❝The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.❞ -Rita Mae Brown
I'm sitting at my desk in my bedroom, working out a plan to find a job. I recently moved to Minneapolis from Fargo, and I don't have a job yet. I don't have much for savings, and what little savings I have is going quickly. I come to the realization that I have to keep my spending down. I have to stop wasting time and money at Target and Walmart. I have to stop going out with my friends. Most importantly, I have to stop going out to eat...at least until I find a job.
I'm finishing up my strict budget when my phone rings. It's my friend Mike. Mike has the day off and invites me over to his apartment to hang out. I agree because I enjoy hanging out with him and his wife, Jo. Plus, I don't have anything else to do.
My friends don't know about my financial situation. This is mostly by design and because we don't really talk about that kind of stuff. After hanging out with them for a while, Mike tells me they plan on going out to dinner tonight at an Asian fusion restaurant that is quite expensive. I've been there before with them, and I know the drill. Everybody orders appetizers to eat before we order our main dish. We end up getting one or two fancy martinis, and sometimes we order dessert. So I know I can't afford it when they ask me if I want to come along. Wanting to keep the good times going, I say yes.
After enjoying our meal and a couple of key lime pie martinis, Mike and Jo think it would be fun to go to the local bar and have a couple of drinks. Again, I say yes. Literally, the day I come up with a plan to get my spending in check, I spend over $100 with my friends.
Looking back on that time, I realize the temptation was too high. I didn't know how to say no to my friends.
THE NEED FOR BELONGING IS POWERFUL
Of our six basic needs (belonging, autonomy, safety/security, self-expression, purpose, and connection), belonging is one of the strongest. Our need for belonging is where you find peer pressure and keeping up with the Joneses. We often succumb to social pressure even when we know we're not supposed to at the time. Those are the obvious areas where belonging shows up. The less obvious is when we spend in a way we know doesn't support what's important to us just so we can fit in, even if nobody else expected it.
According to Bronnie Ware, author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret people have as they look back on their life is that they didn't live a life that was in line with their values - they lived a life that they thought they were supposed to live. In other words, people are so drawn by what they think they're supposed to do that they end up regretting their life.
GETTING PULLED BY SOCIAL COMPARISON
Social comparison, social pressure, and other forms of comparison, are baked into our consumerist culture. Much marketing and most advertisements aim to get us to do something that will help us fit in more. Even if we know that we don't want the things that are being marketed to us, there's still a lot of pressure, and it's too easy to give in to that pressure. Marketing companies have long known how to pull our strings, and that was before they had so much data on us and could target us with specific ads. It seems we are on our own to combat this.
CONFIDENCE IN PURPOSE AND VALUES
The first step towards living a life that is aligned with what's important to you is to understand your purpose and your values, including what money's purpose is in your life. Once you know what is truly important to you and how you want to live your life, you can use your money to design a life in such a way that you'll have the fewest regrets possible.
Once you have confidence in your purpose and values, you have essentially given yourself permission to use your time, energy, and money in ways that support your purpose. It also gives you permission to let go of things that don't fit with what's important to you. Confidence in your own purpose and values has a side benefit of helping you understand that everybody has different values. You'll be less likely to judge others for doing something that doesn't fit with what you value.
I HAVE A RULE
Still, even with confidence in your purpose and values, it can be hard to turn down people who ask you to spend money on things that aren't important to you or money you don't have. That may sound harsh, but it usually shows up more innocently than that. This is the friend who wants you to go to an expensive restaurant with her. It's your family member that insists on going on a vacation that's more than you want to spend. It can be difficult to say no.
This is where the "I have a rule" technique comes in handy. Developing rules for yourself is helpful because it gives you a framework within which you can operate. Rules can be as simple as, "I only go out to eat once per week." Another rule might be, "I have to plan for at least three months before I go on a long trip."
Developing a set of rules for yourself that is aligned with your purpose and values helps you understand how you want to use your time, money, and energy.
USING YOUR RULES
Your rules come in handy when you have to politely decline invitations. It can be hard to say no to people. On the other hand, people are generally good at respecting your rules. Nobody wants to be the person that makes you break your own rule. It becomes a polite way to decline invitations.
For example, a friend asks me if I can go out to dinner on Saturday at a restaurant that I don't really like and is a little more expensive than I am comfortable with. I can simply respond by saying, "I'm going out to dinner with my wife on Friday, and I have a rule that I only got to eat once per week. I really appreciate the offer, though."
Another example is if a friend would ask me to go to Las Vegas next weekend. I don't really have the money to go to Las Vegas and don't believe I would enjoy the trip. I can say, "I have a rule that I plan for at least three months before I go on a trip, so, unfortunately, I can't make it. I'm grateful that you thought about me, though."
One final note on the order of your delivery. You want to end on a good note. Compare these two sentences:
I appreciate you thinking about me, but unfortunately, I can't make it.
Unfortunately, I can't make it, but I appreciate you thinking about me.
Those senses have the same words, but they feel different. People tend to remember the last thing you told them, so let them remember your gratitude.
It's hard to avoid temptation and peer pressure. Once you get clear about what's important to you and the kind of life you want to design, though, it becomes easier to turn down opportunities that aren't aligned with your values. You can use your rules to help you get there.
You only have one life; live intentionally.
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Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Ariely, Dan & Jeff Kreisler: Dollars and Sense
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Klontz, Brad, Edward Horwitz & Ted Klontz: Money Mammoth
Peterson, Jordan: 12 Rules for Life
Sinek, Simon: Start With Why
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.