• Zach

What I learned from a month of overspending


November I started over. I moved, and when I did, I got rid of all my possessions, and got everything down to 4 suitcases. When I got to my new home, I had to buy new stuff. A LOT of new stuff. I gave my normally frugal self permission to buy anything I wanted to make my new life comfortable.

At first, it was fun! I got to decorate my new beautiful apartment in a style I found pleasing (Zen Minimalist to maximize calm). I got to get exactly the set of pots and pans, dishes and silverware that I wanted. I got a new wardrobe that fit me perfectly and looks great. Each click of the "Buy Now" button was thrilling, a quick little dopamine boost of Retail Therapy.

About two weeks into this, I noticed that dopamine boost was lower than the day before. Each new purchase started to be more of a hassle, just one more thing to research, decide on, and deal with. I'd hit the satiety point of consumerism. By the end of the month, several purchases I'd planned on just didn't happen, because I was simply done buying things. What's more, I started to feel guilty for all the packaging I'd been ripping open and discarding, from boxes to shrink wrap to meters of bubble paper. This was not a good month for my own personal environmental impact.

This was a perfect example of the Law of Diminishing Returns. What was first fun and thrilling became more of a burden each time it happened, it became normal and pedestrian and flat. This is precisely why the Hedonic Treadmill keeps us trapped as well.

The Hedonic Treadmill is the phenomenon where if you get used to a certain level of spending, you have to increase it in order to get the same fulfillment. That's why no matter how much money some people make, they can never get ahead, as their level of spending keeps increasing to match their pay raises. The Toyota you loved when you first got it is no longer good enough, now you need a Mercedes, which will eventually be replaced by a Rolls Royce.

If I'd wanted to keep that same Dopamine buzz going, I would have had to keep increasing the level of purchasing, raising the stakes repeatedly. But I think that condensing all the spending into 3 weeks, I hit an overload point that made further spending unpalatable. It brought me back to my normal set point, where I prefer saving to spending.

Overall, my key takeaways were that while spending money can be fun, the fun will naturally stop when it becomes "normal" and loses its novelty. I prefer to limit my consumption to fit in my minimalist lifestyle, and feel pretty terrible about my own environmental impact. With Christmas coming up, I will have to buy some things for people, but at the same time, I would like to donate to charities they care about instead of purchasing more materialistic stuff they probably don't need anyway. It's best to limit your spending so you don't burn out or raise your level on the Hedonic Treadmill, which could lead to long term financial consequences and an inability to hit my financial goals. The good spending and saving habits I've built up over the last few years reasserted themselves in a matter of weeks, and I'm glad they're there, as they line up with larger values and my own psychology.


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