Materialism

Materialism is the pursuit of more items, or more “expensive” stuff, in the hopes that it makes you feel better. This pursuit is often made at the expense of everything else. But studies show materialism leads to a decrease in happiness, depression, increased debt, and worse.

In general, Americans are spenders. They spend money in the pursuit of material items, possessions, “top of the line” products and the like. The US savings rate of 3% is among the lowest in the world. Most Americans are well under funded when it comes to their retirement accounts, and a large percentage of people would struggle (or be unable) to pay a $1000 emergency expense. All of this financial failing is true of low income families as well as households with a higher income. A big reason why Americans struggle financially, do not save, and live paycheck to paycheck is do to materialism.

I do not like and never use the word “hate”. But I must say, I tremendously dislike materialism, the pursuit of it and people who are so. I do not think anything turns me off more. Growing up I saw all this stuff around me, which I often could not afford. My brothers always talked about stuff too that they could not afford. It was kind of ridiculous in that I would here discussions of things like houses worth 10s of millions of dollars even though they could never buy them. I know people who are literally consumed by labels, possessions, and the like.

It is so off putting to me. I can’t stand it when people just talk about money, possessions, and “stuff”. You would think growing up and not being able to obtain all these goods would make me want to be a typical American “consumer”, but the exact opposite is true. I am happy with security, simplicity, and not being in some rat race for materialistic stuff to try to prove myself to people I don’t know. Not only that, it is also proven it is better for your happiness to buy stuff for others and to be generous, which we will post about.

So many people just talk about money. The latest car, newest TV, how much they spent on a bottle of wine, or whatever. They will do anything for it in the pursuit of materialism. I came from a very humble background, worked and invested for everything I have, and am so turned off by these discussions. It goes against what has been published previously here; living simply, investing, being gracious and the like.

I have learned over the years that most of those people and constant discussions of money/stuff, etc. are phony. They put on images for others that are fake. They take out mortgages they can barely (if able to at all) afford, or take out 7 year car loans so they extend and reduce their payments over more time. They run up credit card or other debt for clothes with a “label”, or the latest cell phone, electronics, or jewelry.

I have learned most people are phony when it comes to material items, and the data also supports that point as well. The data shows credit card debt at record highs, car loan delinquencies increasing, people lost their homes during last recession as they overextended themselves on their mortgages, Americans have a tiny fraction of what they need to retire, and more. These materialistic people live right on the edge…if they miss a little work, have a financial hardship, or something goes wrong their “house of cards” collapses.

Studies and data

Here is some more data on how materialistic Americans are and the downsides of it. Savings rates of some established countries. France: 15.4%; Australia: 11.1%; Germany: 9.9%; Spain: 9.1%; UK: 5.8%; Canada: 5.0%; Ireland: 5.0%; US: 3%; Japan: 0.8% per Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The SS not doing well as people are out shopping.

Average 401K balances from Fidelity. People Ages 40 – 49 have $91,000 and those ages 50 – 59 have $152,700. Imagine trying to retire on that….that is a fraction of what is needed. But I bet many of those people have the newest televisions or latest $1000 iPhone, as having that newest phone is important to post on their facebook feed to show their “friends”. A little (or lot!) less materialism and maybe they could have some more money for their retirement. So low income families may not be doing too bad.

We have previously blogged about record amount of credit card debt and auto loan problems starting to creep up. This is also a result of materialism. People have almost no emergency savings and most people have few assets to their name, with stock ownership also at a historical lows as we noted. A concern is materialism is often pervasive throughout our society, no matter the household income. We even get emails from working poor families asking for help paying a $200 cable bill or saying they need $600 for their last car payment. Why would a struggling family have expenses like that!

Materialism causes unhappiness

The American Psychological Association Reports how Americans are less happy today then decades ago, even though people have more and fancier cars, they eat out to dinner twice as often, they have a cell phone that costs several hundred dollars or more, and the size of a house is 30% or so bigger. Americans also have so many more possessions today then they did back then, but Americans are unhappier. Interesting date here. http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents.aspx

The pursuit of materialism can lead to narcist behavior as well per the study of America: The High Price Of Materialism as well as Psychology and Marketing. People seek more and flashier items to overcome their low self-esteem and self-worth according to that study. Narcissism is people being about themselves.

The Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of Happiness also reports that materialistic people are less happy, higher chance and diagnosis of depressions and less psychologically healthy than non-materialistic people. As we report on, wanting more and more stuff, keeping up with jones, trying to live a fake image is a ‘rat race” that can’t be won. It is endless, self-defeating, and pointless pursuit.

Those are just a few of the many studies on the topic. Almost every study shows that the pursuit of nicer or more stuff is not good for mental health, sanity, and happiness. I saw this quite pursuit of goods as well as constant talk about (love of) money a bit growing up and still see it today in my life. Materialism obviously goes against everything on this site, so maybe this data will change your thoughts to it…heck even if a few people think about this topic after reading this, and maybe change their approach to spending, live simply, or take other steps in their life it is a start.

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