The danger of the 'rich act'

When your financial situation improves and you find yourself eyeing more expensive things, that's the 'rich act.' It’s usually a no-win proposition.

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    Hunter Kline, 4, points to the illustrations in the 'Wizard of Oz' book during a reading May 18, 2011, at the Community Library Network in Hayden, Idaho. Getting richer doesn't have to mean giving up on the simple – and free – activities of your frugal days.
    Jerome A. Pollos/Coeur d'Alene Press/AP
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Right now, I am in (arguably) the best financial shape of my life. I’ve paid off all of my debts except for my mortgage and I’ve got a healthy amount in savings as well. Each month, I’m bringing in more than I’m spending.

Many families in this situation might find themselves eyeing more expensive things. Why not go to the nicer restaurant? Why not buy that thing you’ve had an eye on? Why not go on an expensive vacation?

I call this the “rich act,” and it’s usually a no-win proposition. I know from experience how it can end up costing you desperately. When I was a young professional, enjoying the largest amount of income I’d ever known, I played the “rich act.” I bought expensive things. I went to expensive restaurants. I went on expensive trips.

The worst consequence of that “rich act” was that I wound up in financial trouble. As I accelerated my lifestyle, it became very easy to accelerate it more and more until I found myself outstripping what I was actually earning.

Beyond that, though, I stopped enjoying many of the simple things I’d enjoyed my whole life. This turned out to be the worst consequence of all.

For example, I took the “rich act” into food. I didn’t make much food at home and, when I did, I was constantly trying to make something “amazing.” On the other hand, back in the old days, I would be extremely happy with a bowl of simple soup and a simple sandwich – delicious, quick, inexpensive comfort food.

Another example: I took the “rich act” into my enjoyment of music. Rather than really enjoying an album and listening to it dozens of times (as I did in college), I’d buy CDs, listen to them once, and then move on to another one. Rather than enjoying the music, I enjoyed being a music snob and a collector.

That “rich act” not only cost me financially, but it took me away from many things that I enjoyed when I wasn’t affluent. Those things didn’t change at all: the enjoyment of listening to a familiar album and discovering more of the subtleties, the challenge of reading a difficult book, the pleasure of a simple meal made at home, the joy of eating a meal at an old familiar restaurant, and so on.

Today, I find myself spending time on the things that I spent time on when I wasn’t making a cent. I’ll spend a few hours reading an engrossing or challenging book from the library. I’ll make a great meal with ingredients that only cost a few dollars. I’ll put a familiar album on the stereo and let the music chase me around the house as I clean. I’ll go for a walk in the bright sun and enjoy the fresh air. I’ll play an old familiar board game with an old familiar friend. I’ll spend my summer “vacation” staying at someone’s house or pitching a tent in a state park.

Just because you make $100,000 a year doesn’t mean that the things that brought you pleasure when you made peanuts stop bringing you pleasure. Don’t walk away from the meals you loved, the old friends you’ve made, the dive restaurants you’ve enjoyed, or the simple pleasures that you could dive deeply into.

Money doesn’t change who you are or what you enjoy. If you allow it to do so, you end up feeling empty and trapped. If you feel like you’ve lost touch with those earlier pleasures, make an effort to get right back in touch with them.

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