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Opinion

Students encouraged to live within their means

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April 27, 2012

In America, it is the norm to have large debts in the form of loans or credit card bills. After all, our entire society revolves around the idea that more is better. People constantly want more: more money, more time, more stuff.

They also want better: better cars, better jobs, better clothes. However, this insatiable desire to have more only results in Americans living lives that are unsustainable and ironically empty. People can fix this by learning to live within their means.

Living within one’s means involves only having what one can afford and it is essential to cultivating contentment in life. With huge debts and the incessant desire for more, many find it impossible to feel relaxed or satisfied.

When life’s expenditures are equivalent to what one earns, unexpected expenses like a broken-down car can throw the balance out of order and make it very difficult to meet the rest of the bills. These unbudgeted-for problems, in addition to large sums of debt or loans, cause financial stress which consumes an individual and strips the enjoyment from day-to-day life.

The primary driving force for Americans to want more is the constant stream of messages from society that more is better. After all, telling people to be happy with what they have does not earn businesses money or push people to work endlessly for promotions.

Take the time to realize that this mindset is very Americanized and centers around people perpetually feeling dissatisfied. Then refuse to indulge in such a shallow, materialistic mindset and remember that wealth is not accurately shown through the amount and expensiveness of items owned.

In reality, wealth is a loving family and a sustainable life; they are far more important and fulfilling than physical items. Despite society’s messages masking this truth, people must learn to redefine their perceptions of wealth and resist comparing themselves to others. Wealth is felt with the heart, not seen by the eyes.

Once people recognize the need to begin living within their means, doing so is a simple matter of habit changing. An easy place to start is to avoid credit and debit cards. Use cash for daily purchases and checks for bill payment.

This makes money feel more real and makes monitoring it simpler. Similarly, minimize loans.

Work a few extra hours to reduce the amount of the loan needing to be taken out, apply for more scholarships, and develop cheaper daily habits. These small differences will greatly affect the size of loans being taken out for school.

In regards to lifestyle changes, simply spend less. When you find yourself wanting something, search for free methods of acquiring it. Check local libraries for books and movies. Go to your residence hall’s front desk for cooking supplies, movies, and games. Ask friends about borrowing clothes or other items.

If a free method does not exist, question how badly you actually need the item. If you truly need it, then search for cheap ways of acquiring it. Search local thrift stores, craigslist, newspaper ads, or eBay. If that still does not work, scour sales and compare prices to ensure the best rate for your purchase.

In addition to lessening your acquisition of material goods, also lessen daily or weekly expenditures by finding free or cheaper alternatives. Some of these habits can be stopped entirely — I promise, you do not actually need caffeine no matter what you may believe to the contrary.

Other costs can be substituted for. Instead of going to the Hudson Theatre, go to the River Falls theatre for $3, borrow a movie for free, or find a new activity altogether. Also search other lifestyle changes such as walking or biking instead of driving. Soon, spending money will stop being a habit and you will find that you really do not need to spend much at all to be happy.

While there will be times when a loan is necessary (such as for fundamentals like college or a house), do your best to minimize the loan by reducing other expenses and finding loan amounts that you can comfortably pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Remember, before spending, always ask yourself: is there a cheaper alternative?

Jaime Haines is an exuberant puppy-lover and “House” addict and plans to use her psychology degree to encourage activism and well-being through counseling, workshops, speeches, and the written word.