Sacrificing financial wellbeing to buy things you don’t need to fit in with neighbors, friends, colleagues, and society at large. If that’s you – you’re normal.
And it’s no wonder. We are consistently bombarded with advertisements that show beautiful happy people with a new car, new phone, or on a luxury vacation. Marketing takes advantage of our deeply rooted biological desire to belong.
Social media further amplifies the effect, displaying only the best of people’s lives and filtering out the imperfect reality.
So, I’m not just going to tell you to stop buying stuff. That would oversimplify things, and it won’t help you. First, you need to understand the need to belong.
In this post, I’ll cover five ways to reduce your reliance on stuff. The first few focus on belongingness. By reducing expenses you will improve freedom and accelerate your wealth building journey.
1. Understand the Need to Belong
Accept That Need to Belong Is Natural
We all have the need to belong. I feel this urge. You feel this urge. We all feel this urge.
Think of die-hard sports fans, a strong affiliations to political parties, patriotism, and gravitation towards certain brands like Apple and Harley Davidson.
The desire to fit in is biologically hard-wired into us. We are social, cooperative beings that developed to depend on belongingness. For most of human history we were in hunter gatherer bands of 10-100 people. If we didn’t fit in, we would die.
We only broke away from hunter gatherer bands roughly 10,000 years ago and we haven’t changed biologically. Our desire to strong desire to belong still exists today.
The Importance of the Need to Belong
A model that shows the importance of belongingness is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our need to belong is third in priority, coming only after you meet your food, shelter, health and basic safety needs.
Interestingly, esteem, respect, freedom, status and becoming the best that you can be are of lower importance than the need to belong.
Some move directly to self-actualization after basic needs like food, water, sleep and shelter. In pursuit of a higher purpose, they skip safety, love and belonging, and esteem needs. I think most CEOs fall under this category.
How Your Need to Belong Can Create Financial Problems
The problem arises when your desire for belongingness results in financial destruction. This is the case for many in North America, who root their need to belong in material goods, status services or memberships.
If this is you, don’t feel guilty, especially with the intensity of advertising and social media pressures all around you. After all, belongingness is deeply rooted in your biology.
However, you need to take responsibility and dig yourself out of a hole caused by dependency on luxury goods/services. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
So just get rid of your stuff and stop buying stuff. If only it were that simple.
Let’s say you just get rid of all your stuff, quite your expensive membership and halt the flashy vacations.
Then what happens?
If your sense of belonging was rooted in stuff, you’ll feel lost. You would have lost a large portion of your identity. You will feel like you have lost your sense of direction in life.
The solution is deeper. You will need to find new ways to belong and establish a new sense of identity, otherwise, you’ll fall back into you dependency on material goods.
2. Find Ways to Belong For Free
There are many alternate ways to satisfy belongingness that don’t require spending. In fact, these methods will provide a much deeper sense of belonginess and fulfillment than stuff.
All of these involve pursing a cause that is greater than yourself.
Work For An Organization with a Mission that You Stand For
You spend a ton of time and energy at work. You can use this time in pursuit of a greater mission that will foster a strong sense of belonging. After all, time is the only thing you can never get back.
For example, Josh cares deeply about the transition to green energy, so Josh seeks work for a solar company as part of the effort to reduce the impact on climate. Josh is a skilled project manager, so he applies as solar farm project manager. Josh uses his strengths to make a difference in an area he believes in.
Ideally, you can find an organization that tackles a cause that you care about deeply, while also making use of your unique strengths. In this way, you’ll naturally align your personal values with the organization’s values.
A bunch of people with common values will foster strong relationships with others in the workplace – belongingness.
I gain a large sense of my belonging through the military. I’ve been in the military since I was 16. I love the military, and I love what we do for Canada. It’s a clear example where the individual is part of a purpose greater than oneself.
Build a Business
Can’t find an organization that you deeply believe in? No problem, you can build one.
The beliefs and values of your business represent the organizational culture of that business. These beliefs and values are set by the founder’s beliefs and values. The founder drives the organizational culture.
As a founder, you’d be part of an organization with a culture that shares your values and vision. Can you think of any better way to belong?
Not only that, but can develop an organization that builds relationships in society to change the world for the better. Your business would find a sense of belonging in the world.
My dad always said, your strong so that you can help those who are not. Helping others through volunteering or providing resources is one of the best ways to find belonging.
One of the main reasons for growing wealth is to gain the freedom to give back and make the world a better place.
Money is a tool that increases the scope of positive impact on the world.
Look at all of the richest people in the world. They don’t retire and rid themselves of all responsibility.
No. Nearly all of them continue working on a cause and give a substantial portion of their wealth back to making the world a better place:
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: From 1994 to 2018 Bill and Melinda Gates have donated over $36 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation1.
Warren Buffett: Warren Buffett will provide over 99% of his Berkshire shares to charity2. Interestingly, Warren finds little value in material goods, and cherishes health, and long-lasting friendships. That says a lot.
And you can still give back without money – all you need is time.
Back in my university days we delivered leftovers from the university cafeteria to homeless shelters. That felt good, made an impact and required zero money.
The opportunities are limitless so long as you have time. You could cook for your local homeless shelter, take on volunteer work for victim services, or simply help provide food to someone you know who is in need.
Develop Strong Relationships
Belongingness is fostered through intimate relationships, friendships, and even business relationships. My prior points on joining an organization and giving boil down to relationships.
For example, a business is a series of relationships to form internal cooperation and to build relationships with the customers.
Volunteering does the same thing – it builds relationships with others.
Intimate relationships are also important. You want to be with someone who understands knows your vulnerabilities and oddities. This acceptance is a critical form of belongingness.
Finally, you can build relationships with people who share common values. A great way is to join groups like your local gym, a sports team or a cycling group.
I hope it’s clear that there are many free and low-cost methods to fill your need to belong without spending much money.
3. Understand that Material Goods Are Terrible Measures of Wealth
The truth is that the flashy car, nice vacation, and beautiful house are a surface layer facade. As you mature, you realize that life is complex with many layers of depth, and that material goods tell you very little about someone’s life.
The reality is often opposite of what you see. Behind the nice BMW, boat and perfect vacations on Instagram is likely to be a person with low net worth. Money spent is money not invested.
On the contrary, most millionaires are living frugally, out of sight, while they save and invest aggressively.
- “72% of millennials and 74% of Gen Z wonder how friends can afford expensive experiences posted on social media” (they can’t) – Schwab Modern Wealth Survey
- Over half of those in North America are living paycheck to paycheck.
Our stuff may look great on the surface. But none of this matter when we have no money to get through an emergency or can’t travel to see our loved ones.
4. Picture Life With No Money Stress
Life can be hard enough as is, and you want to be able to shift your focus on life’s curveballs without the additional weight of money stress.
- Do you want to be worrying about money when you have to put your dog down? Nope.
- Do you want to live with the financial anxiety of having zero financial buffer? Nope.
- If your parents pass away, do you want to be stressing about debt, how you’re going to pay for the funeral, or how you can afford to travel? Hell no.
- Can you survive a 3-month period of unemployment if you lost your job?
You need to mitigate the potential of financial disaster by spending less than you earn, building an emergency fund, and investing to grow long-term wealth. Your finances can improve freedom so that you can focus on the important things in life.
I’m not demonizing material items, but I am firmly against the purchase of luxury goods/services to the point where it induces preventable financial anxiety and stress.
The luxury goods and services come after:
- You are debt-free;
- You have an emergency fund worth 3-6 months of essential expenses; and
- You are saving and investing at least 15% of your income for retirement.
5. Understand the Expenses That Bring True Value to Your Life
The key is to identify the non-essential goods/services that bring true value to your life through the experiences they give you.
You have to take some time and energy to reflect and determine your true motives for purchase. An item/service won’t bring true value to life if you are buying it to improve your belongingness or to feel a sense of superiority,
However, if you are in debt and don’t have an emergency fund, you can’t afford to spend on the non-essentials that bring value to your life. You must ruthlessly buckle down and save aggressively so you can pay off the debt and build an emergency fund.
For example, I live like I’m poor because I want to be financially independent in my late 30’s, but there is one area where I spend lavishly – on my bikes.
I spend on bikes because cycling brings true value to my life, and a nice bike is sooo nice to ride. People look at me funny when they realize my bikes are worth more than my car. I spend over 100 hours riding each year, and I’m 100% willing to sacrifice a small bit of future wealth for the present joy that a nice ride brings.
- Your biologically wired to belong, and it’s often rooted in material items.
- There are many free sources of belongingness that will allow you to limit dependence on material items:
- Your Job
- Starting a business
- Serving your community
- Good relationships
- Over 50% of people in the U.S and Canada are living paycheck to paycheck. Don’t compare yourself to a bunch of broke people.
- Life is difficult enough, you don’t need to add preventable stressors to the mix.
- Achieve a balance by identifying the items that bring true value to your life and where you spend to fill your need to belong.