Finding Freedom And Happiness In A Materialistic World

The idea for this post came after watching an episode of Rich Kids of Instagram. I honestly don’t watch a lot of TV (just a few hours a month, at the most, is the norm for me because we don’t have Netflix, cable, or local channels), but somehow I found this show and got sucked…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 27, 2023

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Finding Freedom And Happiness In A Materialistic WorldThe idea for this post came after watching an episode of Rich Kids of Instagram. I honestly don’t watch a lot of TV (just a few hours a month, at the most, is the norm for me because we don’t have Netflix, cable, or local channels), but somehow I found this show and got sucked in.

These people are wealthy, like super wealthy, but the show was basically about spending money to impress other people.

And, my main thought the whole time was why do people care so much about STUFF?

As I was watching what was happening in the show, my jaw hit the floor a few times. It’s just crazy what people spend their money on, the things people will do to flaunt their wealth, and the lengths people will go to in order to chase material items.

I’m sure some of these people were actually happy, but I don’t think that’s the norm for the average wealthy person. More importantly, it shouldn’t be the norm for the average American.

Related article: Why You Should Spend Like A Millionaire- The Frugal and Smart Money Habits of Millionaires

I honestly hate to judge, but as a personal finance expert, I have met too many people who let material possessions take over their lives.

And, I want it to stop.

Being controlled by material possessions can hold you back significantly, in many ways. It can lead to anxiety, stress, and falling into a debt cycle.

Sure, there are times when buying things can make you happy. But, for the most part, unnecessary material possessions won’t greatly benefit your life, especially if you can’t afford them.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive an email asking me why I don’t have pictures of myself sitting on a Ferrari, wearing “nicer” clothes, and so on and so on. Someone actually told me that they don’t believe anything I have to say because my Instagram isn’t filled with fancy sports cars!

Sure, Ferraris are cool if you like that sort of thing, but that’s not my life. And, fancy sports cars, expensive watches, or designer clothes aren’t going to make your life better than anyone else’s.

I realize that I live on a beautiful sailboat and could afford more expensive things, but I choose to live simply because that’s what brings me happiness. And, you’ll never find me buying stuff just to buy stuff.

Buying things to keep up with others is a dangerous financial behavior because many people aren’t being realistic with their financial situation and their spending. When you let material possessions control you, you may be holding yourself back from reaching meaningful financial goals, like having an emergency fund, paying down your debt, or one day reaching retirement.

There are so many people who want a bigger house, a bigger wedding ring, some who will wait 24 hours in line for the newest cell phone, those who will spend their whole paycheck on an outfit, and so on.

But, are any of those things needs? Are they worth wrecking your future?

No.

Again, I’m not saying that you can’t have nice things, instead I’m saying that you should be realistic with your income and spending, and realize that material possessions won’t always bring you happiness.

For most people, happiness comes from security and stability, and chasing material possessions will cause you to lose focus on what’s actually meaningful.

Often, a simple life can bring much more happiness and freedom. This means spending within in your means, focusing on long-term goals, and just living with a little bit less.

If you’re feeling frustrated with the chaos of a materialistic world and wanting the freedom that comes from simplicity, here are some questions to ask yourself:

 

1. Are there things you could live without?

Look around your home and really start to think about the things you actually need. A lot of the stuff we have is there because we wanted it, and while that’s okay sometimes, all of that physical clutter might be causing mental clutter.

When you are living a lifestyle that is controlled by material possessions, you are probably buying things just to buy them. But, do any of them actually bring you happiness?

When we downsized to move into our RV, it felt so good to get rid of the things we didn’t need or use. I knew I had been attached to my material possessions for too long, and it was freeing to finally get rid of so much stuff!

You probably have many items in your home that you could live without. And, you don’t have to completely downsize like we did, but decluttering can help free you from those materialistic wants. It honestly makes your life so much simpler, and there are many benefits to having a simpler life.

Decluttering your life to simplify it can lead to:

  • Saving money. It’s pretty simple– the more you have, the more money you will have to spend in order to maintain, repair, or replace things. When you have fewer things, you will save money because you won’t be spending so much in order to just keep things. Plus, you can even make money selling your things.
  • Really using what you have. When you have a lot of stuff, it’s easy to forget about what you have. You also might lose things, buy things you already have because you forget you had them, and so on. When you live with less, you know what you have and will actually use those things.
  • Being mindful about your spending. When you realize how little you actually need to live, you will probably be more careful about how you spend your money in the future. This will allow you to put money towards more meaningful things, like paying off your debt and working towards retirement.

Related post: How A Minimalist Lifestyle Can Bring You Happiness.

Once you declutter, you might even get to the point when you are wanting to downsize your house, and this can save you even more money. A bigger home just costs more, from heating and cooling, higher insurance, more maintenance and repairs, and more. Plus, a smaller home might mean that you aren’t tempted to fill those empty rooms with more stuff.

 

2. Why are you wanting to buy certain items?

If you are only buying things to impress other people, you are not prioritizing your own happiness.

There will always be people who have more than you, and there will always be more new things to buy.

If you let yourself fall into that mindset, you will never find true happiness because you are letting others tell you what should make you happy.

You need to think about whether you are buying something because you truly want it, not because you are wanting to impress the people around you.

If you are having a hard time understanding why you want to buy a certain item, it can be helpful to wait at least 24 hours before making the purchase. This will give you time to think about why you are wanting to buy it, whether or not you are wanting it to impress someone else, and how it will affect your financial goals.

 

3. How does wanting more stuff align with your financial goals?

If you can’t afford an item, then you should not be purchasing it.

It’s really that simple.

Before you buy something, you should think about how it will impact your financial goals.

For example: if you are about to buy a $200 pair of shoes, think about what else you could be doing with that $200. Could you put it towards your debt? Should you be adding to your emergency fund? You could even start investing with it.

Related post: How To Start Investing For Beginners With Little Money.

Again, I’m not saying that you can’t buy something if you really want it, but you should always make sure it’s something you can afford. Going into unplanned high-interest rate debt to “afford” something can wreck your finances.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eventually purchase that item, it might just mean you’ll have to wait a little longer. If that item is still something you really want or need, you might want to consider some creative ways to make money to help fund that spending decision.

You should always prioritize your financial goals over the expectations of others. If you haven’t started thinking about your financial goals, you should start planning for them now.

Setting financial goals is a thing every person or family should do, and they will help you determine how you can and should be spending your money. To get started on your goals, read more at Your Financial Freedom Checklist to see how setting goals can help you reach financial freedom.

 

4. Do you really need the item?

Finally, the last question you should ask yourself is if you actually need the item. I know this sounds like a no brainer, but many people don’t take the time to ask themself this simple question. The reality is that this is one of the most important questions to ask when making a large purchase (or any for that matter).

Really dig deep to determine if it’s something you really need. Sure, you might think you need the item, but is it more of a want than a need?

“Wants” are fine, but you do want to be realistic with your budget and your spending. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, have a large amount of high-interest rate debt, or anything else, then you may want to skip any large splurges for now and stick to what you truly need.

Are you conscious of all of the stuff that you buy? What do you think of the materialistic world that we live in?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. People buy things to fill voids in their lives. I’m not saying this from an innocent point of view, I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the past. I was able to recognize it and get it under control, with only occasional slips. Unfortunately most just keep going down the road

  2. It is wild that people are hinting that you need a Ferrari first to be taken seriously. I would think having a large catamaran sailboat would suffice πŸ™‚

    I haven’t heard of that show but I am definitely going to DVR it. At least these kids are wealthy. I have heard of numerous times when someone creates a facade of wealth by renting out expensive cars, jewelry, private jets just to take a picture for Instagram.

    The sad thing is it sets a bad example for society as we always want to compare ourselves to others and social media just flaunts this in our face.

    Materialistic things I have found rarely live up to the hype/happiness you think they will bring. I bought a boat a long time ago thinking of the lifestyle it would bring only to find reality was a lot more down to earth and later sold it for a loss (plus all the time/money to keep it maintained and insured).

    It is experiences that I find bring the most bang for the buck. I went to Bali for my 45th birthday and I can still recall every moment and it brings back so many memories even after 2 1/2 yrs. Spending time with a loved one in a memorable place/experience trumps any materialistic goods in my mind.

    1. Yeah, a lot of the spending from the show that I saw was just for Instagram, which is just crazy!

  3. Hey Michelle, I have been reading your blog etc for a long time, love it! I am about to publish my first blogpost on the 1st Nov and this post would be perfect for some of my readers. Is it possible to link your article or blog as a resource for my readers? Thanks, Steve from stevearrowsmith.com

    1. You don’t need permission just to link to a website – only if you are going to take words or pictures from it.

      1. I thought you may be a great resource for people struggling with their finances. Thanks Michelle

  4. I’ve been the opposite of this for as long as I can remember. I’m almost happier when I don’t buy something. And sometimes when I’m gifted too much, as much as I appreciate the thought and sentiment, I get a little stressed because then I think where will we store the thing in our small house! lol I have family members who truly don’t understand that I’m happy with less.

  5. Wait, that CANNOT be real — what fool said that they wouldn’t take you seriously because you don’t have a ton of sports cars? Haha, I’m cackling over here thinking about the FIRE community and everyone’s beater cars. Just goes to show how priorities are different for everyone!

    I’m not going to lie: I spend money on some materialistic things. Not a lot, but some. I enjoy high-quality in some products, like makeup, and so I’m willing to pay more. But I think the key is that I am keenly aware of how and where I spend my money, limit the “un-necessaries” (like makeup) and deeply reject “worldly things” at the end of the day. Honestly, give me a library card, my family and a roof over my head and I’m all set.

    Oh and tacos. Give me tacos, too.

  6. CeCe

    I think my Dad says it best: “You can’t take it with you.” Honestly, it makes sense. I heard that only 1 person one that recent billion dollar lottery and that sparked a convo between my sister and I. What would you do with all that money? We were pretty much on the same page: invest, give to charity, travel, save, pay off debt, share with my best friends (of which I have two lifelong ones), help out immediate family, and a shopping spree (ditch the wardrobe and buy slow fashion and sustainable items). The most expensive car I want to buy is a Tesla Model X. LOL. But my Dad’s right: when you die, you can’t take it with you. I’m nowhere near a fashionista. I could care less about the latest “in” purse/shoe/outfit/car to have. Like you, I’d want to live simply. Then again, I was raised that way, so maybe that has something to do with it. πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Michele, I loved seeing you on the teachable summit. I learned a lot and am very inspired and grateful for all the information! TY!
    I am a Professional Organizer.It’s been 3 years since I started my business at age 59. Previously, I was a Massage Therapist for 15 years. In both professions I met people from every walk of life. As an MT, often a cocktail waitress would tip more generously than a lawyer.But, then, someone wealthy would be so kind, generous, supportive, and respectful.
    As a PO, often, people on the lower end of the financial spectrum treat me with more respect and grace than the trustfund baby. But, then, the Bentley owner would be generous and write a great review and recommend me to friends.
    There is danger in generalizing when it comes to financial status with regards to wisdom, kindness, goodness of heart, and spirituality. I am happier when I approach LIFE with the idea that people are doing the best they can do. With that consciousness I keep a lighter heart
    Believe me, I am working on it.
    As a PO, I get clients who are shopaholics, spending addicts, etc. They struggle and suffer.
    I think it is very important to remember that we are all addicted to something and/or have issues with insecurities or confidence that evolved from neglect in some way in our lives. Let’s stop ourselves from judgeing and being self righteous. Let’s meet people where they are, with our own consciousness and education. Negativity will not bring results.
    I love watching The Minimalists on Netflix. They really package the whole concept beautifully.
    Our overspending is not sustainable and is a very serious problem for the collective conscious as well as for our Mother Earth.
    When people act out to fill thier void, let’s give consciousness, kindness, and help.
    Take the best and leave the rest. As we get to know people we find something to love.
    Judging others will always lead us down the wrong path.
    Instead, let’s do something toward healing these destructive behaviors through community, support, and kindness.
    You might want to figure out what it was that hooked you into watching in the first place?
    We all have choice with how we spend our time and money.
    We all have choice with speaking up when we see friends, family, sometimes ourselves making unsustainable choices. Let’s be part of the change with love and consciousness. At the very least we’ll have a more positive day ourselves, at best, we can support change that is so necessary.
    πŸ™‚

    1. I think you may have misunderstood the post – I am not being negative with this post or judging people negatively, if that’s what you’re saying.

  8. Riches 2 Rags

    I think being constantly exposed to a materialistic lifestyle definitely contributes overspending for a lot of people. It’s in the media, your friends, coworkers, and everything we have been taught has given the impression that having this brand, this car, or a 4,000 square foot house defines our success. People live beyond their means because it makes them feel good, successful, or beautiful. Ultimately I think it’s how we want to be seen. For a lot of financial blog readers, we choose to expose ourselves to something different. We read from bloggers like you, and realize that none of that matters. We turn off our TV’s (because let’s face it, most of us don’t have cable anyways), and we choose to minimize our exposure to that lifestyle, or at least condition ourselves to ignore it. I’m so happy that there is a community of us that are choosing to live our lives in a different way, and frugal living, FIRE, and tiny houses are becoming this wonderful movement. Thanks for the great read!

  9. Hi,

    I found your blog via pinterest and I am so glad. I am reading all your blogs. They are amazing.

  10. This is a great post. I really enjoy watching how you live your life despite having a good income from your blog. You are simple, understated, and just enjoying life! I think you are so inspiring and are setting such a wonderful example to people. Keep up your awesome work!

  11. Kris

    It really sucks many go down the road of spending more than their saving with materialistic items being the main source for their spending. I think if many would have a long term financial outlook instead of worrying about buying any trendy items then you will have more wiser consumers.

  12. Carrie

    Wow, Michelle, excellent advice!! Very good suggestions in this blog post. I am really happy to see you are staying in alignment with your personal values and being a role model for others. I am not a minimalist (because I do like to collect some material objects such as books, music, art and decorative pieces for my home), but I appreciate people who are. For me, any material items that I purchase are primarily for the purpose of providing some kind of benefit or value for myself or my family and friends. I am a very thoughtful consumer and gift giver. I don’t usually purchase something unless I feel it will be most beneficial for me and my family/friends. I focus on good quality, healthy and eco-friendly products at a bargain price.

    It can really be quite fun though to “splurge” once in a while on yourself or other people, if that gives you genuine happiness. I do allow myself to have fun sometimes with my spending, when I have the extra money to do so. I believe the “Universe” rewards people who are generous (that can also mean being generous with their time, not just with money). Money is meant to be circulated and shared, however it also needs to be managed wisely so that we can ensure we have plenty to meet our needs.

    I very much value being able to get a good bargain for a quality item rather than paying top dollar for something that is trendy and only meant to impress others. I enjoy the discovery of finding good bargains. I have never actually cared that much about trying to “keep up” with anyone else. I have plenty of personal interests already (like reading, writing, editing, music, travel, photography, natural health, yoga, meditation, cute pets, etc) that keep me plenty busy so I really don’t have time to pay attention to anyone else’s material accumulation habits. Btw, I am an X-Gen who definitely represents the independent streak most X-Gen’s have, which is to be our own unique person and do our own thing.

    I think older people (40 plus) are usually more inclined to begin down-sizing after having the experience of accumulating too much stuff. It is fun when younger to go on a few shopping “sprees”, provided they are possible within a reasonable budget. However, as a person gets older, we tend to take on more responsibilities so shopping sprees don’t tend to happen that often and we shift our priorities to what we consider to be necessary and important.

    I am impressed with all the Millennials like yourself who have started their own frugal/minimalist trends at such a young age. Every person has to decide for themselves how much money they are comfortable spending, and what they spend it on. Some people get much enjoyment out of buying material things, while others get more enjoyment out of using their money to create memorable experiences such as vacations with family. It’s not easy figuring out how to have enough money for everything we might want to have and do, so every day is an opportunity to practice managing money in the best way possible so that you will have enough money for the most important things that you value.

    Plus remember – material items can always be sold and recycled! Or given as a gift to someone who may get better use out of it when you no longer want something. Nature recycles, so too should humans recycle.

  13. Came here from twitter and loved to read the tips on how to refrain ourselves from impulse buying. I always feel that being grateful for what we have and giving up the urge to keep with Joneses are also very important. There are many reasons why people buy stuff – to avoid the void in their life, to possess all that they missed due to their past financial status, status symbol, shopping addiction and much more… Mindful consumption and asking the 4 questions that you have listed before buying anything will help!