Is it part of the human condition to want ever-more everything?
More stuff. More money. More experiences. More. More. More.
The desire to accumulate, even well past the point of necessity, appears to be alive and well.
And guess what?
I’ve been a victim of this desire, too. Even somewhat recently.
The desire to accumulate ever-more stuff is probably the most common disease of all. And I was certainly sick with that desire once upon a time.
I owned a car far nicer, faster, and more expensive than I really needed. I lived in a place far bigger, fancier, and more expensive than I really needed. I owned far more clothes than I could wear over a two-week period.
I owned a big television. Lots of high-end furniture. Fancy gadgets.
So on and so forth.
And you know what?
I wanted more.
It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I realized something was very wrong with this picture.
Fortunately, I was able to eschew that desire for ever-more consumerism well before my 30th birthday. I realized not too late in life that happiness is driven not by the aggregate amount of stuff in my life; rather, happiness is driven by high-level needs and striving toward my potential as a human being.
And so I started saving and investing aggressively around my 28th birthday, leading me to financial freedom about six years later.
What I’ve noticed throughout my years as a personal finance writer and extremely interested party is that consumerism isn’t terribly difficult for a lot of people to give up.
I see articles just about every day on various sites that discuss things like giving up cable, the daily latte, and luxury automobiles in order to live a simpler and happier life.
In fact, I think the broader trend toward ever-more consumerism is something that started to reverse itself years ago. From my personal experience, I’ve definitely noticed a change in prevailing attitudes toward the collection of ever-more stuff over the last decade or so.
While that’s great, I’ve also noticed that there’s a major trend where people are simply supplanting consumerism with other isms.
While not technically a word yet (you heard it here first!), I’m making it one.
There are a lot of people out there that have eschewed consumerism in favor of what I call “experiencism”.
Experiencism is the accumulation of experiences.
Think: world travel. Skydiving. Whitewater rafting. Mountain biking. Whatever floats your boat, really.
While I certainly think there’s merit to the idea of supplanting consumerism with experencism, one has to be careful that the experiences one is taking on are congruent with one’s own value system and interests.
Well, I have a confession.
I recently fell under the spell of experiencism, taking on an experience that I saw many others enjoying, not taking the appropriate time to self-evaluate to figure out if it was something I really wanted for myself.
See, I think excessive consumerism has been so popular for so many years (and remains so popular) because people like to compare themselves to others. There’s this constant oneupmanship going on. Moreover, people don’t like to know that someone else is eating, consuming, accumulating, or experiencing something they’re not.
So if your neighbor has a nice house, you want one, too. If your friend just ate at a particular pizza joint, you want to try it now. If some blogger out there is traveling to Italy, you also want to see what’s going on in Rome.
And there’s a sense of identity that one gains with consumption. What people think of you is shaped by the car you drive, the house you live in, the clothes you wear, and the restaurants you frequent.
While I’ve been so proud of myself for giving up hyperconsumption years ago, at a pretty young age, I was apparently blinded by my own ego. Perhaps it was hubris, but I wasn’t aware that I was slowly supplanting excessive consumerism with the idea of excessive experiencism.
And it’s really the excess that gets people in trouble.
Look, I’m not saying consumerism is bad. I’m not saying experiencism is bad. Not inherently so.
But taking any of it to excess, especially in a wasteful manner that doesn’t actually result in any long-term improvement in your happiness or well-being, is a bad deal.
So I fell under the spell of excess. I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand earlier this year.
I’ve kind of always wanted to see what it was all about. Lured in by the cheap cost of living, tasty food, beautiful people/culture, and warm weather, I figured it was like a little paradise. The fact that Thailand generally, and Chiang Mai specifically, has become so popular with travelers, bloggers, and people looking to retire early just made the whole place that much more appealing.
Actually, I had planned to check out Thailand years ago, back when I was still a hardcore consumer. But now that my Full-Time Fund is generating enough passive dividend income to fund a pretty decent lifestyle over in Thailand, due to the low cost of living over there, I was even more interested. I figured if I could live frugally here in the US, it’d be even easier to do so in Thailand.
Well, the idea grew and grew over time, fueled in part by all of these travel/expat blogs I’d run into.
I’d read about food carts, elephant sanctuaries, and amazing beaches.
Cheap rent, cheap transportation, and cheap food meant the dynamic between spending and lifestyle was totally different, allowing one to ramp up the experiencism without dialing down the consumerism, spending the same amount of (very little) money in the process.
So I kind of bullied my way into going, as my significant other wasn’t really too keen on the idea. (While I was free to just bounce over to the other side of the world for an open-ended trip, she was not. When one is free like this, they can act on impulses. Or they can stay where they’re at. The former isn’t a good idea if you’re not taking on the experience for the right reasons, while the latter isn’t a good idea if you’re going to resent your partner for not being as free as you are. This type of situation is a potential drawback to financial freedom, depending on your own circumstances.)
After almost an entire day of travel, I arrived in Chiang Mai. (The picture you see at the outset of the article is one I took while I was there.)
It was hot, dusty, busy, and smelly.
But it was also vibrant, exciting, and totally new.
I lined up a beautiful one-bedroom apartment that allowed for a month-to-month lease. ~$450/month got me into one of the nicest apartments the city had to offer, within walking distance to dozens of restaurants, coffee shops, stores, a major mall (with a large cinema inside), and numerous co-working spaces where other expats were busy congregating and blogging. (For perspective, there are nice apartments that go for even less.)
Well, not really.
See, I didn’t take the time to ask myself if this was something that would really make me happy. I was instead just overwhelmed with the idea of doing it. It seemed like a good idea on paper rather than in real life. I did it because I could, not because I truly, honestly wanted to.
I hate flying. I hate airports and traveling. Regular interaction with immigration officials (due to short-term visas and flying in/out) is not exactly a high priority for my agenda. Being around people that mostly have nothing in common with me and don’t speak my language is honestly kind of a bummer. That’s just me. To each their own.
Florida is hot, but Thailand is even more uncomfortable, especially considering that their public transportation options aren’t enclosed. I enjoy utilizing the bus down here in Sarasota, and the air conditioned environment makes it that much better. Riding around in a tuk-tuk or a songthaew is definitely not quite as luxurious but can be (in the case of a tuk-tuk) just as expensive (or even more so).
And while I grew up in Detroit in very poor conditions, abject poverty is still a heartbreaking sight (just one reason I’ve become a philanthropist).
I like Thai food, but it’s not something I want to eat multiple times per week. Meanwhile, Western food in Thailand is pretty expensive (at grocery stores) and/or of poor relative quality (at restaurants).
I remember in The Snowball, there’s this passage about Warren Buffett being kind of talked into traveling with Bill Gates. And so Buffett is in China at one point, where he climbed to the top of the Great Wall (where a Cherry Coke was waiting for him), and instead of marveling at the whole thing, he simply stated that he would have liked to have been the company that got the brick contract for the whole thing.
That’s just an example, but the whole passage is super interesting. He was eating french fries instead of Chinese Food. He spent a great deal of time doing his regular thing, including reading lots of newspapers. I got the impression he just wanted to go back to Omaha.
Well, I kind of just wanted to go back home, too.
And so I did.
I used to find it funny that this billionaire that could easily trot the globe indefinitely would rather just be back in Omaha.
Now I get it.
Look, I’m not saying anything bad about experiences (or travel in general), nor am I saying that supplanting consumerism with experiencism a bad idea.
Rather, I’m stating that excessive experiencism is no better than excessive consumerism. And I’m also stating that the game of oneupmanship is just as nonsensical and wasteful in experiences as it is in consumption. Going to Bali because someone on Facebook just went is really silly.
So make sure that the experiences you take on in life are those that you really have a passion for. The last thing you want to do is pay a lot of money for experiences simply to keep up with a new set of Joneses. That’s really no different than keeping up with the Joneses in regard to your consumption.
Here we are. Capitalism. Perhaps my favorite ism of all.
I’m a passionate investor. The saving and intelligent allocation of capital over the last seven years has practically been my salvation. The freedom I’m afforded via the passive income I’m now generating has allowed me to relentlessly pursue happiness and purpose with a level of zeal and commitment that I never had before. That’s because I lacked the time and energy, not the desire.
However, I think excessive capitalism can be just as bad as the above two isms.
I remember someone stopping by this blog not too long ago and asking me if I’d get a part-time job just so that I could accumulate more stock, especially if the market took a big dip. I think that mentality is the antithesis of what financial independence is all about.
Financial independence is not about accumulating the most amount of capital, investments, or passive income.
It’s about accumulating as much freedom as possible, as soon as possible. It’s about pursuing happiness, living purposefully, and aligning your values with your lifestyle.
To find yourself chasing after other people’s portfolios because they have more than you is no different, in my opinion, than chasing after your neighbor’s bigger car or your sister’s regular jaunts to Hawaii.
And to aggressively buy stock just to buy, without purpose or meaning, is just as silly as accumulating a whole closet worth of shoes.
The collector mentality has served me well in terms of collecting shares in wonderful businesses that share their growing profit with me in the form of growing dividends, but I never collected just to collect. There is meaning there. There is purpose. There is a reason for it all. And the reason is not just more.
I’ve also heard from people who have millions of dollars but feel compelled to continue working, saving, and investing. They need more. And then when they get more, they’ll need even more. It all goes back to the hedonic treadmill. The faster you run and the more you get, the more you’re still in the same spot. You can never feel fulfilled when the only reason your after something is for more of it.
So I stopped aggressively accumulating shares a while back, now turning some of my attention (and capital) toward philanthropy. And that’s because I believe in making myself a better me by making the world a (slightly) better place. Self-transcendence is perhaps the ultimate goal here if we’re talking about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about striving to be your best, not just accumulating.
In addition, I’m going to soon be announcing a change in direction in regard to how I’m spreading the message of financial independence, as I have a desire to work more directly with people. All that I do nowadays is to benefit me and those around me in regard to becoming better and happier. I don’t do anything to accumulate more.
As I said, I’m a passionate investor. And so I’m still buying high-quality dividend growth stocks here and there. I may even continue to invest slowly for the rest of my life. It’s enjoyable.
But it’s not a goal of mine to hit $X in portfolio value or $Y in passive income. It was always freedom. I wanted to be flexible. I wanted to be me – but better. A better me. And I always figured a better me could help others become better versions of themselves.
I couldn’t care less what someone else’s portfolio is worth or looks like. I don’t wish I had more. And I’m not looking for ways to make more money just to accumulate more stock. That would circumvent the whole reason I started doing all of this in the first place, which is why I think that mentality is really against what I believe in.
One should aim to make capitalism work for them, not the other way around.
I want to reiterate: I’m not saying that consumerism, experiencism, and capitalism are inherently bad. Not at all. All of them can be and should be used to become a much happier person. But one just has to use them properly.
One shouldn’t be chasing after more stuff, more trips, or more stock just because someone else is. And more is never a good reason to accumulate anything in life. Because if it’s always more, it’s always going to be more. Enough will never come.
I enjoy having a comfortable abode, good food in my belly, great people in my life, and enough passive income to cover my core personal expenses.
And I love the everyday experiences in my life that I get to partake in far more often and/or far more effectively than before: exercising, writing, reading, goofing around with my dogs, spending time in a park, relaxing at the beach, watching a good movie at home, sleeping in an extra 10 (or 30) minutes, and taking a walk around the city are just a few examples.
Furthermore, I have a lot of fun being a business partner with many of the world’s biggest and best companies. It’s a pleasure to read financial reports, check in on these fantastic businesses, and occasionally buy stock.
None of it is excessive. I don’t obsess over any of it. And I don’t want what someone else has.
However, all of the consumerism, experiencism, and capitalism in my life provides me happiness and contentment. Having the opportunity to align one’s values with the appropriate lifestyle is a beautiful thing when approached holistically. If that’s not what financial independence is all about, I don’t know what is.
What do you think? Ever get caught up in consumerism, experiencism, or capitalism?
Thanks for reading.