by Corey Sunstrom, CFP®
Boy, am I a sucker for gadgets and slick marketing. If you looked around our home, you’d find an array of technological brilliance that my wife would call...excessive. Who doesn’t need a talking cylinder that plays music and news on demand, listens and takes notes when I speak, and helps me figure out what to wear for the day? How did we live before you, Alexa?! And don’t get me started on the many advantages of my Xbox system, which not only houses a very impressive NBA 2k record held by yours truly, but also the wonderful world of movie streaming. Say what you want about the expense of the box but it freed us from the clutches of our cable bill! (Never mind that we still manage to consume a few hours of fleeting, valuable time staring at a screen…)
Technology devices are probably the one material possession I enjoy the most. The envy that comes with being a first adopter - a possessor of unseen technology - has always gripped me in a certain way. There’s an unspoken satisfaction that comes with peeling the protective film from clean, untouched glass and pressing a new system of buttons for the first time. The jolt of excitement sends electrical shivers down my spine. This is why new iPhones have always kept me on the edge of my seat. The presentation and mass hysteria that ensues is hard to ignore, creating FOMO for those who opt out of new releases.
But I’m not pulling the trigger this time.
Not because the technology is subpar or the aesthetics aren’t pleasing. These are actually strengths of the new phone that typically make the purchasing decision much easier. And it’s not because I don’t want that endorphin-pumping moment, unboxing the latest and greatest.
It’s because I took the time to think about what’s important to me on a personal level. When I thought about the extra money I would spend on this piece of new technology, I realized that the happiness derived from functional improvements to this material item were marginal and short-lived at best.
I find myself going through this thought process quite a bit as I progress into my 30’s- a time where disposable income is on the rise...meaning there’s more to dispose of. Getting the newest cell phone, buying a new hobby camera, booking travel, investing in additional education, and, hell- even trying that new restaurant down the street- have had me weighing my options and the trade-offs associated with them. Why do I need this? What am I deriving from it? Sometimes it feels like we are treading water financially rather than making progress towards those things that are important to us.
I’m guilty of not prioritizing my funds. But when I did, it made all the difference.
Contemplating and mapping your spending is about naming things your life would be incomplete without, and making those things the driving motivation behind each and every one of your purchases...especially the big ones. It helps align your budget with your values to ensure that you are not only putting away the right amount of money, but also allocating it in a way that brings you the most amount of long-term happiness.
Prioritizing your spending is about connecting your money to those things that bring you the most satisfaction while also planning for long term goals.
The Hardest Part
Believe it or not, some people are afraid to lay out their budget, their goals, and what makes them happy. Mainly because it forces them to take a deep look within - and admit that they went to Target eighteen times last month. Sometimes it’s hard to concede that purchases may have been a bit wasteful, that you invested in frivolous or meaningless areas. Here’s the beauty of it: I’m an advisor, not a jury. I understand that we all have different values and preferences. Finding what drives you deep down is the first step to making sure you are in control of what happens with your money. If the iPhone is the thing you have saved for, the thing you made your goal to achieve, then you should get it. It’s not about begrudging you for treating yourself when you worked for it. It’s about helping you find out why you want it, what you are willing to sacrifice to get it, and how you can be in complete command of your wealth.
Make a list for yourself. Not a list of wants or things to purchase, but rather a list of intangibles that are important to you. For example:
- Spending more quality time with kids
- Being the go-to person in your industry or field
- Interacting and hanging out with friends
- Concentrating on health and wellness
- Traveling to expand your horizons and perspective
- Being financially independent rather than being an employee
- Tapping into your creative side through hobbies
Take a look at your list frequently. Keep it visible, post it somewhere.
Before pulling the trigger on your next big purchase, think about how well-aligned that purchase is with your list, with your goals and values.
A new iPhone would make me insanely happy...initially. But I realized I could buy a trip to Australia for what it costs, and I’d rather see the world in person than look up at it briefly from my palm.