Canadians continue to borrow and spend. According to Statistics Canada, the average household carried $1.74 in credit card, mortgage and other debt for every dollar of disposable income, as at December of last year. Rising debts are also a fact of life in the business and public sectors.
But is all that spending making us happier? Maybe not.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, stress levels are up significantly during the past year. In all 67 per cent of Americans report being somewhat or extremely anxious about paying their bills.
Canadians, many of whom are using debt to maintain a constant lifestyle in the face of stagnant or declining real wages, are no different. However, there are strong arguments that living within your means will make you happier. Even if it means scaling back a bit.
Consider these facts:
• It will help your love life.
A recent study by Ramsey Solutions of more than 1,000 American adults concluded that money is the number one issue that couples argue about, with debts a key focus. The resulting stress can poison all other aspects of the relationship.
“When a husband and wife can eliminate debt, a shift happens in their marriage,” conclude the report’s authors. “There’s a peace of mind they haven’t experienced before.”
• The best things in life are “experiences”
In today’s consumer-driven society, it’s natural that we associate pleasure with the cars, clothes, vacations and other “stuff” that the corporate world presents to us.
Marketers have an easy job because experiencing the best is genuinely fun.
However, for most people the most satisfying moments generally relate to experiences that don’t need to cost a lot of money.
For example, you can often get just as much satisfaction (and a bigger bang for your buck) by preparing a multi-course meal with a partner or friends than by going to a restaurant.
Better still, the money you save will enable you to choose higher quality ingredients than those used by restaurants, which have to keep costs down so that they can make a living.
You can also make gains by waiting an extra year before buying a new car and using the extra cash to buy a bike, a pass for your local swimming pool or a gym membership.
In fact the benefits of keeping the stuff you buy longer extend far beyond finances.
As author Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) notes, Japanese culture regards cleaning, organizing and taking care of the things that you buy as a spiritual experience.
• The power to spend provides more satisfaction than spending itself
Ever bought something – say a new suit or a dress that you always wanted – and a couple of days later you don’t even notice it amidst the clutter of your busy life?
You are not alone. Indeed one of savers’ biggest secrets is that you get more satisfaction from having the power to buy stuff than you do from actually buying it.
Like everything worthwhile – exercise comes to mind – building the reflexes to enable you hold back on purchases isn’t easy.
But the next time you have a chance, pay down your credit card or save up an extra couple of hundred bucks – beyond what you put in your RRSP. Then keep that extra cash available for a couple of weeks. See how it makes you feel.
You may well find that while money is important, spending it is highly overrated. So save more and enjoy life.