[Our Financial Confession series continues! Up today, Mrs. BITA from BayalisIsTheAnswer.com who shares something I guarantee 99 % of us can relate to – being an Amazon shopaholic ;) When you’re done reading this, see if you can muster enough courage to check out *your* Amazon grand totals too! We might all be pretty surprised…]
I’m going to give you a peek into our murky financial past. Fair warning: this isn’t going to be pretty. The more frugal among you are likely to faint or throw up, or run screaming from the horror of it all. Maybe even all three simultaneously.
Why am I delving into our financial closet and yanking out an ugly skeleton for you to gawk at?
I know that there are readers out there who are where I was not so long ago. When they read personal finance blogs replete with astronomical savings rates, oh-so-tiresomely-sensible investments, and amazing acts of frugality, perhaps they leave feeling disheartened instead of inspired.
I hope that if people see we’re not unlike them, warts and all, they will come around to the belief that redemption is indeed a possibility.
If You Own Amazon Stock, Thank Me
I recently decided to sell some of my toddler’s baby stuff on Craigslist. When I was making the Craigslist posting, I looked up my Amazon order history to find how much I had paid for the thing that I was trying to sell. This horrifying detail caught my eye:
177 orders! I then asked Amazon for a detailed order report for the year. Apparently I have a masochistic streak that I was not previously aware of. I clicked on the report, expecting the worst.
It did not disappoint.
In 2014, the report announced cheerfully that I had felt the need to acquire 427 items from them. That comes to an average of about 36 purchases a month.
I had acquired more new things than there are days in the year!
What the everloving f*$k was I thinking?
I felt compelled to uncover the full horror of this situation. I asked Amazon to then create a report of every item that I had purchased from September 2008 (when I first set foot in this country) to August 2016 (which was when I decided to get my $hit together and aim for financial independence).
In this time frame I ordered a whopping 1,427 items from good old Amazon. Since we all love numbers, let’s break that down. That works out to:
- 178 items a year OR
- about 15 items a month OR
- about 1 item every two days
The cost of my wanton debauchery? $40,981.60
Actually no, $40,981.60 doesn’t even begin to cover it. The true cost?
- The money tree that I could have grown using a $41,000 acorn (for the curious: $108,785 in 20 years at 5% compounded annually)
- The amount of freedom frittered away (how much earlier could I have gained financial independence? How many extra hours do I have to now stay chained to my cubicle?)
- The environmental cost of acquiring so many things whose ultimate destiny will now be a landfill somewhere
- The cost of shame and regret
The Cost of Shame and Regret
I have always known that until last year I spent with gleeful abandon. Knowing that in the abstract is a teensy bit different from actually looking at the cold, hard, unforgiving numbers.
I feel ashamed. I feel regret. I feel somewhat diminished.
Do these feelings stem from the fact that I blew nearly $41,000? That is certainly a factor, but it isn’t just about that number, a whopper though it is.
The feelings stem from the fact that all those numbers are clearly at odds with the person that I thought I was. I have always, from the time that I migrated to this country, mocked the blatant consumerism that blankets this land. I thought myself superior somehow.
I was not one of the mindless mob who were suckered into always wanting, wanting and wanting more.
I was better than that.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have visited a mall, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t, maw agape, consuming as fast as I possibly could.
I have always perceived myself to be someone not attached to material goods, as someone who values experiences above all else.
And yet, somehow, 1427 very material things crept into my life over a period of eight years.
You know what might be the saddest part of this story? I have no idea what most of those 1427 things are, or even where they might be. So not only did I waste the money, I didn’t even procure anything of lasting value. I could look at the detailed spreadsheet Amazon has been so kind as to share with me, but I rather think I won’t. I am all out of both the will to self-flagellate and the desire to wallow in self pity.
I would rather spend my time and energy thinking about the why.
Why was I procuring this mountain of items? Was this my go-to mindless hobby when I had nothing else to do after a hard day of work? Was there a void in my life, an absence of a larger purpose that I attempted to fill with 1427 amazing artifacts from Amazon? Was this my way of distracting myself, magpie-like, from the fact that my life was ticking by and I was creating nothing of worth?
It could have been any of these reasons. Maybe it was all of them.
Where Are We Now?
So far in 2017 we’ve only had 13 orders. 4 of which placed by my parents when they were visiting, and which they paid for themselves. The remaining 9 orders are mine and total a princely $255.23. Barring one, everything on the list is a consumable – exciting stuff like dog food, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, diapers, tea and toothpaste. The barring one is a gift for my mother, a case for her cell phone.
We’ve set ourselves big savings goals in order to be able to retire while we are still relatively young, and hopefully in possession of all our teeth. In 2017, for instance, we plan to save the substantial sum of $160,000. As I recently observed in my financial report for Mar 2017, at the end of Q1 2017, we are more than halfway there.
I wish that this was a story of the strength of my character and of my gumption. I wish I could say that I recognized my flaws, and then by sheer force of willpower I turned my life around.
But what actually happened was this:
- I discovered the twin ideas of financial independence and early retirement
- I convinced myself that unlike unicorns that fart rainbows, this was not a fantasy
- I decided that I wanted those things more than I wanted anything else.
- I sold the idea to my husband and we made a plan.
- I then decided to start writing about my journey to financial independence.
In other words, I found a purpose. I found something that was deeply interesting to me, and I poured myself into it.
Putting an end to my mindless spending was merely a side-effect of finding purpose.
One trash day my husband came back into the house and cheerfully observed that he no longer had to spend the better part of an hour trying to solve the knapsack problem with the recycling bin and boxes from Amazon. In fact, wonder of wonders, the recycling container had room to spare! My response to this revelation? ‘Oh. Huh.’
I had affected a turnaround in the way that I was living my life and I didn’t even notice – it was that effortless.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I would like to say this:
Be kind to yourself.
Even the most immense amounts of stupidity are not necessarily permanent, nor fatal.
Don’t get into the mud pit and wrestle with your demons. That is the hard way. Be smart. Choose the easy way. Find yourself some angels to waltz with instead, and let your demons leave the dance of their own accord, bored out of their evil little minds.
Do your best to find purpose and joy in something. Everything else will fall into place.
Mrs. BITA immigrated to the U.S. at the ripe old age of 30 and is on track to retire early at the age of 42. She is the founder (and grand poobah, dictator, janitor, sole author) of bayalisistheanswer.com, where she blogs about financial independence, retiring early, financial how-tos and finding a purpose.
Enjoyed this? Here are our last three financial confessionals:
- “We Used to Blow Our Money on Motorcycles & Airplanes”
- “I Turned My Back on My Wealthy Parents to Live a Life of My Own.”
- “I Became So Obsessed With Being Rich That I’m Now Sitting in Prison”