How I broke up with consumerism

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with money. When I was younger, I was always a spender and as soon as I got my pocket money it would be burning a hole in my pocket to be spent. I never thought about saving for the future because when you’re 10, you don’t. Having that bag of sweets or toy is far more important than thinking about how you will afford a house and a car. I got my first job when I was 15 and still prioritised spending over saving and I still didn’t think about the future because it seemed so far away that I had plenty of time to plan and worry about it.

I left home when I was 19 and when I was 21, I moved back home for a couple of years after finding myself in between jobs when my apprenticeship ended, and I couldn’t find anything else. With no income or savings but still the desire to go out and spend, I got my first credit card. It was easy enough to think that I would only use it when I needed to and pay it off as much as I could each month, but it didn’t work as easily as that and I ran up my £500 credit limit only paying back the minimum each month which was all I could afford.

For the past few years, my relationship with money has gone from strength to strength but I still felt there was more I could do. I have a solid budget that we follow every single month, I check our accounts every few days to make sure bills come out on time, for the right amount and I make sure to put money into savings at the beginning of the month rather than at the end after we could have spent it all. But I still found that we weren’t saving as much as I thought we could, where was all our money going? I found out during the first lock-down.

When everywhere is closed and there’s less opportunity to spend, it doesn’t take much to realise where all your money was going, and I spent a lot of time in lock-down last year reflecting on our lives ‘before’ and what our lives might be like ‘after’. Before lock-down, I would finish work, wander through the shops on my way to the car and easily spend £50 on some fancy toiletries, posh chocolates, and something else I thought might benefit from having. Almost everything I bought was a consumable so I could tell myself that it was useful, and I needed it. But did I really need it?

A couple of weeks into lock-down, I looked through our bank account and worked out how much money we had left in our budget. I had to work it out twice because I was sure I had missed something. The only things we had spent money on was food shopping and some jump leads as my car battery had died from not being used. My life wasn’t any less enjoyable because I hadn’t been able to go and spend money on some ‘thing’ I thought I needed. If anything, it was more enjoyable because I valued the things I already had more. I got more pleasure from spending time in my garden and playing with my dog than wandering aimlessly around a shop trying to find something to spend the money that had taken me hours and hours to earn on.

With the uncertainty for some people about jobs and being furloughed, I wanted to make sure that we were being smarter with money going forward and saving as much as possible so if anything happened, we had a cushion to fall back on. By having this focus, and not having the option to go out and spend as easily, our savings grew and so did our quality of life. Before lock-down, an enjoyable day out for me would have been wandering around a shopping centre buying things just for the sake of it. Now, I get more value from sitting in my garden reading a book or listening to a podcast and baking something.

I can honestly say that a benefit I have taken from lock-down is that I am living my life more intentionally, doing things I enjoy and that add value to my life. I’m not missing out by not buying the latest thing in the shops or by over consuming. I’m enjoying the simple things more, having time for myself and valuing the little things. I’ve realised that while it’s important to have money and savings for an emergency, it’s less important to have it rule our lives and (as cliche as it is) the best things in life, really are free.

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