You want to hang out with your friends, but they always insist on going somewhere “nice.”
You enjoy the dating scene, but feel pressured to spend big to impress a total stranger.
You’d like to save your money for important and meaningful things, but people give you shit for being too tight…
I posted recently in the BROJO Facebook community asking people: What strengths do they have that they’re also ashamed of?
One of the things that came up is frugality – being good with money / careful with money, and managing your spending carefully.
There are a lot of people who are good at this and yet they feel ashamed to show this. They feel ashamed to be seen doing it.
I want to talk a little bit about what’s happening here, because this is so much bigger than just being good with money.
Doing right v fitting in
There are so many things like this, where somebody’s doing something that looks logically like a smart thing to do, a helpful and healthy thing to do, and yet they get heaps of shit from people about it.You end up questioning it, when actually you know it’s the right thing to do.
I’m going to keep with the money example, but I’m going to use that to explain why a lot of you will have things that you’re great at and yet you feel a need to hide it.
What we’re really talking about here is being pressured to fit in with society. That’s the underlying problem.
It’s not just about being frugal with money. It might be eating healthy; it might be being honest in your relationships; it might be being patient with your children. There will be a lot of things you do that are really good to do and yet people seem opposed to it.
Seeing the Matrix
I got a great example from another coach, John Cooper regarding the Matrix movie. He says the main character that really goes without being spoken about a lot is Agent Smith, and the reason he’s such a great character in this movie is because anyone can turn into him.
And there’s a great metaphor there about society; where anyone can suddenly become your enemy. Your mother, your friend, some random stranger walking down the street – if you suddenly behave in an abnormal way (e.g. not blowing money on crap) – they turn into Agent Smith and they try to kill you (socially).
You will have noticed this: you’ll be talking to someone, everything’s going along fine, and then you show something that is outside of the norm and suddenly this other person changes and they turn on you.
“Who is this person? What the fuck just happened?”
I wanna use that Agent Smith metaphor here, because the Matrix we’re talking about here is consumer culture.
It’s the thing we’re all plugged into.
From birth we are told to consume. The educational system is designed to turn us into workers who will consume; who will create products that others will consume; and who will then go and consume other people’s products, in an endless loop.
That’s what we‘re contitioned and programmed for.
It’s like being a fish in water. It is the water around us: consuming all the time. That’s the Matrix you’re plugged into.
So being frugal with money, being careful, not spending unless you need to – that’s really breaking the rules of consumer culture.
Consumer culture is that every dollar that comes in must then go back out. It must all go through you. You must be constantly churning through services and products endlessly, and that’s why marketing is always aimed at pain points. It’s constantly telling you that you’re not enough, that you should go consume more.
So if you’re frugal and you’re somebody who is actually resisting that message – you’re like “Actually I’m pretty sorted over here, I’m just gonna stockpile my resources because I’m good” – now if you think about it like you’re in the Matrix, you’re plugged in, then your careful financial behavior is going to trigger people into feeling threatened.
It’s like people have that Agent Smith flowing through people, looking out for abnormalities and threats.
And when you say “You know what? I’ll skip the wine actually. I don’t need it. I’ll try to save some money” people instantly go into fight or flight response! They just feel it.
They don’t know why they feel it; if you ask them “Why do you care what somebody else does with their money?” they’re gonna struggle to come up with a rational answer to that. And yet they feel resistance (especially if they’re terrible with money themselves).
They’re gonna resent you for being good at something that they should be better at. There’s gonna be this envy/anger response.
It will often come out as like what I call ‘bullying banter’. It looks like humor but it’s actually quite hostile; they’re making fun of you to manipulate you into being more like them – it’s the threat of ostracism.
People turn into Agent Smith when you do your money thing around them.
You can see this with the Vegan movement. I’m not vegan myself, but veganism makes absolute sense, both in terms of cardiac health (the most important aspect for longevity) and morality in terms of treatment of livestock.
100 years from now, when we look back at humans as they are, we’re going to be really ashamed of the way we treated farm animals, right? We’re just gonna be like “That’s horrific! That’s like the Holocaust for animals. I can’t believe we did that.”
But nowadays, if you were to say “I’m a vegan” people instantly give you shit.
Why is that? You’re not forcing them to be a vegan. You being a vegan does nothing to them. They can keep on eating meat, you’re not a threat to that, and yet they feel threatened and react with bullying banter.
There’s a lot of memes on the Internet taking the piss outta vegans when actually they’re quite clearly doing a morally superior thing. I’m not doing it myself but I can clearly see that they are morally superior to my way of eating. If I could eat without eating meat, if I can survive without meat, then it’s a choice to eat meat. And if it’s a choice to eat meat – and meat that’s being treated the way it is, animals being treated the way they are – then I have to put my hand up and say that’s a fucking awful thing to do.
It’s the same with consumerism.
If you’re trying to control your emotions through buying products and services; if you’re trying to use products and services to make yourself feel good; it’s clearly inferior psychologically than someone who’s healthier and not attached in that way.
It’s like the difference between someone who’s addicted drugs and someone who isn’t. The person addicted to drugs is much more psychologically unwell than the person who can meet their needs without needing a substance…
And the substance is money.
Nothing wrong with being frugal
You’re thinking there’s something ‘wrong’ with you for being frugal and yet you’re psychologically healthier, most likely, by not needing to consume products and services to feel good about yourself.
Now there’ll be other people out there who might even appear to be more confident than you. They might appear to be having a higher quality of life because they’re buying that higher quality of life.
And yet if you were to take their money away from them, they‘d come crashing down, lower than you’ve ever been. There are some people who are propped up by their consumerism and they don’t see it because they’ve always had it (especially somebody who’s been born into reasonable wealth).
When you’re trying to break out of this Matrix people are gonna try and pull you back in, people who have no reason to get involved, people who could just leave you to do what you do because it doesn’t threaten them in any measurable way. They’re still gonna stick their oar in, make fun of you, give you shit.
“Spend your money now!”
Even if others are not directly harassing you, you’re gonna feel like it’s wrong to save money just because you’re surrounded by social messaging saying “Consume! Consume! Spend your money!”
Media is not telling to save your money, is it?! They‘re saying “Get rid of your money, give it to us so that we can go spend it on something!”
All the messaging in movies and everything – if you can step back a little bit and look at it, it’s all about consumerism half the time. The big diamond ring for the wedding and all the stuff about buying happiness all the time. Completing yourself with products and services.
So you’re gonna feel weird not doing that because you’re not doing what everyone else is doing.
The recent wave of ‘minimalism‘ – which is what you’re doing (getting by on as little as possible and owning and consuming as little as possible) – is really starting to be linked with much higher levels of reported contentment of life, quality of life, happiness – if you want to use that word.
Basically, people who rely less on the crutches of consumerism end up psychologically much better off. You can see clearly – through all the celebrities who kill themselves and go through mental health problems – that having it all and being able to consume a lot can actually quite detrimental to your mental health.
It’s no different to drug addiction, in a sense.
You’re not weird
What you’re doing is not ‘wrong’. You’re weird in that what you’re doing is unusual. But what we’ve seen and what I’ve learned so much in psychology is that if everybody’s doing something then that something is probably unhealthy. The best things are done by only small niches of people and it takes ages for the rest to catch up.
So if something is very very popular and everybody’s doing it, it’s probably a terrible idea (as a general rule in my book) – things like fad diets, investment schemes, religions and extremist political movements.
If everybody is consuming and blowing all their money and getting into credit card debt and trying to show off with cars and houses and clothes and accoutrement, it’s probably a terrible idea.
Be one of the few
Only a few people are being minimalist. They’re keeping their cupboards empty. They’re only eating what they need to survive. They’re keeping their living areas small and they’re focusing on having experiences rather than buying stuff.
They’re probably onto something, and maybe you are too.
Now I want to point out there is that middle-ground person who’s being so frugal thatthey don’t have any experiences – all they’re doing is just hoarding money. That’s different than sensible spending on meaningful things, because that’s actually still consumerism except you’re just too scared to consume; you want to save up for future consuming. That’s seeing money as a source of satisfaction instead of just a tool for creating value-agreements.
Being frugal in a minimal way means you’re simply only holding on to what you need to survive and trusting yourself to take care of things in the future, not trying to hoard possessions to protect yourself against the future storm.
What to do?
If you’re frugal, if you’re vegan, whatever – if you’re outside of the norm and you’re getting a lot of shit for this – NEVER justify it.
The biggest mistake you’ll make is fighting back against the shit you’re getting for it. This is just a basic rule of confrontation: you never prove yourself to anybody. As soon as you do, you lose, because it says “I have something I need to prove to you.”
As soon as you say “‘m doing this because…” what you’re really saying is “I have to justify this.” And why would you need to justify something that’s right? So don’t do it.
If someone challenges you, challenge back. I don’t prove myself. I challenge their perspective.
If someone was to say to me like “Oh how come you always talk about being honest all the time?” I wouldn’t try and justify honesty. I’d say “Why do you think it’s okay to be dishonest?”
I’m gonna put it back and say “Well your perspective is this and I actually disagree with your perspective. I’m not gonna prove mine. If you don’t believe mine, fine, go about your life, but if you’re gonna challenge me, I‘ll challenge back.”
If someone wants to challenge you like “Why are you so tight with money? Come on! It’s just one night out. It’s a nice restaurant, don’t you want to be with your friends?”
You can say “Why do you need to spend so much money to be happy? Why can’t you guys just go and have a good time without having to blow heaps of cash? Do you guys really not have a good enough connection for that to be rewarding enough?”
You can challenge back. If people gonna push, always push back rather than defend.
I never let anyone just push me around like that, you know I used to do a lot. But challenge their reasoning rather than defending your own. It’s their psychology that’s part of the norm, which means it’s most likely to be the least helpful version available. Yours might be advanced.
Now you might be wrong but odds are, if you’re not part of the bigger group, there’s a good chance that you’re onto something. Not always, but a good chance. So challenge them back. Never defend yourself. And you just carry on doing what you’re doing, because the science is behind you. Minimalism is the way forward. Consumerism brings misery most of the time.
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