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The more money we have, the more we tend to spend. It is the idea of the lack of scarcity.

I recently read a great article titled “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed: The Real Reason for the Forty-Hour Workweek” and it really resonated with me.  The author David Cain recently got an engineering job after backpacking and traveling for nine months.  During his nine months of traveling he focused on the little things, spending little money (because money was scarce), exercising, meditating, and enjoying his travels.  He was basically living the simple life (I know it’s ironic because traveling seems like an indulgence and not simple at all).

Since he began working again, he has been spending without an awareness of where his money is going since he is making more money.  He spends money on small purchases like daily coffees, things that are insignificant but add up over the long run and not something he would savor and enjoy slowly like he would when he was traveling.

He mentions that our lifestyle has already been designed because we have more money but less time.  The 9-5 daily grind is exhausting to say the least, and we have only our weekends and evenings to enjoy ourselves.  Hence, he argues that many of us resort to consumerism to “cheer ourselves up”.

The More We Have the More We Spend

Another thing that David Cain stated is that the more we have the more we tend to spend.  It is called the Parkinsons Law whereby if you are given 20 minutes to do something you get your stuff done.  If you are given an unlimited amount of time we tend to dawdle.  We can’t help it, it is human nature.

David Cain argues that the Parkinsons Law can be applied similarly to the concept of money.  The more money we have, the more we tend to spend.  It is the idea of the lack of scarcity.

I Couldn’t Agree More

Since I recently posted on the subject “Would You Rather Have Time or Money” I have often thought about how I seem to be spending more even though I am making more money.

I am more “lax” with what I am spending on.  I have less time to look for deals, I have less time to look for coupons, and I have less time to prepare meals (though I am getting better at this because of my batch cooking these days).  Convenience tends to trump consciousness and preparing meals.

However, I do find that because I am working 50+ hours per week, I am finding the need to escape and to buy more clothes (though I still buy only on sale items), go on getaway holidays (even long weekends that cost me $500 per trip) to help me feel better.  When I was working less, I had more time, I was less stressed, and I was happy to be at home and felt less of the pull or drive to “get away from it all” or “escape the rat race”.

How to Fix This

I’m not sure how this can be fixed unless you work less (though David Cain argues it is often 0 or 40 hours per week, there is nothing in between).

Some things that might help may include:

  • Taking time out in your schedule (meaning writing it in your agenda to make yourself accountable) to do the simple things that help us cope with the daily grind, such as exercise, meditation, practicing gratitude for what we have, and of course, eating healthy.
  • Paying yourself first and foremost- when you do this, you take out money from your back account, and it makes you feel like your money is more scarce than it is, hence you will spend less
  • Try and work from home or work more flexibly- if you work from home, you can still be productive at work and also be somewhat more productive in your home life, which decreases stress and decreases the need to buy lunch or coffee out.  Many businesses are aiming for having staff work from home these days.

Readers, what do you think?  Do you feel that your lifestyle has been designed?  If you cut down on your work, or reduced the number of hours per week, do you think you are more conscious about your spending?

Article comments

Karen says:

For me, it’s the complete opposite mindset. Since I work two jobs, I find myself having less time to shop for the little splurges. I only end up buying what I really need: gas, groceries and toiletries. It’s been several months since I actually made a trip to go out and just shop.

Now that I make more, I find myself being even more frugal. I think I prefer to shop around for investments, rather than just things. Haha.

I actually find being frugal comes down to time management. Even though I work 80 hours a week, I still find time to cook meals and home and look for deals. For me fast food doesn’t make sense – I can cook a meal like spaghetti or Kraft Dinner in less time than it takes to stop at Subway and pick up a sub. Writing a schedule really helps. I would never vacuum or mow the lawn if I didn’t write on the calendar to keep track.

KC says:

I can completely agree with this. When money was scarce, I was very tight on finances. Now same work hours and more money, I inadvertently tend to spend more without meaning to simply because I knew that I’ve had cash available. I need to rein this back in again which helps by putting aside a lump sum to savings on day of paycheque. This 1-day delay in transferring money from savings to chequing is forcing me to not spend anymore.

Kyle says:

Interesting strategy KC. Automatic savings is a proven winner for all income levels. Good luck building that nest egg!

Jeff Mac says:

Great post! I totally agree. When I first started my job I was still in the student mindset and lived quite frugally. I paid down a ton of my student loan in the first 2 years of working. Eventually I realized I was making a decent wage and started spending accordingly. Now it seems like I’m not really much better off even though I’m making almost double what I started with! Need to figure out where I can trim some fat…

Kyle says:

What better place to be than a personal finance blog if you’re look for creative ways to save Jeff?! Let us know if there is anything specific you have questions about.

Steve says:

I remember reading the Cain article and thanks for the refresher – it was a good one!

I think life is structured in such a way as described, but not by some evil masterplan by the “corporations” – it’s just happened to evolve into this and companies have found ways to make money by exploiting people’s needs for quick gratification.

It’s up to the individual to recognize this and implement a plan for changes if they don’t like it. If they do like this lifestyle – all the power to them!

Tania Stanwood says:

This was a great article. Lot’s of truth in this. I have been reading a good book by 2 ladies Charla Aylsworth and Marcia Manchester called The Joy of Skinny: Finances. It’s a good practical read on finances, for once a read that isn’t all jargon we can’t understand. Their site is skinnylivingproject.com, it’s something to look at for people wanting some basic lessons from everyday people. Things like this make finances seem far less larger than life!

Kyle says:

I always tell people that finance stuff isn’t that hard Tania. I believe that 98% of all personal finance stuff most people need to know can be done by applying grade 9 math!