The other day I went shopping at the local consumer electronics warehouse where they have everything from talking toasters to serenading telephones. I was looking for a new printer since mine had just died from a respiratory belt problem.
As I shopped around I was simply amazed at how large the warehouse was and the selections available. Just the television section covered an area the size of two tennis courts with screen selection sizes running from 6 inches to large plasma screens over 1,000 inches (Ok, I exaggerate).
After purchasing my printer, I had to pick up my item at the ‘back’ of the warehouse where all major electronic purchases are finalized. As I stood there waiting, I saw people zipping around in forklifts, pulling up to mammoth racks that towered some forty to fifty feet high and bringing down pallets of electronics while others rushed around with the proper paperwork to fill the pending orders. The coordination was amazing; it was like watching a ‘production ballet’.
As the warehouse folks filled the order, they would call out the name of the buyer. The buyers would then signal by raising their hand and then point to their car to indicate where they wanted the merchandise dropped. As I waited I noticed a lot of people were buying huge electronic appliances, with the majority being big, giant plasma screen television or large audio-speaker systems for achieving that ‘surround’ sound while watching television.
As the warehouse people brought the units over to the car, I also noticed that in many cases the new television or audio system seemed to be worth more then the car that would carry it. I know we shouldn’t judge someone’s financial success by what they drive or what they wear, but it may give you some indication. For example, one gentleman was driving a car that seemed to be 20 years old and was sputtering fumes as it drove away trying to accelerate while under the load of a new 60 inch plasma television roped into its trunk. Something was wrong with that picture.
The average American today is carrying a credit card debt of anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 (does not include car or house payments). Some studies have show that individual savings rates are less than 1% of our annual salary. Another study showed that 50% of Americans wouldn’t be able to survive for more than 3 months without some type of public assistance if they were laid-off or fired. That number rises to 70% if they were unemployed for six months or more.
As I stood there and watch the warehouse folk load up the cars and trucks with expensive merchandise, I couldn’t help but reflect on consumer debt and our obsession with possession (my new rhyme). Americans have a passion for consuming. We like to buy things. Heck, we like to buy a lot of things to fill our homes with all the comforts this great system of capitalism has to offer. But there has to be a point of reasonability, a point were we have to put on the consumption breaks and realize that having more is not more.
Does having more, mean having less?
Every week it seems that my neighbor buys a new toy. I don’t mean just televisions, stereos and the like. I mean a motorcycle, boat, a scooter, etc. He also runs his own company and is very successful at it. In his case, he does have the money or resources to pay for his passions.
The other day we happened to get into a conversation about having time to enjoy life. He eventually confessed during our conversation that although he had all these toys, he didn’t have time to enjoy them. In fact, he had been working so hard that his wife was complaining that he wasn’t spending enough time at home. And, since his wife was unhappy, it made trying to enjoy the toys more difficult especially when it took away more time from the family. My neighbor was coming to the conclusion that having more, means having less.
Here we have two extremes. There are those who don’t have the resources (money) and spend it as if they did. And then there are those who do have the financial means but sacrifice too much in order to get it; both with a passion for consumption.
For those without the financial resources, their debts will continue to mount and their ability to dig themselves out of it will become more difficult each day. They won’t be able to focus on ‘possibilities’ or dreams of being successful because they’re too focused on trying to pay next month’s credit card bill.
In the latter case of my neighbor, he demonstrates that having money does not guarantee happiness.
Both will eventually learn that success is about moderation, not excessive consumption.
Less is more. Sound familiar?
Don’t be consumed by the passion to consume or that same passion will consume your financial success and your personal happiness.