Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Spending Choices and Individual Values

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Jan 15, 2014 6:33 PM

Every time we make a financial choice, whether it's to buy white or whole grain bread, apples or meat, a car or a trip, a luxury car or an average car, a house or money in the bank, we display our value system. So, I know the luxury car represents something about my sense of security, my past lack of such luxury, and my self-indulgence that has come with a recent awareness of my mortality.

I, also, know that at all levels of wealth below the top .1 one percent (yes, point one), large price purchases are a trade-off. The luxury car rules out expensive original art or new furniture this year, for example. At much lower levels of fortune, paying the rent may mean skipping medication, not a happy choice. We may advertise for a roommate in order to afford the meds or risk bad health to be independent. That's economics, always a trade-off. Since choice is of the essence, we learn a lot about our value systems by watching what choices we make, what makes us feel comfortable and what intuitively feels right. The same principle applies to governments and any organization with a budget, too, by the way.

So, let's look at what we choose and learn about ourselves from it. Here are a few examples. A middle aged doctor invested in a huge house and barn with horses, fancy cars and vacation homes. All that property made him feel especially successful, like his parents before him, giving him the sense that he achieved as expected on his own. What he didn't build in was charity, travel, culture, and saving for college educations for his children. As a result. the children ended up having lots of debt when they finished college. A teacher, on the other hand, saved for her children's education, lived modestly, traveled widely on a budget, invested wisely when possible and she and her children felt quite satisfied and fulfilled with the results. She saw her life as rich and worthwhile. Lastly, a waiter gambled, drank and drugged his money away, believing from his abusive childhood that he didn't deserve a better life (oversimplification, of course) and ended up homeless, despite his hard work and nice heart.

As we look around at the financial choices we and others around us make, we learn a lot about who we and they are and what we all believe, what we want, and what we are willing to give up. I find it all very fascinating and believe that economics, even on a large scale is based on psychology.

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