Sunday, February 7, 2010

what's wrong with immediate satisfaction

I've been thinking this morning, about lay-away. About how people used to find something they loved, or more likely needed—a new couch, a fridge, a winter coat—would make a deposit at a store and then would put money towards it every week until it was paid for. It could take weeks, months, years of scraping together extra dollars and growing down the debt until whatever it was you were paying off was yours. I wonder, after all that time, if that item, that appliance, that bedroom set was still exciting, if bringing it home gave a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Now, it's the complete opposite. You go to a store, see something you want, and whether or not you can afford it, you can plunk down a credit card and buy it on the spot. If you don't have a credit card, you can often fill out an application and launch a new stream of credit in the moment. I did that when I bought my first car. I'd left college after two years, not quite flunking out, but having almost failed most of my classes. My dad refused to pay the exorbitant tuition for someone who apparently didn't care about performance. It wasn't that I didn't care (all right, I didn't care), but my dad had left my mom, moving out the day after high school graduation and I was in total free fall. After a quick 4 day stint as a factory worker—I thought it would leave my days open for other things—I got a job making $5 an hour at Fred the Furrier, greeting people as they came in, hanging coats, and keeping track of salespeople. I had been driving my mom's 1972 Plymouth Valiant, otherwise known as the Green Machine, until it completely died. Meanwhile, I'd been dreaming of an Oldsmobile I'd fallen in love with. Gold, 2 door, sleek, sexy, fun. I stopped by a dealership on my way home from work one day and called my dad, whose office was next door, to please come over and look with him. He explained he couldn't, he was in the middle of office hours, and oh, by the way, he'd gotten remarried the day before.

I bought the car on the spot. Full sticker price. No negotiating. Within minutes my GMAC loan was approved and I was driving home. Could I afford the car? No. well, sort of. I was living with my mom and didn't have many real expenses yet but my car payments and insurance meant there was nothing left for much else.

I had a brand new car. I was earning $5 an hour. It took all of 20 minutes to spend $12,000.

Something's wrong with that picture.

Today, you don't even have to go to a store. You can buy anything online and without a handshake, a signed contract, any personal interaction whatsoever, you can buy just about anything and have it conveniently delivered to your door. I play that game. I've had furniture, printers, food, clothing, endless books, vintage magazines, research material, knitting supplies, the laptop I'm writing on arrive in brown boxes, conveniently waiting with my door man until I get home.

You can decide you need something and have it delivered the next day. Flowers, games, tvs, prescription glasses. There's no waiting, no yearning, no imagining, saving, dreaming.

You want it. It's yours.

But what's that doing to us? Immediate satisfaction leaves a lot to be desired. You want something, it's yours, and then what? How can you savor something you haven't lusted over. Ok, that was a little extreme, but how satisfying can something be you can get that easily?

Full disclosure: I was thinking about lay-away because immediate satisfaction and its ill effects were running rampant in my house this morning. It's not just me who can be satisfied so easily and while I appreciate the ease in obtaining things, at this point in my life, I'm moving past acquiring just for the sake of having. I've been told I'm a hard person to buy presents for because I don't want anything. I'm happier purging than getting. A lifetime of dealing with stuff has brought me to this place. But, my kids don't know that. At the moment, I'm watching Jack struggle with money, acquisition, frustration, satisfaction, or non-satisfaction really. How, as an 8 year old, he's trying to figure out how to make the $60 to $100 dollars he needs to buy Star Wars Lego sets. Before he's done building one, he's already searching for the next. His knowing that Amazon prime will deliver in 2 days and with the push of a button, he can get what he wants. His anger at not having ways to make that happen when he wants to. Irritation with me for not just buying him whatever he wants as he believes happens with some of his other friends. Me holding my ground, not giving in to the whining, begging, pleading.

When life can be so easy, why would anyone choose the harder road?

I know why.

Figuring out how to teach that to others is the challenge.


thelittlefluffycat said...

I have been told/am told that I am the only mom who makes their kids pay for stuff or wait till birthdays or or or. I tend to tell them, "too bad for you that you got me, then" but it does make me think about these things on a fairly regular basis.

It's a skill, waiting for stuff. And I see it as being a skill we're supposed to teach them, like being able to cook or wash their own clothes or tie their shoes. I worry that it's a skill that's almost lost, like my occasional anachronistic habit of crocheting lace onto handkerchief edges - but more useful. More damaging, if not known. You can call a mechanic if your car has a tendency to run when you don't want it to. Who can you call if your wants run wild? Nobody but the bankruptcy courts.

So, I'm glad I'm not the only meanie mom out there. It's good to hear. If you're ever going down (don't wait for the third time) holler. ;) You can bet I will!

Lauren said...

you aren't the only one! My 14 year old, who should know better by now is into the bargain now "Mom I have ten dollars will you help me buy this CD?" (don't you think he would have noticed by now that I don't spend money, I just don't) because spending is the opposite of saving. I mean how many times do I have to preach that sermon before it sinks in?
My little two, 7 & 8 are still oblivious to anything I want. "We want to eat at a restaurant tonight." "Can we go to a store and buy a toy?" I've started asking them whose money they're going to use. "Do you have $20 for a restaurant? No, me either! All my money is for bills right now!" Ugh. The only thing that works for me is consistency. I'm hoping they learn this and that it will help them as they grow up. Money is mostly for important things. I also feel I have to be even more extremely conservative because away from my influence, their dads and grandparents are suffering from affluenza.

Obsrvationalist said...