I read somewhere that human beings are not rational animals. Rather, they are rationalizing animals.
Think of your last purchase outside of the ordinary expenses of life. It could be a Bose headset, a luxury carpet, a comfort meal, a pair of designer leather boots, a Persian cat: anything that you gave some mental consideration before purchase. Now, consider that consideration. Was it really a rational one? Was it in your best interest overall?
I am a big spender on books – hardcover ones which are pricier than their modest paperback counterparts. I have books on my shelf that I only opened to initial my name on, and which have since been left untouched for years. Yet, I am apparently helpless when it comes to buying new ones, many of which I know full well I won’t get the time to read.
Even when I am broke, I still come up with ever flimsier reasons to buy. Sometimes, after coming across a “niche” book that I particularly like, but for which I am too broke to buy, I convince myself that if I don’t buy immediately, the price will be hiked or the hardcover version will vanish from print (which sometimes happens, but rarely).
Another excuse I use to buy books and other stuff I like but don’t need, is “I deserve it”.
The “I deserve it” line is a mainstream one. We have all made use of it – perhaps a little too often. And I can guarantee you that more money has been needlessly spent based on that phrase, in its variations, than any other phrase.
The word “deserve” by itself evokes a sense of necessity and merit. It is also a deeply empathetic word. It signals entitlement, but without the negative connotations of entitlement. That is why it is such a powerful word. So powerful that we can use it repeatedly to fool ourselves without batting an eyelid.
I deserve this subscription because I work hard – everybody works hard baby.
I deserve this holiday because last year was so tough on me – time is impersonal and last year was never out to get you.
I deserve a new phone because I have had my current one for three years now – Warren Buffett, a major Apple shareholder uses a $20 flip phone. He, not you, deserves a new phone.
My kids deserve to go to XYZ international school because … – sure, we must give our kids the best quality education possible, not because they deserve it (they don’t) but because it is the responsible thing to do as a parent.
This deserving business is a semantic tool we have used for far too long, with far too little shame, to steal from our futures. We have used it not just to spend money we don’t have, but also to sleep in when we shouldn’t and to eat foods we should perhaps be avoiding.
I am personally halfway towards success with weaning myself off this diction. It doesn’t mean I don’t find joy in “nice things” or that I am denying myself of life’s comforts altogether, it means that I am more careful about my reasons for certain decisions.
If I want a drink, it’s because I am thirsty. If I want new jeans, it is because I need them or simply that I like the ones in the shop better. When “deserving” shows up at my mental shores, I know that is the four-year-old that’s inside each one of us, ready to throw a tantrum in order to get whims satisfied. I politely ask him to go back to sleep.
Our parents did not walk around carrying gold engraved credit cards in their purses. Nor could they mindlessly click on apps that magically give them money in seconds. They certainly did not have overnight delivery. If our folks felt they deserved say a new stereo (that’s a radio, millennials) they had to pay in cash, walk to a bank/shylock, or go haggle in a hire purchase shop.
In our generation the lag between being bitten by the deserve bug and getting the item delivered at our doorstep is so short, so smooth, it doesn’t feel like anything happened. That is why our generation will end up being the most financially insecure despite the technology and the opportunities. You can blame billionaires all you want but in 20 years you are going to look back and wonder if you really deserved that $1000 iPhone.