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In my early adulthood, when I was finally able to afford, at least some of the things I wanted and/or needed, I became a big fan of frivolous spending. I had to have that new issue of Esquire, that personal trainer at the gym (not just the gym), an office in a better location, a more trendy breed of dog or cat, live in a nicer neighborhood, and, of course, later, “My morning Starbuck’s”. I “had arrived”. The “American Dream”…or so it seemed, for awhile.
I am not proud of having been a male version of Madonna’s “Material Girl”, but I was young, in my thirties and early forties, and was naive enough to believe that peer pressure at least ended after high school, and certainly after college. Not so. It became worse. If my friends bought a better house, I sure better call my Realtor immediately. They got a Lexus, time for a Mercedes. It all seemed like fun and games and, in fact that is all it was. A proverbial game of “show off”.
Then came the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Within twenty minutes, all that I had acquired as a material consumer was gone. And insurance didn’t come close to covering my collectibles, antique furniture, family albums/videos, memorabilia from as far back as kindergarten, etc. I was left with my car, and a few boxes of clothes, and a one year old golden retriever puppy named Otis who saved my life (barked wildly before the earthquake), I thought to go out to do his business, but to alert me at 5 a.m to get out of harm’s way.
Fifteen years have passed and I learned something I never had before, and never thought I might learn. It is called “humility”. Please do not confuse humility with sainthood, far from it. Rebuilding one’s life from scratch midlife, after “having it all” teaches a few lessons, and, I am certain I am not
unique in this situation. When I say “having it all’; I don’t mean the Forbes 400. I mean whatever I wanted, I could generally afford it.
At least I had my health. For awhile. But then that went too for a number of years. This was a motivating factor in my going back to college as an adult, and reading voraciously when not in college, visiting the library often.
One of the most interesting books I ever read was not within the genre of books I usually consume. The book is titled “Start Late, Finish Rich” by David Bach. In it, he talks at length about something called “The Latte’ Factor”. Strange name I know, but it describes how the American consumer is taught from birth to consume all he/she can in this material world, that life is short, get it while you can, carpe diem, etc.
Then he calmly suggests ways to counteract that. Do we really need that magazine subscription, must we have a latte’ and bagel each morning at Starbuck’s. Do we have to even buy his own book if its available at the library. Must we have a car that is made to “show off”when a pre-owned Honda, Saturn, etc. does the trick. I have a wonderful eight year old 4-door Saturn now and it rides better than my old fancy German car ever did. Better gas and reliability as well.
When you add it all up, just the small non-necessities, that we don’t need, or, in the case of Starbuck’s could make coffee at home with flavored creamer for pennies and a bagel for a quarter, nix the magazines, etc. We are talking saving anywhere from $800-2000 or more a month. If that is put into an IRA, even if you are in your fifties now, you will be wealthy by the time you are of retirement age.
Gifts need not be expensive. He recommends memorable personalized gifts that people see daily and enjoy and think of you when they see or use them.
He recommends losing the credit cards and paying as you go, cash, check and/or debit card. I began doing that, and noticed a huge difference in my extra cash at the end of the month. I never used to budget. I do so now.
There is much more to the book, but the bottom line is that The Latte’ Factor need no longer be a part of our lives. Yes, at first it seems strange and a little boring, but it is a self behavior modification in which, once done, we never go back. And we are happier and more prosperous in the long run for it.
write by martin