The Brave New World of Intentional Spending

Chatting today with colleague Stephanie McCullough of Berwyn, PA-based Sofia Financial, I heard these words come out of my mouth: “When did we get so far away from intentional spending?” We had been talking about how difficult it is for any individual to bust out of our culture’s rampant overspending into a healthy relationship with money.  With both of us fresh off our first trips to FinCon where paying off debt was a hot topic, it seemed like a reasonable question at the time.

But later that day, my words came back, surfaced by the kind of bigger picture thinking often jarred loose on a bike ride. They were followed immediately by “wait, what?”  I realized that, in fact, intentional spending is an entirely new construct, made possible only in recent history. Nowadays, in the wealthiest societies, incomes for some have exceeded basic living expenses. Before that, most people had all they could do to keep the family fed and clothed with a roof over their heads. Survival was the only personal financial goal.

The notion of intentional spending, whereby a consumer makes thoughtful choices about what to purchase, is brand spanking new.  So it turns out my comment was nonsensical since it’s not possible to move away from something that never existed.  

Maybe that says something about how quickly good ideas can go viral and become part of the lexicon. It also suggests that maybe we need to be a little more patient with ourselves as we climb the learning curve of spending intentionally in this brave new world of overabundance. True, it’s a first world problem, and a nice one to have. But some who have embraced intentional spending as a way to wrest control of their finances are discovering it’s harder than it sounds.

Perhaps since it’s almost dinnertime, this brings to mind a food-related analogy: the challenge of eating healthy in a world where access to an overabundance of food has only existed in the last half century or so.  The size (npi) of the US weight loss industry ($20 billion in 2012) suggests a lot of us are working hard to figure it out. It seems paradigm shifts are hard. With apologies to Mae West, too much of a good thing isn’t always wonderful.  And guess what?  “Intentional eating” is one of the strategies people have begun to embrace.  While I’m not the first to draw a parallel between physical and financial health, I bet the “intentional spending” crowd would be well-served by a taste of what's been learned in the battle of the bulge. Food for thought…