Picture: 123RF/FABIA FORMAGGIO
Picture: 123RF/FABIA FORMAGGIO

We don’t need things to be happy and fulfilled, but the tragicomedy of consumerism is that we’ve made ourselves believe we do.

With the calendar year littered with consumer holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, in recent years Black Friday and the approaching Christmas holidays, we are regularly filled with a need to give and receive things that will probably be expended within a day.

We buy and consume too many unwanted things, stopping us from saving, let alone investing and accumulating wealth. Whatever little we have left in our budgets — and research shows many of us don’t even bother to draw up a budget — is spent on servicing our consumption-driven, overindebted existence.

The tendency to adjust your living expenses upwards as your income increases over time and to consume without question or regard is commonly known as lifestyle inflation. It’s easy to succumb to our whims when we receive an increase or an annual bonus, using the extra cash to justify expenses we may not have otherwise considered. Left untended, the extra money netted from a raise can quickly transform into a higher standard of living, and an inevitable pathway to debt.

It is no wonder that lifestyle inflation has been dubbed the silent killer of financial plans. But we can save ourselves from this phenomenon and instead choose to allocate the additional disposable income to savings and investing. The outcome will be a double positive: more saving means more money for later, and while being content with less now, it means you’ll need less to live comfortably in the future — both outcomes a dream come true for any retirement plan.

We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can address our current financial shortcomings sometime in the future, telling ourselves it will be OK when “I get a better job”, “get a  bigger raise” or “net that perfect side hustle”, many professionals do nowadays. But what most of us fail to understand is that the fundamental law of lifestyle inflation is that more money creates more desire and thus this fictional future date never comes.

We have a retirement crisis in SA because those that do have the resources to save enough simply don’t deem it important enough to do so. Instant gratification fuelled by our consumerism mindset most times will override delayed gratification and the prospect of some day having enough.

And the more we collect and consume things, the more do our expectations and desires increase.

Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel Fight Club, aptly says: “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.”

With Christmas and its expected splurging around the corner, perhaps now is the best time to review your attitude towards these consumer holidays, and the effect it has had and will have on your purse and future earnings.

It may be the best time to take a deeper look at the overall things you spend your money on, the way you want to live your life and take back your freedom through setting up that budget. And first and foremost, remember you don’t need things to be happy and fulfilled.

• Luthuli is an independent financial adviser and founder of Luthuli Capital