Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madd Money: Buying Who We Believe Ourselves To Be

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to look at and see the areas that I spend my money on, and what areas really matter to me and what ones don’t so much. I think it’s interesting to see what holds our attentions and our passions, and how, at least with me, there are clear trends and clear periods where certain aspects of my life are literally defined by the things that I own, purchase or otherwise accumulated.

My first wave of “rampant consumerism” was, without a doubt, my period in high school where I decided to try my hand at being a model. In addition to pictures, I actually made, for the first time, a conscious decision to “invest” in clothes and in a look that would carry over to my “career”. Looking back, it was a bit silly and a bit extreme. For a time, I actually allowed myself to be swayed by the labels I wore. I willingly incurred debt and spent way more than I needed to on clothes that could easily have been had from different sources and, realistically, looked exactly the same. That’s the 40 year old me speaking, of course. At the time, when I was 16, I had a very different mindset, and I felt somehow less of a person because I didn’t spend $175.00 for a Guess Denim and leather jacket (this was in 1984, I don’t even want to think what a jacket like that would cost today!).

My second “identity expense” period was, without question, my time as a musician. This was when I really went into overdrive and purchased just about *everything* on credit. This was a period of my life when I couldn’t fathom the idea of waiting for something. If I wanted it, I wanted it now, or I needed it now. I truly looked at life as a matter of not “how much” but how much a month, and can I handle it?” Opportunity costs for the future was a very foreign idea to me. My attitude was one of “it’s just money, I can make more”. Today, I see the remnants of all that purchasing, some of it very tangible (like my equipment) and some of it ephemeral and long gone… stage clothes, for example… I realized when I looked at old pictures that the only two things that I have left from that period of time that I wore are a broken off piece of Amethyst crystal that used to be part of a bolo tie, and a bone bead hat band I used to wear. As a way to “break with the past”, I made a choice to disassemble that hat band and I refashioned it into a bone choker for my son, which he now wears when he does Dance Team or ceremonial appearances with Order of the Arrow. Recordings of my bands material is now up on myspace, so in that sense, the money that I (we) paid to make those still reaps some small dividends, in that people nearly twenty years later can hear what we once did. All else, though (the flyers, the travel, the “schmoozing expenses”, etc., it’s all gone in the vapor of time, and in many ways, exists no where else other than my memories and a lot of old photographs.

My third “big wave” came when I decided to compete as a snowboarder. Now, understand, I use the term rather loosely here. Shaun Palmer and Craig Kelly never had a thing to worry about from me (LOL!). Still, I wanted for a time to be a part of the snowboarding world (and during my years as a competitor in the USASA and as a writer of the “Geezer X Chronicles”) I had that chance. This was during a period of rapid expansion and growth of my company, and I was reaping the benefits of such a life. To that end, I wanted to be philanthropic and I also wanted to experience the best of what technology was available at the time. When I tell people that I at one point in time was buying ten boards a year, they look at me incredulously (and I can’t say I blame them). To be fair, many of those boards ended up being donated to learn to ride programs, and I even used a board as a bargaining chip to help a boy earn his Eagle Scout award (first and last time I ever did that (LOL!) ). I realized that I was at a stage in my life where I felt that, somehow, I could “give back”, but at the same time, enjoy the fruits of what I was doing to their fullest. What’s proven to be interesting over the past several years, since I retired from competition, is that my favorite and most used pieces of equipment are not the top flight flagship items, but the “rock board” I bought for $100 just so I had a “beater” to drive in less than optimal conditions. That “beater” is now ten years old, and it’s till my most used and favorite piece of equipment. I went through a spate of purchases for clothing related to snowboarding (oh, you have no idea just how much my identity was tied to this sport for so many years) yet the pants and jacket I wear most often were the ones given to me by two dear friends as a way of appreciation for donating snowboards as a raffle item to their series. It’s for this reason that I will not part with them or replace them until they physically wear out. The clothes are just that, they are a jacket and a pair of pants… but it’s the connection to the people that gave them to me, and what that relationship meant (and still means) to me that cause me to still wear them nearly ten years later.

Today, Scouting is far and away my biggest series of ongoing expenses, and that makes sense, because outside of my being a husband and a father, my strongest piece of “external identity” is that of a Scouter. It is in many ways my finally coming to grips with the work that I want to have define me and stand as my overall legacy of my time here on Earth. The old Forrest Whitcraft quote comes to mind here… “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Ultimately, that is what defines me, and it explains a lot why that is where the bulk of my discretionary money goes.

The things we spend our money on are ultimately reflections of who we are and what matters the most to us, if we are willing to step back and take a cold, hard look at it. We don’t really spend our money as mindlessly as many think. Most of us actually spend our money with great purpose and intent, even if we’re not 100% sure what that intent actually is. Thus, to really grab that tiger by the tail and ultimately gain control of it, spend some time and decide what your money and where you spend it actually says about you… and be prepared to question your findings, because you may ultimately decide that, while your stuff many not literally define you, it can speak volumes about you. Make commitments to either embrace or change those attributes and purposes, and your relationship with money will also most certainly be effected.

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