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The Game of Competitive Spending

Why do we feel we have to fill our homes with shiny new things? Lynda Moore, the Money Mentalist, says we’re being hijacked by our emotions and by keeping up with the Joneses.

9 March 2022

The magic moment when you walk through the door into your first home is very special and you can rightly feel proud.

But now you have the home – and the eye-watering mortgage that goes along with it – the next question is, what are you putting in it?

Whether it’s a shiny new home or a slightly used one, it’s tempting to fill it with lovely new things.

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I remember my parents telling me about when they emigrated from the UK as a newly married couple and saved hard to build a new home.

“We couldn’t afford new furniture. Our table was a couple of beer crates and a plank. Friends gave us furniture, and we just did without until we could afford more.”

Confession time. My parents were telling me this story while sitting on my new lounge suite, after having lunch at my new dining room table because yes, I had succumbed to the temptation of filling my new home with lovely new things.

Fast-forward to today, where having everything new and shiny seems to be a must-have. People see rampant expenditure as part of the new-home experience.

We have biases to get over

Why do we do it? There are a few money biases that come into play here. Let’s explore them.

“We already owe the bank so much, what’s a few thousand dollars more to get everything else we want?”

This is called spending justification bias. It goes like this. If A equals B, then it follows that C equals D, even when A and B have nothing to do with C and D.

In other words, if we can afford the mortgage on the house, we can afford the furniture to go into it.

But justification is just a form of self-deception, because it gives us permission to spend money we can’t afford, and it widens the gap between our spending habits and financial reality.

“But honey, the new sofa is only $25 a week, so we just won’t buy lunch and use that money to pay for it.”

Let me introduce you to spending rationalisation bias. It’s a great way to convince ourselves that we can afford something and rationalise a bad decision with what look like good reasons.

It’s about now that our super-sensible partner, friend, or parent says no, it’s not a good idea to spend more money. So, we bring out the big guns and the bottom lip starts to quiver.

“But when Jenny and Tim moved into their new house, they had all new stuff, so we should too.”

This is ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, a form of competitive spending.

This bias is all about competing with your social group for status, or peering over your neighbour’s fence and wanting what they have.

The drive to keep up

So, why do we do this to ourselves? This behaviour is rooted in peer pressure from our friends, workmates, news and social media. Sometimes we simply want to have the newest and the best.

Plus, it’s human nature. We love to show off and we want to be seen as successful. The easy availability of credit lets us do this, tempting us into debt.

The drive also comes from deep within ourselves, stemming from our own level of self-esteem.

We feel that to be happy, we need to look and behave a certain way and have the toys to impress others.

There’s another catch.

Before you start keeping up with the Joneses and potentially getting into more debt to do it, first ask yourself, what if the Joneses are faking it? What if the Joneses are broke?

Reframe your thoughts

So, here you are, proudly opening the door to your new home.

What do you want to see after you’ve unpacked all the boxes? What is your style? What is ‘enough’ stuff?

Often we’re so focused on buying a house that our plans stop there.

Start to visualise the environment you want to create in your home and how you’re going to achieve it.

If you really do want a house full of brand-new things, plan for this cost now as part of your house-buying fund, rather than justifying that spending later.

Maybe you could be happy with just one lovely new piece of furniture now. You can get the rest from the flat or the op shop, and use friends and family hand-me-downs until you’ve saved for replacements.

If you have a creative flair, make your home charming by painting, reupholstering and upcycling old bits and pieces you find or are given.

The important thing is not to let yourself head down the pathway of justifying, rationalising or competitive spending.

Pause. Take a step back and decide what’s important for you. Not anyone else.

Informed Investor's content comes from sources that Informed Investor magazine considers accurate, but we do not guarantee its accuracy. Charts in Informed Investor are visually indicative, not exact. The content of Informed Investor is intended as general information only, and you use it at your own risk.

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