How to Change a Material Mindset


Dollar Flying on Flagpole“We all need new ideas, images, and experiences far more than we need new stoves or cars or computers.”
― Bill Holm

One of the best things that happened to me was that the economy went into the tank.

Before economic times got tough, I enjoyed all that life, easy loans, and low-interest rates had to offer.  And this was a natural state for most people I am acquainted with.  After all, people naturally want to improve their circumstances, enjoy the best life has to offer, and “shoot the moon” when possible.

Without balance and moderation, though, we have no limits to our wants.  That’s what happened to me when times were good.

Some of my friends (and my wife, for that matter) have fewer desires than others.  They have spent years developing an attitude of frugality and restraint.  It’s not that they lack ambition or even money, they are simply wise.  

I, however, had to learn it all the hard way.

It was only when the economy went south that I faced the fact that I was riddled in debt, and I wanted freedom.  I have learned that true “freedom” comes with imposing (healthy) restraints on myself.  That means delaying gratification, settling for less, and even doing without…behaviors I did not have when I lived my life with credit.

Restraint is not easy in our consumerist society.  Our media glamorizes the material lifestyle; advertisers are all over the place, and even our neighbors are living high…even though they may be one paycheck from the edge (I was one of them).

We can overcome this.  I finally did.  It begins with our mindset.

If you are constantly battling the urge to spend, here are a couple of steps that may help hold you back:

1.  Realize that it is in our genes to feel dissatisfied with our circumstances.  As Alexander Green explains in his book “Beyond Wealth”:           

An early human who was content with what he had — who spent his days lazing on the African savannah admiring the clouds and thinking “Ahh, life is good” — was far less likely to survive and reproduce than his neighbor who spent every waking hour trying to gain some advantage. 

2.  Think back to a large purchase you made.  Did you originally want it badly, only to find out after you bought it that you didn’t appreciate it that much?  Think about how that purchase didn’t quite do it for you…why will it be any different this time?  The psychology of desire is an important thing to try to understand in ourselves.

3.  Stop giving a crap what anyone thinks about you.  Stop caring about the Joneses.  Life isn’t a competition for social status (besides, there will always be someone else who has it “better”, anyway).  Quit the game, even if your friends are still playing it, and you will quickly stop caring what others think of you.  Do work you love, even if it doesn’t pay as much.  Stop collecting “stuff”, and start creating incredible memories.

4.  Appreciate what you have and stop focusing on what you want.  This took me some time, and I still battle with it.  But the thought of losing my wife, my kids, my health…as dark as that sounds, it always “brings me back”.

5.  Stop daydreaming about living the life someone else is living.

Sound easy?  It only took me 40 years to figure out, and I still have ways to go.

We have been programmed by our culture to want everything, spend unconditionally, and consume ruthlessly to keep up with the Joneses.  At the end of the day, however, our reactions and actions are our own.  We can make the choice to defy consumerism and balance our lifestyle to live simply and happily.

It’s worth a shot, right?


  1. Limiting “aspirational inflation” (i.e. not just what we buy but what we want to buy, along the lines of what you are talking about) is really one giant part of being happy and financially fulfilled. I wrote a post last week – no more money worries for me = increase income + control wants.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted…Summer Internship FinancesMy Profile

    • Nice post! Controlling wants is definitely key. Once we realize that we will always want more than we have (genetically), we can work to stop it.

  2. #3 really hits a nerve and I love the way you phrased it. We simply haven’t the time to give a crap what the Joneses are doing or buying. We figure that if we have time to worry about what others have, we must be doing something wrong. And we operate on the assumption, true or not, that no one cares what we have either. Simple, simple, simple.
    cj recently posted…The Book That Could Have Saved UsMy Profile

  3. I learnt number 3 at school, and I think it becomes incredible hard to learn when you have to wear uniform to primary/high school etc, luckily I didn’t. When they get to college – looks matter, lots. It’s the perfect recipe for clothing materialism…

    I love number 5, and I do it all the time, although with a slight variation – it’s the life I’m going to live. Don’t worry, I do as well as dream!

    Loved the list, Tony!
    Nick Goodall recently posted…Incredible Character: ResponsibilityMy Profile

    • Interesting Nick, as I have always thought that by wearing a uniform we are taking the “making fun of clothes” thing out of the equation??

  4. Good advice. I have thought since a very young age that the opinions of people that don’t matter to me, don’t matter to me. End of.
    John@MoneyPrinciple recently posted…Enough is enough: decluttering our houseMy Profile

  5. Tony, what a great post. I am so glad you included #1. How many of us really think that it’s in our genes to be dissatisfied? This really frees up a lot of worry when you point that out! I hope that people understand that doesn’t mean we get to just spend, spend, spend and say, “Can’t help it! It’s in my genes to buy new jeans!” And that is what the rest of you point out so masterfully. Who cares what Mr. and Mrs. Jones have? It is too stressful to live like them. I am going for simple, simpler, and simplest!
    Tammy R recently posted…The Book That Could Have Saved UsMy Profile

  6. I had the great opportunity of living in a 3rd world country for approximately 2 years and it changed my life and mindset more than anything else had up to that point. I honestly believe that if people volunteered in 3rd world countries or in atmospheres that were less rewarding than they are accustomed to, then they’d realize how much they really don’t need materialistic things.

    • Wow…that must have been incredibly intense. I am sure that would do it for me, too! It is true: people survive with way less than us, and they are just as happy.

  7. It is truly amazing where an idea can take us. That is, if we take action on it at some point.

    Congratulations again! I can’t wait to read more of your journey.
    Amanda L Grossman recently posted…The Amish Next Door: How they Manage their Children’s MoneyMy Profile

  8. Lots of the material mindset comes from jealousy and keeping up with the Joneses, so those are great tips. It’s hard to practice when you see everyone with big boats and houses and great clothes, but you aren’t getting rich by spending all of your money!
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…Should You Invest In A Rising Market?My Profile

    • Yes it is tough. While I would like a boat when I in VT for the summer, renting one for a day is a better idea. We on’t need to “own” everything. It comes down to really running the numbers on every potential purchase, and being at peace with not owning stuff.

  9. I like what you said about “Stop collecting “stuff”, and start creating incredible memories.” I would like to enjoy life more and create my own awesome memories. Not to follow those of others but make my own. I would sure love that and I should do something about it now.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted…How To Save Money FastMy Profile

    • Good luck with that, KC! The collecting stuff piece is easy…try to stop buying stuff for one week (or one day!). Start small, then go from there!

  10. Great post, Tony. While there are certainly things I want (which I don’t necessarily think is bad since working towards achieving a want can be incredibly motivating) I also choose the things I want because I want them – not anyone else. Where wants can be so dangerous is people have such unrealistic expectations for them. And they rarely deliver, so off we go to make more purchases. But when we slow down and truly think about something we want and don’t worry about what others think about it – we can find something truly worthy of our hard-earned money and makes us happy.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…The Sweet Spot: Where Spending & Frugality CoexistMy Profile

  11. It is so true. many times the things we want are not always the things we actually need. Great post!!
    Jess recently posted…Do Not Buy Acai Berry Select Without Reading This First!My Profile

  12. We really don’t need all that much and material things don’t make you happy (except maybe in the anticipation of them). Its much more fun to me to have money in the bank and think of all the ways I could use it.
    Marie at Family Money Values recently posted…Branson – Free Things to DoMy Profile

  13. Great Post Tony, very uplifting! I am always looking for ways to remind myself to appreciate every day and the simple things that God has given me, not what society has!
    Jim recently posted…An Interview With Dr. Josh Umbehr, Real Life Medical Concierge Service ProviderMy Profile

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