Lessons On Spending From Wisteria Lane

By: Karen Cheong

I love the series Desperate Housewives. Unfortunately, I only discovered it when it was well into its third season. As a result, I had to borrow the DVDs of the earlier episodes, so you will forgive me if my examples may seem a little dated.

Most people have putting aside money for retirement as one of their financial goals. That requires having a sum of money with which to invest, and hopefully grow, to provide us with an income when we choose to stop working, or no longer can work.

We can obtain that extra money in a few different ways. Apart from getting a huge inheritance or winning the lottery, it boils down to either generating more money, or spending less. Not everyone has the inclination to start a business, take on a second job, or haggle with your boss for a raise.

So we're now talking about spending less. In order to start saving, you need to start examining some of your spending habits. If you are already a good saver, you don't actually need to read this article.

Why do people tend to spend ? One of the differences I noticed when I was watching the first season of Desperate Housewives on DVD, instead of the TV, was that each episode was not that long. A good half of the air-time on TV was taken up by advertisements.

Advertisements telling me what I should buy, where I should go, what kind of lifestyle I should have, who I should be become. All targeted at getting me to spend my money. You notice we're referred to as "consumers". That's how society works. It is how the economy continues to grow - by getting people to spend their hard-earned money on things they don't necessarily need.

There's a character in this series called Gabrielle. Gabrielle is a pretty but poor girl who made good as a model. She gives this all up to marry rich man Carlos and together, they move into blissful suburbia on Wisteria Lane.

Here, they live in a huge house, have a maid, have fast cars and Gabrielle has all the clothes and jewellery she loves so much. Carlos is a busy man. He has to earn money to support their lifestyle, so he shows his love for her by buying her more gifts, more cars and more jewellery. But the beautiful Gabrielle is unhappy and lonely. She is driven into the arms of her penniless teenage gardener.

I won't try to derive too many lessons from this. It's not a story on personal finance. But clearly, money does not buy happiness. The fast cars, big house, nice clothes and jewellery don't guarantee happiness.

You don't have to believe what the advertisements want you to believe. You don't need those things to be happy. There is no need to spend more than you can afford trying to keep up with or impress your friends.

Certainly, one shouldn't be spending just to feel good, like Gabrielle does. It's all too easy to forget your financial goals when you are sitting in a brand new car, smelling the new leather, and thinking how nice it would be to own this car. Be careful when the salesman tells you it will only cost you $300 a month. What he doesn't tell you is it will cost you $300 a month for many many months. And that doesn't include the cost of petrol, maintenance and repairs.

Analyse your spending. Take time to track your receipts, your credit card bills, and your cheques. You don't have to go into the minute details. But you do need to know where your money is going.

Be careful with debt. There's good debt - like buying real estate, or funding an education. And there's bad debt - new living room furniture, new clothes, a new car, that vacation you can't quite afford. The truth is, that vacation you took for a few weeks as a break from your horrible boss may have seriously affected your financial goals, causing you to work for a few more years for that same boss !

Pay off your debts as soon as you can, especially the high-interest ones. It is a lot harder to find a low-risk investment that will generate you as much gains as the interest you are paying on your credit card. Think of it as a low-risk way of gaining money on the money you don't pay in interest to the credit card company.

Reduce your spending. If we accept that Gabrielle and Carlos are reasonably true to life, you can see it is not true that having an expensive lifestyle will guarantee happiness. There's no need to be a penny-pinching stay-at-home miser. But it helps to learn to spend money wisely rather than carelessly. Live within your means.

You don't need to buy what your neighbour is buying. Spending too much is a relative problem - it is relative to how much YOU earn. Look out for the best values. High price does not equal good quality. And don't waste your money on brand names. The only thing you are paying for is what it cost the company to advertise that product.

Be creative ! Life doesn't have to be one long drag just because you can't spend money. Some of the best things in life are free.

Oh, and finally, don't pick up any costly habits. Don't smoke. If you don't think about the cost of the cigarette, think about your medical bills ten years from now. Don't drink alcohol. And don't gamble. It's the casinos who are rich. Not the gamblers inside. The house always wins. Juanita, Carlos' mother learnt that the hard way.

So that's it ! My lessons on spending after watching Desperate Housewives !

Money Management
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