Cheapness is a superpower. Everywhere you look, someone's trying to pry your money off you. Most of us submit, hand over every cent, borrow more and throw that away too. According to the Reserve Bank, in 2020 household debt in New Zealand was 162.70 per cent of gross income. We are far from a nation of skinflints.
There are, however, those amongst us who fight their urges. Strong, sexy Kiwis who keep their wallets shut and their bank accounts full. God, I wish I was a miser. If I could be any superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it wouldn't be Thor, Ironman, The Winter Soldier, Falcon or Spiderman. It would be a new champion - a powerful money-saving scrooge. I would be Tight-A--e Man with the strength to curb spending. Sadly, like most New Zealanders, I am the snivelling villain, Sir Blow-alot.
Last Sunday, Diana Clement, in her excellent Herald article The 10 Commandments of Personal Finance, paid tribute to tight-wads. "We need very little in life but fool ourselves into thinking our wants are needs."
I have a very wealthy friend who loves cricket but hasn't signed up to Spark Sport. In his words, "F--- that, I'm not spending $24.99 a month on anything". There is so much to admire in a pinchfist stance from such a rich man. The discipline. The tightness.
On the other hand, I subscribe to Netflix, Neon, Amazon, Apple TV+, Spark Sport, Sky, Spotify and MLB.TV, UFC Fight Pass, Playstation Gold and two Disney+ accounts (I signed up to one with the wrong email address and can't work out how to cut it off). Throw two gym memberships on top and we have some severe outgoings. Like many of you, I am a money-wasting cretin.
What can we do? How do we become cheap? How do we stop spending? The solution is easier than you think. According to neuroscientist Dr Judson Brewer in his life-changing book The Craving Mind, if you want to break a bad habit, you concentrate on it. Get curious about every sensation and feeling when you are about to do it.
Pay careful attention before, during and after you spend. We buy stupid things not because we need them but because we are anxious, tired, hungry, sad or stressed. Check your feelings post-purchase. Did the item solve any of those emotional problems?
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I once signed up for a new car because I was hung over. A bit of hydration and sleep would have been a cheaper option. Every time you don't buy, you change your brain. Your neural pathways stop leading you from sad to purchase. They can be altered so they compel you to hang with friends when you are low. All you have to do is make that your new habit. One day you'll wake up a miserly cheap a--e and never look back.
The first test on your path to tight-wadness will be the hardest. The minute I committed to the thrifty way, my brain decided I needed a $3000 True Thinkline Automatic Rado watch. A handsome timepiece like that would surely make me happy. Luckily, seconds before purchase - I didn't.
Zoning in on my full-body sensations, I noticed I was buying it because I was anxious about a challenging project I am working on. That and I hadn't done my morning ablutions yet. Our uneasy feelings in the stomach are often solved with a simple evacuation. The watch was never going to help with either of those problems.
A week later, I don't even want that Swiss beauty. The clock on my phone works just fine. I have hardly spent a cent since.
Double VC winner and greatest New Zealander ever, Charles Upham, believed all you need in a day is "two square meals and a dry place to sleep". Anything more than that is a luxury. We do not need 30 pairs of sneakers, three 70-inch TVs and five restaurant meals a week. We may want them, but we do not need them.
Each new consumer desire you experience should be closely examined for what it is. It's more likely to be unrelated anxiety than necessity. There is honour in being a cheap, sexy Scrooge. The power of frugality is in your hands. Each purchase you don't make charges your tight-wad powers.
Having said that, my birthday is coming up if anyone wants to get me that seductive Swiss watch. I am too much of skinflint these days to get it for myself.