Some would say that we live a life of deprivation. We don’t indulge ourselves very often and we rarely buy things without giving them careful consideration. This is a deliberate choice on our part, born not from a lack of money, but from a desire to retain our ability to appreciate everything.
When you are overloaded with stuff or experiences, nothing is special anymore. Have you ever watched someone who gets everything they want? They get the item that they wanted, or maybe two or three things that they wanted, all at the same time. Bonanza! They are enthralled with the new thing for a short time but the high wears off pretty quickly. Then, within minutes, hours, or days they are planning and anticipating the next new thing. When it comes, the cycle repeats. They end up with a house full of stuff, experiences they can’t remember, and likely a load of debt, but they appreciate nothing. Everything just becomes one more item on a long list of items. Nothing stands out, nothing is special, nothing is savored.
On the other hand there are people like us. We are debt free, so it’s likely that we could have and do a lot more things than we currently do. But we consciously choose to limit our possessions and experiences. This self imposed limitation not only keeps us out of debt (there’s no overspending when you’re limiting yourself), but it ensures that we appreciate what we do have. For example, when we go out to eat, it’s special to us (even if it’s just a casual restaurant like Chili’s) because we don’t do it very often. I relish having someone else do the cooking and the cleaning up because it’s a treat for me. I enjoy the food a lot more because it hasn’t become common to me. I savor that outing to the restaurant because it’s a special treat. On the other hand, I see many people in restaurants not enjoying the food or the service because they’ve gotten tired of eating out. They’ve eaten everything on the menu and it’s boring to them.
Some more examples: When we give gifts, we try to give one large, meaningful gift (it doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful, either) rather than a lot of small pieces of junk that just end up tossed aside after a few days. It’s quality, not quantity that matters. When we go on an outing to the park or the museum or the movies, it’s a special day because we don’t do it often. If we saw movies every week, it would become boring and expensive. When we take vacations, it’s an experience to remember because we know that this is what we’ve chosen to do with our money above most other things that we could have chosen. We could have done other things, but we remind ourselves that this is what we most wanted and it makes it much more special that just cramming a vacation in amongst all the other reckless spending. It’s special because it’s a priority that we sacrificed other things to enjoy. When we go shopping, it’s an event because shopping is not recreation to us. We rarely go, so a chance to go to the mall is a big deal. We take the time to window shop in all the stores we rarely get to and we enjoy the day. It’s not a chore like it is for some people who shop every weekend. Even an Icee sipped slowly in Target is an event to be savored because we only get maybe one Icee per year.
As a result of this intentional deprivation, little things that others take for granted remain special to us. Our senses are not so overloaded that we require bigger and more expensive thrills to gain our attention and appreciation. Little things still amuse and entertain us. We appreciate everything that we do and have because it has all been consciously chosen and it is valued by us. There is little that comes into our lives that we later wonder, “What was I thinking? I don’t even like that,” or, “I don’t even remember buying (or doing) that.” Some people shop to fill a void in their life when I think the void could be better filled by not shopping and instead working to appreciate what is already owned.
Appreciation is not a hallmark of a debt free life. I suppose you could have mountains of debt and still manage to appreciate the small things. But if most of that debt was accrued by shopping on a quest to keep up with the Joneses, you’ve probably reached the point where small is now boring and only ever bigger and flashier items will keep your attention for long. It’s sad when that happens because there is so much more to life than a bigger TV, owning a nicer car or bigger house than what you already have, and having a closet full of clothes with the tags still on. If you reach the point where you can no longer enjoy a simple outing to a restaurant, it’s time to step back and reassess. Being debt free and wishing to remain that way means that we have to choose our pleasures carefully. But that careful choice means that we are able to appreciate and savor so much more of life.