Letting go of the Middle Class Portfolio facade

The Middle Class Portfolio. The sprawling suburban home, the two luxury European cars, the weekender at the beach, the overseas holidays and the investment properties. And, lots of expectations to have it all. ‘The Lot’. Sharing what we can, and can’t afford, on social media. Maintaining the Instagram-perfect façade.

  • This is why we work such long hours.
  • This is why we want another pay rise.
  • This is why we need that job promotion.
  • To buy more stuff.

Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College has spent the past decade or so trying to understand why people work so much, often in jobs they don’t like. “Why don’t people save money so they can work less in the future?” she asks. “Why do people just take the money and spend it?”

Let’s face it, on average we buy 27kg of new clothes each year and we only wear most items 6 times. 

Schor argues that a lot of our spending behaviour comes from trying to keep up with a rising standard of living. We feel almost forced to buy things for fear of falling behind. We feel compelled to take out a loan to buy a house, a car, a constantly rotating wardrobe because everyone else is doing it, family, friends, work colleagues as well as the people we see on television, movies, advertising, newspapers and magazines. In fact it’s apparently magazines that have the greatest influence on us.

It’s the lifestyle of the wealthy and celebrities that’s mainly, if not only, shown in the media, talked about in newspapers and in the lifestyle section of glossy magazines.

Schor says “The media is increasingly orientated towards the lifestyles of the very top, and what I found in the US was that more people across the income spectrum were looking to that increasingly luxurious lifestyle for themselves.”

I’ve spent the last 3 years talking to Australian, American and British men and women. People like you and me. I’ve listened to heart breaking stories about debt and depression. Men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s tell me that they are:

  • ‘Status shopping’ and buying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’
  • Basing their self-worth on ‘stuff’ and material objects
  • Working ‘flat out’ but constantly struggling to make ends meet
  • Spending more than they earn.

So what’s the answer?

“We need a new set of values and culture,” concludes Schor.

I didn’t buy anything new or second-hand in 2014 and saved $52,680 in 12 months. It started as a lifestyle experiment but it changed my life so I kept on going. I now help professional men and women – people like you – quit impulse shopping and live a happy, cash rich and financially secure life through my Underspent book, program’s, weekly blog (blogs like this every Monday/Tuesday) and weekly Facebook Live videos (Tuesday nights).

Here are 3 things I love about quitting consumerism.

1. You use up everything that you already have

Psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses, who works with extreme hoarders, says there’s a little bit of hoarder in all of us. I used to travel a lot, but even I questioned my sanity when I counted eighty four bars of hotel soap in my bathroom cupboard. I used to use the soap during my hotel stay and then wrap it up and bring it home, because I knew the hotel cleaners would throw it away—and that’s a complete waste. So I used them up, rather than buying shower gel. I also discovered twenty 5g tubes of premium brand toothpaste lurking in the back of the cupboard! I used those up too, instead of saving them for ‘later’.

Apparently the average American buys 67 brand-new items of clothing each year.

2. You have more time

I had more time—and cash—to spend on awesome days out at the beach or horse riding. I learnt that lots of people spend a lot of time managing their stuff: and they were desperate to share their pain. My friend Julie told me how she’d spent her entire weekend moving the stuff she didn’t use from one side of her garage to the other. My bestie Sarah emailed with tales of finally clearing out ‘under the stairs’, whilst my colleague Jodie told me it’s her family’s lifelong ambition to ‘sort out and downsize all their junk’.

3. You really want what you’re waiting for

We don’t need much ‘stuff’ to be happy. I love waiting lists. I write down what I want to buy on a ‘three-month waiting list’. If I still wanted and needed said item when the three months have passed, I buy it. Nine times out of ten, however, I no longer wanted or needed it. My ‘no buying’ experiment really reinforced that we need very little to be happy. I learnt that if I waited one whole year for something I would really want it.

  • What do you think?
  • Is this why you work such long hours?
  • Is this why you want more pay?

Buy the Underspent book, $2.99 or $12.95, here http://www.cyclingrachelsmith.com/buy-the-underspent-book/

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