A Life Without Debt: The Art of Appreciation

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.

This entry was posted in Budgeting, Debt, Frugal, Personal Finance, Saving Money and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A Life Without Debt: The Art of Appreciation

  1. Sadie — As with all of your articles, this is another winner. You really have a great writing style and you offer wonderful advice and reflections!


  2. librarylady says:

    I really like this article. You did a great job of making deprivation appealing. It is something I really needed to read this morning.
    And so true!

  3. Julie says:

    I agree with everything you said!

  4. getfo says:

    I am frugal because of luck of money. And that’s the easiest way to actually have any money.

    We spend very little for everyday things, but we didn’t loose a house to foreclosure, like some of my friends, and we are not worried that our cars of furniture might get reposessed, because we bought it with cash. Our house payments are small, compare to most of people we know who bought houses within same period of time, because we put a big down payment, and never took any equity loans.

    We would never be able to do that if we would spend money on eating out or vacations.

    We take our kids to some free events to entertain them, and we bought a yearly pass to the zoo, so we go to there very often, because it doesn’t cost us any extra anymore.

  5. justme says:

    I am debt free no deprevation here,I have no payments i have money

  6. Being frugal is good. Persons who appreciate money will also appreciate the things that he/she uses the money to purchase and so will not overindulge.

  7. Natalie says:

    Good article! I hardly think that an Icee is some sort of luxury though, lol! That part was just sad.

  8. Shane says:

    Great well-written post !

  9. I never thought of it this way, but what you say really makes sense. Since I’ve become determined to get out of debt, I’ve become much more thoughtful about my purchases, and I definitely seem to appreciate them more. A friend of mine just told me about this short story about this guy who dies, and he thinks he is heaven because he gets everything he asks for. He eventually finds out that he is actually in Hell because he can never be satisfied and constantly has to ask for something new.

  10. Pingback: Reigning Money

  11. Gail says:

    Very much it is knowing when you have enough, a concept very well explained in Your Money or Your Life. Very good post. Not only are you spending your money intentionally, you aren’t frittering it away on nonsense.

    Went to the grocery store the other day and there was a group set up outside selling candy bars and the lady walking in in front of me stopped and bought one. Was she planning to spend that buck on a candy bar? Probably not. Was this a charity that she has investigated and wants to support? Probably not. Others may think it is silly to think through these types of situations, but just about every trip to the store, I could be handing out several dollars on unplanned purchases before even getting in the store. I would prefer to thoughtfully donate to my own charity. All part of appreciating what you do spend your money on.

  12. Cindy M says:

    Doing without a car is something many people would not even consider (or truly can’t consider). When my car quit, I made up my mind I’d pay cash for a new or used car, and I do actually have the cash now, but now I’m not motivated to do it. (I’m thinking of buying a heavier-duty cart instead, ha-ha). Since I work from home and live within walking distance of most things I need and can take a bus to those places I can’t reach easily, it’s truly not been a hassle. It’s the slower pace I’m appreciating. Maybe because I’ve been sitting in front of a keyboard for hours every day (32 plus years now), I truly enjoy getting out and walking, rain or shine, in the neighborhood and noticing things around me I never noticed when driving. I love it that there’s almost nothing I really want or need anymore and can replace most everything from nearby thrift stores or Wal-Mart. Could be this is just the process of getting older, but I truly love this slower pace and being able to stop and smell the roses now. I’ve got years to go before retirement but I see no reason to have to run around like a nut anymore. I find I use my imagination more when it comes to entertaining others (including the grandnephews), I’m a better cook now, the yard looks great, and I’m reading like I used to (great on the bus).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *