I went out to lunch with a sometime friend/mostly acquaintance (it’s a complicated relationship) the other day and she spent the better part of the meal checking her cell phone, texting, and LOL’ing to Facebook posts. At one point she looked up and said, “Aren’t you going to check your messages?” (I think she was feeling bad that I wasn’t obsessed with my phone, too, and, that I actually wanted to have a conversation with a live person, instead. Perhaps she realized she was being rude and wanted me to join in her rude behavior so she wouldn’t seem quite so obnoxious.)
“No,” I said. “Besides, I only have a ‘dumb’ phone. It doesn’t text or anything. I can check my voicemail when I get home.”
“Oh. Why don’t you have a smartphone?” she asked.
“Because I don’t need one. I’m not into social media, I don’t get that many calls, and all I need is something for emergencies or the rare long distance call that I can’t use my home phone to make. I don’t need one, so I don’t see the sense in laying out the money for it. I just keep a cheap prepaid phone.”
She made a derisive snorting noise.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“Please. You’re just trying to justify why you don’t have one. If you can’t afford it, it’s okay to say so. I won’t think less of you.”
At first I laughed, and then I got kind of mad. My first thought was that it was funny that she automatically leapt to the, “You can’t afford it,” conclusion. This from the person who I know can’t “afford” her phone, her car, or most of her clothes. She lets the credit cards “afford” those things for her. The irony there was funny.
But then I got mad that she actually thought that I would be worried about what she thought of me for not having a smart phone. Honestly, if someone thinks less of me because I don’t have something, for whatever reason, that’s not someone I’m going to hang around with for long. Finally, I zeroed in on the “justification” part of her comment. And I got even angrier.
“I’m not justifying anything,” I told her. “It’s a simple truth. I don’t need it, so I won’t pay for it.”
“Sure, sure,” she said, waving her hand. “Whatever. That’s your story. You’d be happier if you had one.”
I could have defended myself further but as I was about to open my mouth, I realized that I didn’t need to defend myself. Nothing I said was going to change her mind that somehow I was secretly dying to have a smart phone, but that I couldn’t afford it so I was saving face by creating this “story” about not needing it. And as for happiness, please. If a cell phone could make me happy I’d buy one, but I’m smart enough to know that happiness is never going to be found in a cell phone, no matter how swanky it might be. If anything, spending money on something that I don’t need is going to make me unhappy, not happy. The rudeness and blind assumptions here were hers, not mine, so I wasn’t going to waste my breath defending anything. If anything, I deserved an apology.
I’ve seen this happen before. You tell someone you don’t want a kitchen redo because you’re happy with your appliances and your laminate counters and they say, “Sure. If you could afford it, you’d do it.” Or if you say you’re happy driving your old car, living in your small house, wearing your old clothes, carrying a store brand handbag, or taking camping vacations instead of cruises, some people say, “That’s just your way of justifying the fact that you don’t have the money to buy a new/better thing. You’re not really happy, just poor.”
This is often their way of feeling better about their own wasteful choices. Deriding your common sense makes them feel better about their own unhappiness due to choices made “because everyone else has one.” Spending the money didn’t buy them happiness, so it never dawns on them that you could be perfectly happy having not spent the money.
In some cases it may be a justification. Someone may really covet those things but needs to save face so it’s less embarrassing to say, “I don’t want it,” rather than, “I can’t afford it”. In my case, and in the case of most people who live below their means, though, it’s a simple truth. “I don’t need it or want it,” is not a justification. We know what we need to live comfortably, if not lavishly, and we know what makes us happy. We know that happiness isn’t found in objects and we’re far happier living a much smaller life than many of our peers. We prefer financial security over piles of stuff bought because other people told us we should.
When you assume that someone is “justifying” why they don’t have something, stop and think for a minute. Chances are they aren’t lying to you about why they don’t own such and such. Chances are that they simply don’t want it. That doesn’t make them strange, or dangerous, or “unfortunate” in any way. It just means that their priorities are different from yours, or that they had the sense to say, “No,” when everyone else was saying, “Shut up and take my money!” The next time someone says, “I don’t have that because I don’t need it,” listen to them instead of dismissing them or pitying them. If you pay attention to their reasoning, you might learn a little something about financial security and wise spending.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Taellious)