Monday, May 20, 2013

Ramblings of the wanting

Originally, started in the Spring of 2011.  Updated in the fall of 2011 and completed in the Spring of 2013.

The problem: I want new and expensive things but I can't afford them.  I suspect that many people have this problem but "expensive" and "affordability" are relative to your wealth and how you manage your money and debt.  I'm envious of people that are satisfied with what they have or have more modest desires.  I can't help myself researching new versions and dreaming of higher quality products.  I can get quite low thinking of all the wonderful places in the world that I'll never get to experience.  I'm sad to say that I am often pre-occupied with thoughts of my wish list and oftentimes don't realize how lucky I am to have everything I already own or have experienced in my life.

I'm not certain of my wants are something I can easily control.  Is it in my DNA to want more than I have ?  I know I have family members who have the same flaw.  However, I do think that I can control envy when it raises its ugly head and I'm working on ways to cope with this annoying and distracting affliction.

The solution: Recognize that I'll never be satisfied, enjoy the wonderful things I do have and have already experienced.  New products are always going to be available and they'll always be something better.  There's a never ending list of beautiful places in the world and your favourite places will always have new things to offer.  The joy of a vacation or buying something new is a temporary high and often fades surprisingly quickly.  Your life is unlikely to have a sustained improvement by simply acquiring a better version of something you already have or spending a week in an exotic location.  I'm lucky to have almost everything I need and I live a very comfortable life today.  What is really missing from my life ?

The idea started back in the Spring of 2011...

I've often considered the value of vacations, or more pointedly, the value of not taking vacations.  Much of the excitement of a vacation is the anticipation and the planning (maybe we can package that aspect for its own value; I read somewhere this is why people like Fridays more than Sundays).  But once you return from your vacation, life returns to normal so quickly. For me, vacations are truly valuable when they provide you with some new experiences, things that you will always remember for the rest of your life.  Unfortunately, this mind game is a actually a self-servicing way of making me feel better as a real vacation* has eluded me for many years.

So as I was walking Kooper today and passing by some beautiful cars as I do almost every day, I thought about a similar approach about how I could make myself feel a little better about not having the latest and greatest things in life.  Of course, as a hot blooded middle aged male I want all the new toys, but our family priorities are not leaving a lot of room in that category these today.

Perhaps coincidently, these thoughts come to me the same week as the release of the second version of Apple's iPad.  Sleek, fast, powerful, the latest in entertainment and connectivity in your hands, iPad 2 is likely on many people's wish list and perhaps on my top 10.

But what are all those people thinking that have the initial version of the iPad ?  Perhaps they feel cheated that the Apple release cycles are way too frequent for tech-leading gadgetry; or perhaps they now feel less enamored with their "early adopter" version; or worst, they feel they need to buy the new version and toss the old one.

Many producers of consumer goods are very good at designing products for obsolesence and the appeal of the new and improved.

Well, I started this post back in the Spring of 2011, but the topic is still on my mind and relevant these days (Fall of 2011)...

So let me continue.  Cars.  I've had some decent cars over the years, some bordering on luxurious, a couple that were exciting to drive, no lemons, and all quite stylish.  I grew up with a family who's life revolved around cars (my Dad being a Jaguar designer in the UK) and when we get together, the topic of cars makes a regular appearance.  So it's in my blood and it doesn't take much for me to get excited about the possibility of a new, small sporty 2nd car or "investing" in some solid German engineering.

Home and personal electronics.  I've got a lot of them for sure and happy to say since I started this blog, that I have a wonderful new 27" iMac (our 20th anniversary gift) as well as an iPhone4 that work has supplied.  I've always had good hi-fi gear (do kids actually know what a hi-fi is these days?) and have to admit I was an early adopter of HD TV, spending a large chunk of my paycheque for what is now about 3x the cost of today's better version.  Luckily, I enjoy the functionality and quality of these electronic devices and I'm not too tempted by the likes of 3D LED TVs and MacBook Airs.

I've been reading The Wealthy Barber Returns which raises the value of experiences rather than things.  But Chilton makes references to typical experiences like vacations and going out with friends.  But what about the experience of watching a movie (in HD) or playing a video game.  Are those worthy experiences over buying stuff ?  But hold on, you need some amount of stuff to realy enjoy these experiences.  And if you're creating a virtual experience at home, the experience can be heightened with the right gear.

We made a choice this year to buy an iMac over an experience.  We didn't really think we could have a truly memorable adventure holiday for the same price is an iMac.  How many things do you own, that you use every day - appliances, well our iMac is our internet and computer alliance that has been used every day we've been home.

Flash forward to the Spring of 2013 and these thoughts continue to plague my mind.

Walking my dog around the neighbourhood continually feeds my desire for a new car.  However, I've found that my tendencies towards cars actually creates an interesting counter-position today.  See, I'm a fan of station wagons (estate cars in Europe), but they are a dying breed here in North America.  My choices dwindle every year (e.g. Audi's A4 Avant and Passat Wagon are no longer imported into Canada), so I've actually thought that I may need to buy one before availability (new or used) completely disappears.

As you perhaps know, I'm a avid amateur photographer who takes photos daily and thousands a year.  My primarily camera is actually my wife's Nikon D80.  The camera was released in 2006 and we purchased one in 2008 (sadly, just before the D90 was released).  It's a fantastic camera but almost a relic besides today's line of DSLRs.  So, this year Nikon have released there latest DX format DSLR - the D7100 - perhaps the bext DX camera they have ever built.  However, if you're a Nikon shooter and read things like Nike Rumors you may understand that the choice of the D7100 isn't as simple as it seems.  See, Nikon may still release a better DX DLSR shortly to continue their premier line of DX cameras which is stalled with the D300S.

Sorry for the tangent, but it does exemplify my point, i.e I feel I can delay buying a new camera,  not just because I can't afford it, but because I can say to myself, as soon as I buy it, Nikon will announce a newer and better model.

Another interesting example to contemplate is sports and recreation.  Many people can easily justify spending lots of money on sports and athletic pursuits because they can perhaps help to improve your health (physical and mental).  I enjoy playing golf on occasion, but my skill level has a direct impact on how much I enjoy playing (and vice-versa).  A little while ago, I played as much as 20 times one year, but last year I only played twice.  If I play more, it'll help my game, but golf is quite expensive and takes a lot of time to play.  Similarly, I like downhill skiing.  I often compare skiing and golf - quite different in their athletic profiles, but similar in cost and time.  And the cost isn't just the lift and green fees, it's the equipment.  For me, I think I prefer skiing as it's a reason to get out in the winter and enjoy a little bit of outdoor landscape.  And here we get back to the problem of new and improved.  Luckily I still use my old ski boots and I'm not aching to buy new golf clubs. And don't forget the fashion aspects of both sports.  Tennis is also something my family enjoys, but once again we're debating the value of joining a local club - which provides better courts and availability.  But with our busy schedules, we're not certain if we'll actually get enough value out of the membership.  As it turns out, I'm lucky to be fit enough to play team sports which gets me out and playing ultimate a couple of times a week.  Yes, there is quite a cost, but far from the costs of more exotic and expensive sports like golf and skiing.  Not to mention, I can play ultimate year round (indoor in the winter) and it is a highly social activity.  A good example of money well spent.

So are there purchases that are not susceptible to the ever-enhancing gears of technical innovation and consumerism.  Luckily for me, as a middle aged man I can perhaps but clothing into this category.  I was once very fashion conscious and looking back, probably spent far too much money on clothing that I didn't wear very often.  A little embarrassingly, my wardrobe has a good amount of items older than my teenage kids.  I still do suffer from expensive taste, but many of my purchases today on sensibly utilitarian.

And what do I have that I actually wear out ?  I have no problem with the necessity of replacing good footwear when they leak, or dress shirts that have frayed collars.  But when do cars and cameras actually wear out ?  Our Mazda 6 wagon is almost 7 years old, although we've only driven it just over 100,000 kms.  I really dislike the uncertainty of the large repair bill and the unreliability of an older car on a long road trip.  But I'm pretty sure we've got a long way to go before our car becomes more expensive than purchasing a new car.   The Nikon D80 has taken over 54,000 shots (shutter actuations) and is rated for 100,000 shots.  As many people report, it's a workhorse and I feel it has many more years left in it.

So I need to wrap this thing up.  One example I like to consider that suitably fits the argument and potentially creates a beautiful iconic for this story is the wristwatch.  I was close to buying an expensive watch for our 20th wedding anniversary.  I've always been drawn to the design and imagery of a watch.  The challenge was that I couldn't find the perfect one for me.  I had a pretty healthy budget, but it needed to be perfect.  I couldn't settle on something that wasn't perfect for such a special gift.  But I feel watches can be timeless, a choice of a good watch today will likely last me for the rest of my life and maybe handed down to my son (if trends change and the next generation actually wear watches when they grow up).  Watch design doesn't change very often and if you look at the premier brands, they are not continually updating their marque watches every few years.  It seems the industry is comfortable in creating a product that will last a long time, one that isn't susceptible to computing power advances, technology efficiencies and improvements or fickle modern styles.  A watch: a permanent statement about your style, your steadfast reluctance to cave into every-changing consumerism and a constant reminder just a glance way to the beauty of the finer things in life.  But until I can afford the perfect one...the story will continue.



*If case you're wondering what I define as a real vacation.  To me, that means escaping the familiar things around you and enjoying new experiences, preferably, visiting new places in the world.

3 comments:

Richard Sewell said...

Finally! Gave it a read this morning and will now need some time to gather my thoughts and respond properly. Lots to think about, good job bro!

PJMixer said...

Coincidence ? The evening after I completed this blog post I got a ride to my ultimate game in my friend's brand new Audi A5 (pow) and got to play a little with another friend's Nikon D600 (umpf).

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