Do you work to live or live to work? There’s no denying we all need to work, it’s a key element of the economic environment in which we live – but at what point do we go from working to earn a wage which enables us to live our life, to living a life that requires us to work longer and harder just to maintain this life? I strongly believe all people should work and that the action of work enriches our lives on a deeper level from learning, to confidence, to creativity, to social connectedness and more. This isn’t a post about work, it’s a post about consumerism.

We go to work to earn a wage, we then spend that wage on goods and services we believe we ‘need’ in our life. This is where it gets complicated – what do we ‘need’ and what does that look like. For example- Lets say I’ve decided to buy a house – great. Now, what features do I need in this house? What price is the house that meets those needs? Say, I can spend $400k and buy a single story single garage 3br house in the suburbs and have a manageable mortgage, can save a little each week and handle interest rate rises and still allow for a good quality of life.

Then, as I begin searching for houses, I am bombarded with images and dreams of the bigger better house I could buy if I just extend my budget a little. A pool really would be nice, oh and a second garage. I’m thinking now ‘this is ‘my’ house I want it to be nice, I saw so and so bought a place last year and theirs is really nice so I should have a house equally as nice’. Oh and with all my stuff I will need plenty of storage so I will need a bigger house… and just like that, now you’ve decided you need the $550k house and have managed to justify this to yourself. Don’t get me wrong – if you think you need the nice house and you can afford it comfortably then go for it, but remember in this case $400k allowed us to have the house and maintain quality of life.

Where is this extra $150k coming from? It could be coming from overtime, maybe no holiday this year, maybe searching for a new higher paying job or climbing the corporate ladder, extra hours to earn commissions and beat kpi’s to get that pay rise you now need. Perhaps it’s coming from now my partner can’t stay home with the kids and needs to go back to work full time. It’s coming from ‘can’t come to your game on Saturday buddy as I need to go into the office’, or maybe it’s the extra 2hrs a day you spend commuting because you took the big corporate job in the city.

So now, as you sit there in your fancy house full of stuff (when you’re not at work of course) and you realise you’ve become disconnected from your friends and family as you haven’t been able to spend quality time together, you’re arguing with your partner because you are tired and stressed, your health is deteriorating because you’re eating on the run or entertaining clients all the time and spend 60-70 hours a week either sitting at a desk or behind the steering wheel of a car with no time for exercise. You are worried about the job cuts at work because you’ve stretched yourself to the limit with this mortgage, and you haven’t had a decent holiday in over a year. Are you living to work or working to live?

The same goes for all large assets we purchase. Do you really need a new car/boat/television? Do you really need a bigger car? However, even looking at our daily life the same principles can apply. I remember my mother in law told me once ‘watch the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves’. Unfortunately, we are now living in a world where we are constantly bombarded by messages from marketers vying for our pennies telling us we ‘need’ stuff, and that’s what it is – just stuff. Clothes, shoes, upgrade your phone/computer/tv, homewares, linen, toys, boats, bikes, jet skis. We’re overwhelmed with ads in the retail space, via traditional media, and it’s now all over social media. Not only are we constantly being told what we need to buy to be happy (seeing as we’re probably feeling stressed out now we’re working longer weeks) but we are also offered the means to purchase it if we don’t have the cash in the bank. Here, have a credit card, interest free, cash advance, same day loan approval etc etc the list goes on. This new line of credit now increasing our overall financial debt. Do we really need all this stuff? Is it worth our hard earned pennies?

I have personally tried to make an effort to become a more conscious shopper. Asking myself “do I really need this?”. Reminding myself I have some very similar shoes to that at home already or the fact that the kids birthdays are coming up so I should tell the family this is what they need. Another few thoughts I’ve had around the realisation of our consumerist society recently – what ever happened to borrowing clothes from your best friends? – It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it. -Go to the library rather than buying books and dvd’s (this is great for the kids). – do I own something similar to this already? – Could I just hire/borrow/ get a secondhand one? – how many hours work does this cost? Will this make me happy?

“Watch the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves”. Do you really need the big house/car with the big mortgage/running costs / extra cleaning? Will it make you happy? Can you go without material possessions to have more time and less pressure in your life? Get off your phone/emails when you get home and play outside with your kids, read them books and create memories. Travel, learn, invest in yourself and your life. You only have this one life. Do you live to work or work to live?