Okay, this is not my writing, but it should be mandatory teaching in every classroom, at every grade level, for every student's entire educational career. This is one of the most enlightened pieces of observation I have ever read concerning our obsession with "shopping". Stick it on the fridge and never take it down!
"By David Chilton | Mon Oct 04 2010
One of the finest pieces ever written on the saving/spending challenge was an essay penned way back in 1772 by the witty and wise French philosopher Denis Diderot. It was entitled Regrets on Parting With My Old Dressing Gown: Or, A Warning to Those Who Have More Taste Than Money.
In it, Diderot eloquently chronicles how his beautiful, new, scarlet dressing gown came to wreak havoc on both his mood and his finances. Soon after receiving the gown, it became apparent that his surroundings, though formerly very pleasing to him, were not in keeping with the gown’s elegance. He felt compelled to replace his tapestry, his art works, his bookshelves and chairs and finally even the beloved table that had served as his desk. Eventually, a poorer Diderot sat uncomfortably in his stylish and now formal study. “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one,” he lamented.
All of us have some Diderot in us. Therefore, the reference “group” you often need to be most wary of is not your affluent friends, or even your wealthier work colleagues; it’s you, yourself.
Few things influence your spending decisions of today more than your spending decisions of yesterday.
Spending begets spending.
The aforementioned cookbook author and entrepreneur Greta Podleski provides us with a perfect example. Not surprisingly, it involves clothing. Several years ago, “GP” informed me that she had just bought a stunning dress at a “ridiculously” low price. “I couldn’t afford not to buy it!” was her interesting assessment.
If the story stopped there, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. But, of course, it didn’t. Defying all mathematical odds, none of Greta’s ninety-plus pairs of shoes was a match to her version of Diderot’s gown. One hundred and forty dollars later, that problem was solved. However, a new one had taken its place. Amazingly, not one of Greta’s purses from her vast collection was “a suitable partner” to the new shoes. The colours clashed or — “wouldn’t you know it” — the bronze clasp didn’t perfectly complement the copper hue of the newly purchased footwear.
“I need a new purse or the rest of the money I’ve spent will be wasted,” Greta reasoned.
“You can’t afford not to buy a purse,” I replied.
“Exactly,” she agreed, apparently immune to sarcasm.
Two tubes of lipstick and a pair of earrings later, The Curious Case of the Inexpensive Dress That Wasn’t came to a close.
I probably shouldn’t throw stones here. Last year, I bought two new fairway woods, ironically, to hit from the rough. Suddenly, with my new woods beaming from my bag, my irons looked old and tired to me as I’m sure I did to them. Once they had been replaced, it was only fitting to add a fantastic high-tech driver and a properly-weighted-for-my-stroke putter. Carrying all this new equipment quickly made my previously attractive golf bag appear ratty, tatty and not so natty. So I replaced it too, followed a few days later by the purchase of a deluxe pair of golf shoes that seemed to boast almost superhuman powers. Eighteen hundred dollars poorer, I had the look of a professional.
My swing, though, showed great resistance, warded off the ghost of Diderot and refused to join the rush to “new and improved.” It remained a unique cross between those of Jim Furyk and Lizzie Borden. I hate golf.
Nowhere does the “Diderot effect” do more financial harm than in the area of home renovations. In fact, I’m convinced that during the renovation process, many people go temporarily insane – well, for most it’s temporary. How else can their spending decisions be explained? First, most set their initial budgets from slightly to wildly beyond what their finances and common sense would dictate. Then, invariably, the projects come in over budget because, well, that’s what projects do. “If we’re going to re-do the bathroom floor, we might as well put in radiant heat while the tile is pulled up.” Finally, and most troublingly, once the bathroom has become palatial, the kitchen pales by comparison. “Our cupboards are so 90’s.” Diderot is once again resurrected and the “cycle of renovation” rolls on.
The four most expensive words in the English language? “While we’re at it ...” And the four most expensive letters? HGTV.
I’m not saying “Never renovate.” Heck, a lot of my close friends and family members are in the industry and I made significant improvements to my own home last year. I love Mike Holmes. But, for crying out loud, get a hold of yourself or, as I wish someone would have advised me as I Diderot’ed my way down the fairway: get a grip! The upgrades, including the future changes that the current reno will inevitably lead to, have to be completed within the context of affordability.
Over half of the people I know who are in trouble with their lines of credit (more on that in a few chapters) arrived there via excessive home-renovation expenses. I really don’t have a problem with indulgences like heated marble floors — I wish I had them. However, when people are purchasing that type of extreme-pampering item, especially with borrowed money, while not fully funding their RRSPs or saving for their children’s educations, yeah, that’s an issue. And in this particular case, there’s no excuse: the low-cost, old-style technology still works wonderfully — buy slippers!
Remember Diderot. Above all, remember the alternative title of his insightful piece: A Warning to Those Who Have More Taste Than Money."