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Is saving money sexy?

The reason I ponder the idea of saving money in relation to the social stigma attached to it, is complex. Coming of age in the 1980’s was a confusing time for opposing social messages. On one hand you had, ‘The Wealthy Barber‘ published in 1989 in Canada and just before that in 1987, ‘Greed is Good‘ was declared by the main character Gordon Gekko in the American movie ‘Wall Street’. Vastly different views of money originating from different channels and bordering countries within North America.

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” -Gordon Gekko, character in Wall Street

When we look back at how the financial market in the US actually developed over the past 33 years, one has to wonder if art reflects real life or creates it? It is one thing to invest your life savings in areas which are known to be risky, but people were manipulated to part with their cash or didn’t take the time to understand what they were getting into. It seemed like everyone was trying to get rich quick without any basic understanding of the math behind how that kind of system could possibly work, or in the case of what happened in reality, the bubble burst spectacularly.

Meanwhile in Canada, I was trying to save 10% of my annual income and invest in a registered retirement savings plan. Through my twenties that was not an easy thing to do, but I eventually managed to put away that basic amount of cash. As I review my nest egg, it easy to lament about what I could have done better, sooner. If only I had saved throughout my twenties, I would have put aside more of the foundation to create a higher balance today. But there was fun to be had and saving was not sexy in those days. Evidently, that is not the case anymore. Thanks to the power of the internet to gather niche interests, Saving Is Sexy: 9 In 10 People Think Being Frugal Is Attractive Quality, is the finding of researchers for Slickdeals.

Elevating the idea of financial wisdom in popular culture is one thing, but putting this into practice in our day to day lives is something else. With the rise of the internet we also have a spotlight on celebrity consumer culture that is off the charts, leaving young people with the aspiration to not just watch from afar but trying to attain it as well. Back in the 80’s we used to watch ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous‘, with a degree of fascination like going to the circus, but never with a thought that we could possibly attain the same for ourselves.

Meanwhile, the Japanese have long held a different attitude towards saving money and personal finance. ‘Kakeibo’: The Japanese art of saving money, grounds people in a simple practice of recording every transaction by hand. Studies confirm there is a cognitive benefit for using our hands to write down our thoughts, rather than using a computer. I suppose that writing down daily expenses offers both a cognitive benefit as well as bringing the mind into sharp focus for what money is being spent on. What an elegant way to direct our attention towards the goal of saving money.

Another interesting aspect of the Japanese is that their language is futureless. That means the subtle differences between past, present and future are not as distinct as they are in English. This might be a factor in how the different nations are able to save money. It is thought that if the language has words to describe the future, people may not be able to delay gratification of the present in favour of the future as effectively as countries where the distinction does not exist. It is interesting to think that Your Native Language Shapes Spending Habits.

Beyond language, culture seems to effect our abilities in other ways. Just like when we were children, if everybody is doing it, we tend to fall into line. Imagine if you lived in a place where conspicuous consumption was NOT a good thing? Evidently there is a Scandinavian Secret That Could Make You Happier and Wealthier.

You’re not likely see a Scandinavian flashing cash or bragging about how much wealth they’ve accumulated. What you are likely to notice is how simply people from Nordic countries live, as if “less is more” were ingrained in the public consciousness.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in Norway and this way of being applies to every aspect of life. It is one of the reasons that Scandinavian design has an aesthetic that is quite different from other parts of the world. Personally I find this simplicity and harmony to be comforting, almost reminding me of my childhood.

An extension of Scandinavian thinking would be the idea of ‘Pay Yourself First‘. This practice is described as simply taking a portion of your income and transferring it into savings first, then you won’t miss it. With modern electronic banking and payroll, it has never been easier to set this up. Making sure this is invested for the long-term is a second step that can also be automated. Why is such an easy thing so tricky to actually do? For me, the difficulty was wrapped up in how much stuff I had already spent my money on, before I had even earned it.

Pre-spending your income, even in theory, will always leave you feeling like you are behind. Therefore, there will never be enough money because there is an endless supply of ways to spend it. This effectively creates a wage gap between you and all the people around you whom you suspect earn a higher income. The worst part of this is that you head off to work each day feeling bad about yourself. I’ve lived on this hamster wheel and it is not pretty. What saved me was to Develop Intrinsic Motivation Skills. By having done so, I approach everything in my life with equal passion, regardless of whether I am being paid for it or not.

I think the concept of intrinsic motivation cannot be overstated. I feel like creativity is born and set free when we follow our curiosity. This has to be a free process where the unexpected can spring to life. This is not the place for too much control, unnecessary rules and all the other ways that creativity is stifled.

‘Most people aren’t anywhere near to realizing their creative potential, in part because they’re laboring in environments that impede intrinsic motivation.’  -Teresa Amabile

There is a time to follow the rules, (paying your taxes), and there is a time to let your imagination be free. The trick is to find the balance between the two!

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