Learn To Value Spending Less and Saving More

“I’m not paying to park here,” my boyfriend fumed.

“Why not?” I asked in disbelief.

It was only £2. Besides, we had just hiked twelve miles from Corfe Castle to Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck. I was ready to sit. And eat. A lot. I couldn’t believe he wanted to park two miles away from the pub to avoid the parking fees.

Rubbing my blister-sore feet, I said, “It’s only £2, my feet hurt, and I’m starving! We’re parking here.”

This was the first of many arguments between my future husband and myself. Part a clash of cultures and part the result of wildly different attitudes towards money, my materialistic 80’s southern California-influenced upbringing clashed with his Ebenezer Scrooge, spend as little as possible pride. Although he was born 26 years after the end of WWII in England, the rationing mentality was still alive and well in his childhood home. 

What Is A Money Mindset?

Your money mindset is the feelings and thoughts you subconsciously develop towards money from your life experiences.

My husband and I grew up with different influences. When we met, our money mindsets were incompatible. My husband and his friends prided themselves on still wearing the same clothes from high school (even though we were now 30) and spending as little as possible on cups of tea and pints of beer. They rarely, if ever, ate out. 

Meanwhile, in California, my friends and I regularly met up for happy hour, dinner, and dancing nights out. My friends thought nothing of slapping down $10 for valet parking. After all, they didn’t want to damage their designer heels walking across town. My husband would have had a heart attack if he knew we tipped, too.

Now, nearly 20 years later my husband and I have finally reached a detente in our money battles. He sees the value in well-made products that last instead of the cheap rubbish he used to buy and I’m less susceptible to the lure of advertising and spending money to impress others. 

In marriage, we’ve slowly molded our money mindsets to fit with each other and the life we want to lead.

It was not easy for me to change my spending habits. It happened slowly and organically as I learned to value experiences and relationships with people instead of things.

How do you determine your money mindset? Ask yourself the following questions:

What thoughts and feelings have you developed toward money?

What influenced these thoughts and feelings?

Do you desire luxury goods to impress others?

Where did your spending habits come from?

Do you have credit card debt? If so, how did this happen?

Do you have any good money manager role models?

What are your financial goals?

Getting clear on your money mindset is important if you seek to change your spending habits. 

Ads, Conspicuous Consumption, and Happiness

The writer David Foster Wallace describes the goal of ads as to “create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” — David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.

I grew up bombarded with commercials on American TV while my husband had a relatively ad-free childhood with only four television stations to choose from, two of which were the BBC ad-free options.

Last week I read an article titled “Enough is never enough” in The Economist. The story opens with a description of a typical car commercial shown on Thanksgiving Day in America when one family member surprises another with a brand new luxury car. These ads air in the run up to Christmas. I remember them well. Typically, when the happy couple walks out the front door, the car recipient throws their arms around the car giver while tears of joy spill from their eyes. How do these commercials make us feel when we watch them?

Since the cars featured in these ads usually cost more than the median annual income of most American households, the ads can make us feel pretty lousy. We probably won’t be surprising our significant other with a new car for Christmas. I never questioned the possibility of a new car as a gift. It seemed normal because of the commercials, when, in fact, it wasn’t normal for the majority of the audience. These spots serve a purpose and that is to make us envy the people in the ads. 

In his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen “argued that consumption is not merely about satisfying needs, but is also used to signal status and prestige.”

He coined the term conspicuous consumption. 

“Conspicuous consumption is the practice of purchasing goods or services to publicly display wealth rather than to cover basic needs.”

Conspicuous consumption might explain why Americans are working longer hours than ever before even though our basic needs have already been met. Is it the belief that others have better things than we do that motivates us? 

What if we reframed our attitude toward spending? How would we feel if we were able to spend less and save more?

In his book On Desire: Why We Want What We Want, William B. Irvine, a philosophy professor at Dallas University offers an interesting thought experiment: 

“Suppose you woke up one morning to discover that you were the last person on earth: during the night, aliens had spirited away everyone but you.”

He goes on to say that all material items are left in the world. You could have the car of your dreams, the house of your dreams, and wear expensive clothing. 

“The interesting question is this: without people around, would you still want these things? Would the material desires you harbored when the world was full of people still be present in you if other people vanished? Probably not. Without anyone else to impress, why own an expensive car, a palace, fancy clothes, or jewelry?”

Without the need to impress others, what would we really want for ourselves? We might enjoy a fancy house or car for a while, but they would lose their appeal and we would likely choose a lower maintenance house and more practical car.

In the book Happy, Derren Brown describes the following perpetual spending/envy cycle:

“We envy others; we desire some superfluous object in order to impress them; we obtain (or fail to obtain) that status symbol; those others are likely to feel a similar envy; they in turn seek out a similar status symbol for themselves; we continue the pattern of acquiring further objects to keep the wheel turning…this perpetual default cycle…feels more like an addiction to bursts of pleasure amidst a general tone of dissatisfaction and envy.”

Does this spending/envy cycle sound familiar? 

Do you purchase new, exciting things only to discover that your happiness levels sink back to their prior state after the novelty of the new purchase wears off?

5 Ways To Change Your Money Mindset And Uncover The Things You Truly Value

Reframe Your Approach To Spending

If you’re looking to spend less and save more try Dr. Irvine’s last person in the world thought experiment. Ask yourself: 

If I were the last person in the world, would I buy this?

This question will help you uncover the things you truly value. What would bring you pleasure if no one else was going to see it?

If you ask yourself this question before making new purchases, it might help you spend less because you’ll focus on the things you truly want instead of buying something for the effect it will have on others.

Avoid Shopping With Friends. Enjoy Experiences Together Instead.

I can’t tell you how many times I went to the mall to help a good friend choose a dress for an upcoming event only to come home with two new pairs of shoes, a hat, and some earrings. 

Accessories are not something I value. They do not spark joy. But, when I am shopping with a friend and they gush over how fantastic the new hat and earrings look with my sundress, my defenses crumble.

If you have this problem, avoid shopping trips with friends and participate in experiences together instead. Some of my fondest memories of my 20’s include long walks along the beach, Sunday afternoon ice skating sessions, and bike rides down the coast with good friends. I don’t remember many of the things I bought, but I’ve never forgotten these happy days.

If you want to spend less and save more, skip the shopping trips and opt for catching up over a home-cooked meal or a long walk.

Get In Touch With Your Inner Child.

What did you love to do as a child? Did you look forward to trips to the library, playing frisbee with friends, board game challenges or dodgeball games at school? 

Think about the activities that brought you joy when you were young. Which ones would you still enjoy doing now? There are beginning/amateur coed sports groups, meet-ups, book clubs, games nights, and writing groups that meet regularly and offer these activities for adults. These days it’s easy to find like-minded people to meet up with and enjoy affordable activities that bring you joy, keep you fit, and allow you to escape from your adult responsibilities for a while. 

The next time you feel the urge to buy something new and shiny, do an internet search for a local meet up or club you would like to try instead.

Turn off the ads.

Recognize that ads may cause dissatisfaction. Status envy is the reason so many Americans are working harder than ever.

Turn off the ads on your TV (if you still get them). Make it a point not to click on the paid posts popping up on your computer screen. Be conscious of the fact that they are there to keep you striving for bigger, better and more expensive items. 

You’ll never be satisfied with what you have. When you start buying less, you’ll feel free. Free from responsibility for caring for the item. Free from clutter. Free from destroying the environment with rampant consumerism. You’ll feel better and more satisfied with your life. Learn to value less.

Establish a gratitude or meditation practice. 

Look how far you’ve come rather than focusing on what you still have to achieve.

To stick to your new money mindset, establish some kind of gratitude or meditation practice to help you appreciate what you already have. Whether it’s listing three things you’re thankful for each evening, disconnecting and going out in nature to appreciate the beauty of the world, sitting in silence, or checking in with yourself to see how far you’ve come as you work on a goal, all of these things will help counteract the messages coming from our ad-driven world. Get to know your own mind.

Also, beware of the social media gloss effect. People gloss over their problems, filter their photos, and often share only the good things that happen to them. This can lead to great unhappiness if we compare ourselves to these photoshopped and glossed over versions of life. Mental health experts and campaigners have previously linked the pressures associated with social media to poor mental health among the young in particular. I can’t tell you how many times a childhood friend on Facebook has appeared to be successful and happy in their newsfeed only to discover later that they’ve been covering up a bitter divorce or debilitating drug addiction. 

Remind yourself that you never truly know what someone is struggling with inside. If you take the time to look back at your starting point, reorient yourself, and reflect on how far you have come, you’ll take these feelings of confidence with you into your day and into your life. 

When you ask yourself the last person in the world question, focus on experiences, turn off the ads and establish a gratitude practice, you’ll build up resistance against the pressures of our consumer culture. When you get to know your mind, you’ll make the right choices.


Teacher. Parent. Top Writer in Parenting on Medium. Car-singing American mother of boys living in the UK. Learning right along with my children
Teacher. Parent. Top Writer in Parenting on Medium. Car-singing American mother of boys living in the UK. Learning right along with my children

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