Monday, March 23, 2009

Slave to Consumerism and I'm Happy

Good posts and comments should challenge your current way of thinking and ParanoidAsteroid's recent critique and the Frugal Bachelor's comment about another PF blogger's post really hit home. Perhaps, I've given consumerism an undeserved bad rap.

I'm currently $11,000+ in credit card debt. As if that figure isn't embarrassing enough, I was more ashamed that I have nothing to show for it. Sure, I have a pair of diamond earrings and pretty decent wardrobe. But nothing like antiques or an extensive haute-couture shoe collection like Carrie Bradshaw.

And since I kept lousy records, I'm not exactly sure where all the money went. But I'm pretty sure that one of my top spendings was on food. I thought to myself, of all the stupid things I've done (which are many), going into debt for something I consume and literally piss away, takes the cake. (Oh goodness. I never thought I would use "piss" and "cake" in the same sentence. Sorry for the disgusting imagery.)

Last year, in my quest for financial responsibility and personal redemption, I implemented a pretty spartan food budget, which means I rarely eat out and my home-cooked meals generally consist of easy-to-make food. Admittedly, over the course of the year, I fell off the horse a few times, but I've done relatively well sticking to the budget. But somehow, there was always an under-current of feeling deprived.

In a recent MSN SmartSpending post, The Simple Dollar wrote:

In a way, I almost looked down on people who are frugal, particularly people who actively choose frugality over simply buying the best. I felt pride in my possessions and experiences -- and I looked at people who chose different paths as needlessly depriving themselves.
What I've learned is that a sense of being deprived -- provided, of course, that your basic needs are met -- is just a negative state of mind.
Frugality isn't choosing to be deprived. It's just a different way of looking at things.

I'm guessing that the point TSD wants to make is that money spent beyond obtaining basic necessities of life has a diminishing rate of return for happiness. And I agree.

But for every dollar we spend beyond providing for basic sustenance, aren't we all in varying degrees, buying some increased level of contentment, if not happiness? And what's so wrong about buying some fleeting moments of joy?

And what if some experiences can usually only be bought?

I come from a culture that places great importance on food as a spiritual and communal activity. In essence, my culture stresses the importance of appreciating food, not merely as a source of sustenance but also as a medium for appreciating nature and art.

As a result, I deeply appreciate food, and not just food from the old country -- all kinds of food, particularly ethnic foods. Give me a good hot piping bowl of Vietnamese Pho rather than chicken noodle soup. I'd rather clog my arteries with Phillipino deep fried lechon versus chicken-fried steak. And when someone says "barbecue", I immediately think "Korean".

Consuming good food and a variety of food gives me great joy. And this often means that I'd have to eat out since:
  • Ingredients to make cuisines from the old country is expensive since much of it is imported;
  • It is generally not cost-effective for me to cook for one;
  • One of the downsides of a culture that places high-importance on food is that great emphasis is placed on not only the cooking method, preparation and taste, but also the aesthetics of the cuisine itself. I certainly cannot replicate some of the food that ethnic restaurant chefs have been trained to do.

And I'm not talking about restaurants like Joel Robuchon that serves a $385, 16-course meal, or a $150 omakase-meal at Nobu's.

I'm talking about enjoying a $1.50 taco made with cow-head meat from a street vendor. I'm talking about the joys of discovering that something as disgusting looking as a sea-cucumber can actually be very tasty. I'm talking about the joys of sharing a traditional, communal hot-pot meal with someone who has never eaten food from my native country.

Was it really that bad for me to feel deprived when I chose not to eat food that I truly love for the sake of frugalism? If that makes me a slave to consumerism, so be it. I'll just practice a more responsible form of consumerism-slavery. :-D


Money Funk said...

Oh how I love your posts! With wonderful terms like 'consumerism-slavery'. lol. I'd eat Philipino food and the corner taco stand food anyday. :)

Sharon Rose said...

Hi there-I wish we had more of an international choice of foods where I live, some of the takeouts are so horrible, we just don't bother-but we all adore food in our house!

Revanche said...

The great thing about some of those ethnic food choices is that they're actually so affordable! At least, the Vietnamese and Filipino foods are. (Then again, even my beloved $3.75 bowl of pho has gone up to nearly $5. Horrible!)

When it's just me, I'll deprive myself of all forms of eating out, but I can't resist good food when I'm in good company. And good food = happy me. So I can't really disagree with you!

Miss M said...

But you can be frugal and still enjoy fine dining. Frugality is in part about assigning value to the things/experiences/etc in our lives. If you don't enjoy a fine meal any more than a burger from McD's then it doesn't make sense for you to spend the extra money. If eating out and experiencing different cuisines is important to you than you should spend more money on it (provided it's not driving you into debt). If you're feeling deprived then you've cut back too much, there are other areas of spending that are less important and which you can cut back dramatically without feeling like you are missing anything.

PS - I finally ordered my laptop this weekend, now I can't wait for it to get here!

paranoidasteroid said...

Preach it, sister!

Jin6655321 said...

I used to have the same problem. What I spent on food, for myself, could've fed a family of four. I tried to budget my food spending and it was horrible. I've got it under control now, but it was hard and took a lot of trial and error.

I once had a friend who asked, "What's the point in spending all that money on food when it all comes out the same in the end?" Good point, but where's the joy in eating out of the value meal all day?

I make sacrifices in other areas so I can enjoy good food. Sure, at the end of the day, I won't have anything to show for it. But, on the other hand, I won't have anything to show for it- no visual reminder to cause me guilt.

Ms. MoneyChat said...

every now and then i get an itch to "trace my roots" if you will. those who know me, know that i tend to claim a certain culture primarily do to my hair (i'm not aware of any science that proves my theory, i'm merely hijakcing a culture).

after reading this post, i think i belong to shtinky's sect ... here's why, and i quote: "I come from a culture that places great importance on food as a spiritual and communal activity. In essence, my culture stresses the importance of appreciating food, not merely as a source of sustenance but also as a medium for appreciating nature and art." i couldn't have said it better. this is the culture where i originated, i'm just certain of it!