Feelings of Material Entitlement Lead To Financial Failure

SEPTEMBER 17, 2014
Louis G. Scatigna, CFP
At no time in history have any people lived as well as we Americans have been living for the past 30 years. We have acted as if we were extraordinarily wealthy people with unlimited funds and buying power. Now that we are in a period of economic stagnation, millions are paying a steep price for living the high life and with such abandon.

When I was growing up, my parents, my 5 siblings and I lived in a small house. Although our quarters were close, we made it work. Our family had one car, which we kept until it died. Every night we all sat down for dinner together. On the rare occasions we ate out, it was to celebrate a special event. When I was a kid, we took only one vacation — we all got in the car and drove to Niagara Falls.
 
Money was always tight, so our family lived frugally and watched what we spent. My parents only bought what we needed. We didn’t have credit cards, so we had to live within our means. When we wanted to buy something for ourselves, we frequently had to save for it, which took a while, or we bought it “on time.”
 
Today, people live totally differently; they have a different attitude. They’re driven by feelings of material entitlement. They believe that they deserve to live extravagant lifestyles — the type of lives they see in the movies, magazines, advertisements and on television, which most of them can’t afford. To get what they think they deserve, they spend all they have, erode their savings and plunge into debt. They live in a culture of credit.

Americans today are also impatient and unwilling to wait. Since they won’t hold off until they can afford what they want, they put it on plastic, on their credit cards. By feasting today, they risk starving tomorrow.

Because they have feelings of entitlement, people use credit to purchase what they can’t afford. And the use of credit is the main reason why people fail financially.
The typical symptoms of feelings of material entitlement include:

  • Buying homes that are bigger and more luxurious than needed. In most cases, the larger the home, the more it costs to buy, furnish, maintain, heat, cool, light and insure. Plus, the property taxes are higher.
  • Frequently buying new, luxury cars. Like large homes, luxury cars cost more to buy or lease, finance, run, repair and insure — and they tend to be less energy efficient. Getting a new car every few years wastes money because today’s cars are built to run much longer.
  • Dining out several times a week and frequently buying take-out food. Eating at home is much cheaper and much healthier — physically and financially. Bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
  • Taking frequent vacations. At least once a year, many families take vacations whether they can afford it or not. Frequently, they travel long distances to exotic resorts and locales. In addition, they often take shorter trips throughout the year. Traveling is expensive and the cost of frequent vacations mounts up — especially since most are charged to credit cards.
  • Shopping and buying unneeded items. For many people shopping is entertainment or retail therapy. It also can be wasteful because many purchases are made on impulse, not because of need. Shoppers often accumulate closets and attics full of stuff that they barely use. Live simpler, more disciplined lives within your means. Differentiate between what you need and what you want or feel you deserve.

Try this exercise; it can help change your attitude:
  1. Itemize how you spend your money. List every expense you pay each month. For example, $100 each month for cable TV.
  2. After you list each of your expenses, evaluate each and circle those that you could cut back on or eliminate. For example, those premium cable channels that you rarely watch.
  3. See how much you could save on each circled item.
  4. Calculate how much in total you could save. The average family can often lower their expenses by 5 to 10%.
 
Eliminate waste in your life. If that means downsizing your home, cars and lifestyle, think seriously about doing so.

Determine what you want your lifestyle to be in the future and how much that would cost. Instead of just living for today, think about the future, when you may no longer have the earning power that you have today. Then plan how you can fund the future you want.

So how did we get in this fix? I think that advertising, the movies and television changed our culture. By constantly inundating us with alluring images of how we should live, they implanted unrealistic standards in our minds. They painted such a rosy picture, made it look so easy and so attainable that we were completely drawn in.

Since these images were with us 24/7, they became ingrained in our culture. We bought it all and abandoned the common sense lessons we were taught. We lost sight of the fact that we were being sold by brilliant salespeople whose messages saturated our lives. Even if some of us resisted, they got to us through our children, friends and neighbors. They made them crave their goods and surrounded us with pressure.

It takes strength and courage to swim against the tide and fight massive forces that want to consume us — especially when what they tell us is so appealing. So hang in there. Know that you’re not alone and that the bind you might be in is not all of your own doing. It’s not too late to change your attitude, become more responsible and regain your financial health. But you must act now.



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