

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    • Oxford Gold, yes, I’d agree on that one, but Lidl (where I shop) seems to have a more limited selection. I don’t mind spending cash on good beer, and Tesco’s run an endless “3 for 2” promo right across their range, allowing me to sample lots of different ones. My favourite is “Golden Sheep”, the pale ale version of the more common Black Sheep bitter.

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  4. “Ladies, come on, have you ever seen a hot bloke in the aisles of Poundland?”
    Yes, because hot blokes are usually young and skint. They are hot because they are young and skint because of the same.

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      • Ever see a hot bloke driving a Ferrari?

        No, it’s usually an old fart…

        Anyway, the thing is Jim, you can afford the iphone (though kudos for using matched betting winnings for the purchase!), plus it’s useful and not some toy that you will tire of soon. Buying it hasn’t meant that you’ve had less to spend on food etc.

        Frugality can be dull, hence I could never go down the extreme route. Still need to enjoy my life, ie socialise with friends and go on foreign holidays.

        Interesting that you post this about frugality, just as Huw’s just made a post about moving away from frugality (http://financiallyfreebyforty.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/why-im-moving-away-from-frugality.html)

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      • Hi weenie, for some reason I don’t get notifications when either you or Huw post on your sites – something to do with the Blogger platform maybe? So I’ve missed a few posts from you both. I never thought FIRE and frugality were necessarily linked and I do think that people who achieve their goal of FIRE might find that it wasn’t “retirement” they were really after.

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  5. @Rhino

    Off topic, but now I’m interested…

    What was so interesting in Mr Squirel’s blog that would cause Mrs Squirel to go postal? I remember it was kinda boring “didn’t I make so much money on London property” blog that descended into an inquisition on how many cocktails he had drunk in any particular week

    UTMT is (was?) another smug blog from a city banker, so will not necessarily be sadly missed

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  6. @NL ahh – so you missed his last post about the cocaine and the prostitutes? It all went a bit wolf of wall street and then, in a puff of interweb smoke, it was gone..

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    • isn’t it just like one of those movies that drags on until the final 20 minutes?

      Most bloggers seem to have a remarkable lack of awareness of how easy it is to find people on the internet….

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      • actually – I have just remembered what he (Mr Squirrel) did and yes I believe that could have been the root cause of the disappearance.

        Remember his post about buying a house in the sticks and quitting his job to live the FIRE good life? Then there was the next post that explained how his missus had refused to move from the smoke and he was scrabbling around trying to get re-employed.

        That in itself was a monumental balls-up but to publicly document the detail after the event… I guess the blog had to go

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      • Rhino’s right – Mr S quit his job for the FI life and he and his missus were planning to move in together (they lived in their own properties and had not lived together previously longterm). Part of the FI life included not eating and drinking “like politicians” (a comment that I made on his blog after he had posted what they had spent on entertainment). The last we heard was that he was having to find new employment and then the blog disappeared…I also recall he was writing a book and I may even still have an early draft of it (“Financial Independence: How to Save, Invest, and Retire Early” by Mr Squirrel)

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  7. Great post. That’s the sneaky thing about early retirement calculations. Sure, if you save 80% of your income you can retire in six years or whatever, but that’s predicated on living the exact same lifestyle you lived beforehand. I plan on living “large” (relatively) after retirement, so I put an extra $1,000/month over my current average expenses when trying to figure out how much I need for FI. Then I would have some wiggle room to get some of those craft beers like you say.

    But I have a feeling Mr. Mustache doesn’t really want a Ferrari. I drive a Honda and really have no interest in cars. And as for the bookstore, I love just reading a library book in a warm bed. But there are probably some things I would splurge on if I didn’t feel guilty about it. I imagine everyone has those things. If not, they probably lack either an imagination or a personality.

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    • Rediscovering my local library has been one of the big boons of retirement living. What a fantastic resource it is. And there’s a good pub just yards from it too. One of my small treats, borrowing some books and nipping along to the pub to browse through them while supping a pint!

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  8. I know the merits of an iphone are many especially the branding but I can’t help feeling that any mid tier android would be a justifiable replacement.

    I’ve had my eye on the vodafone smart ultra 6 for about a year now you can pick it up for about £100, or get 6 for the same price as the iphone. I can’t imagine it doing anything less than the iphone does, even the specs look all too similar http://www.gsmarena.com/compare.php3?idPhone1=7243&idPhone2=7313 so why the iphone is all I would ask? When there are so many other substitutes for so much less.

    Is it really just the branding? As you say if you can’t get a golden sheep surely a black one will do?

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    • I do think it just boils down to the branding, if I’m honest. Clever marketing is worth more than it’s weight in gold but it’s very difficult to understand or explain how it’s done. Most marketeers I’ve met – and I’ve met loads of them – can’t explain it either!

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  9. An iphone is a pointless status symbol but at least it functions as well as an android phone (personally I think the software is marginally better integrated with the hardware as there are fewer models of iphone)

    There are however a number of totally pointless “status goods” whose owners immediately mark themselves out as buffoons as soon as said status goods are revealed:

    – Mont Blanc fountain pens versus brios (bonus points for keeping mont blancs in leather case)

    – manual/automatic wristwatches versus battery powered watches (bonus points if status watch is so large it has to be removed to get through security at airport)

    – any two seater sports car

    – Macs, i.e. pay £300 more for a computer with a brushed titanium apple logo on it to show off in the coffee shop you are sitting in

    I could go on

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  10. “for some reason I don’t get notifications when either you or Huw post on your sites – something to do with the Blogger platform maybe?”

    Although Huw’s still on it, I’m not using Blogger any more – anyone who clicks on my old Blogspot url should get redirected to the new WordPress url – perhaps you need to update your blogroll with http://quietlysaving.co.uk/?

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  11. I’ve never owned a smartphone, my £7 nokia is awesome, lasts a year or two between charges.

    It does call, texts and snake – i.e. covers all the bases, plus it has a torch that once saved my bacon on an ill-fated hiking expedition

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  12. I mostly use my smartphone as an alarm clock and it usually takes me days to realize anyone has tried to ring me on it. It doesn’t help that it is a bit useless and refuses to download any apps, although that does potentially save me money I suppose.

    I do think you want interesting food and drink in the house – I’m not a beer drinker but if I was I’d veer towards the craft beer end of the scale. Also, though I have just taken up borrowing from my local library too, I definitely agree with spending time in Waterstones.

    Curious to hear how the matched betting is going, Jim, if you don’t mind saying? … I want to get stuck into it but am currently spending quite a bit of time selling things on Amazon and eBay so haven’t quite got around to it. I have matched-betted before though, a few years ago, and made a few handy quid on it.

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    • The Matched Betting is going really well, probably because I’m really not a gambler. I’ve made over £1.000 in two months and haven’t made that much of an effort. It could be more if I put in more time on a Saturday and if I’d had less on-line bookie accounts to start with.

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  13. Of course it doesn’t Jim!

    It makes you a normal human being.

    We all hanker after one thing or another, this whole personal finance stuff is just figuring out what is important to you then spending your money on those priorities. Even if that happens to be what others might call frivolities then that’s fine by me as long as you can afford it and/or don’t complain about being broke after you spunked all your money. Just to clarify, I mean “you” in the general sense here!

    Glad to hear the matched betting is going well, I’m just ramping up my hours on it right now so should be pulling in decent cash on it soon, although no new iPhone for me, it will either be invested or spent on nappies 🙂

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    • The Matched Betting is also rekindling my interest in sport, footie, rugby etc, which I see as a good thing. People seem to think that it’s dodgy gambling or some sort of scam though, and I’m giving up trying to interest them in it. Each to his own.

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  14. I had never heard of matched betting before it popped up on various blogs. I’m always curious to learn about stuff which is left field for me so I for one would read a post with interest and an open mind (I learned all I know about car finance from your post – that was eye opening if not if any practical use – except maybe to know what to warn my kids off!)

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    • Guy over at Early Retirement Guy wrote a post quite recently on Matched Betting. No doubt if you search on Google there will be quite a bit of info on it, although it’s the kind of thing that you want to be sure of what you’re doing before you embark upon it!

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  15. “TV programmes about making money and very, very few entertaining ones about saving and investing, or even being frugal” – I was reading a blog the other day where the author was showing how much money they made last year, $300k I think. The majority of that income? From an online course on how to make money blogging online. There’s something fishy going on there…creating money from some circular vortex.

    Consumerism…It’s just about balance isn’t it?

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  16. Hi, I’m half of the ourtour.co.uk couple, the male half, and probably the more frugal of the two! We made ourselves FI at 43 and effectively live on £15k a year, although we’re most certainly retaining the option to go back to work in one form or another should we want to.

    £15k a year means we don’t buy many iPhones, eat out a great deal, have a Sky Sports subscription, or drive a Ferrari (although I’m currently parked in our motorhome in the town next to Maranello, so who knows what might happen today). This works for us. We buy new tech as and when we need it, eat out when the place looks memorable, and buy a new jacket when the old one’s worn out. We also travel as much as we like, but at the very budget end of the spectrum.

    Anyway, my question on consumerism is this. We all consume, we have no choice. So we all exist on the spectrum of consumerism. Where is the right place? At one end you’re living in a mud hut, at the other end you’re Chris Evans (bit harsh on Chris there, but I just read about his car collection). Surely the answer is to be wherever feels right to you? I would say if you’re still enjoying and getting good use from the iPhone in a year’s time (maybe 2 years) then it was a solid purchase, and the right thing for you to do. If you’re bored of it and fancy the iPhone 7 as soon as it appears, maybe not such a good decision.

    Cheers, Jay

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