Spending Too Much Money

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial adviser. He is married, has three kids and plans to retire at age 35.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

Last week, Sir Ken Robinson was in Red Deer as part of the local teachers’ convention. The teachers made an evening session available to the public. If you are not familiar with Sir Ken (@SirKenRobinson for those on Twitter), he gave a very popular TED Talk in 2006 entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”. It’s available on ted.com and on YouTube. He has been a teacher, professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick and he has mentored the Oklahoma Creativity Project.

Sir Ken Robinson is an amazing speaker and it was a real treat to see him live. The entire hour was inspiring, and I wanted to share one tidbit today. Sir Ken said:

The population on Earth is almost 7 billion and will approach 9 billion by 2030. For context, that’s almost 10% of the number of humans that have ever lived (by most estimates). The maximum population of the Earth, at the consumption rate of the average Rwandan, is 15 billion. However, the maximum population at the consumption rate of the average North American: 1.7 billion.

I can’t verify these statistics, so I’m going to take his word for it. After all, it seems believable that North Americans spend almost 10 times the average Rwandan. And if everyone were to spend like an inhabitant of North America, it’s easy to believe that we would soon run out of resources. What are some things we can do to reduce our consumption of the world’s limited resources?

Sir Ken specifically mentioned that fast food is one of the least efficient ways to feed people. For the family that cooks at home, the food is generally higher quality. It is also lower in fats and salt, making it healthier. Chances are that it costs less money and it provides some family time to sit down and connect at meal time.

Clothes, if properly cared for, can last years. For adults, this means only shopping for new clothes rarely, while preferring higher quality. At the same time, it means having items that can be combined into a variety of outfits. People in Rwanda don’t even have that luxury.

Can you manage with one car instead of two? While there are occasional inconveniences in a city not planned for pedestrian traffic or even public transit outside of the core, it is very possible for our family to manage with a single vehicle. (I admit, it’s a minivan). This reduces our impact on the environment, it reduces our spending to buy a vehicle and it reduces regular costs in fuel, insurance and maintenance.

We are fortunate to have many entertainment options available to us. While it’s fun to see a movie, it’s something we rarely pay for. For one thing, it’s hardly worth it with kids. For another, we can get all the books and DVDs we want for free from the library. We have a playground near our house and a small lake in the community. Most of our family activities are done for little or no cost, and they have the additional benefit of taking us out in our community where we can meet our neighbours.

Keeping our consumption in check is helpful in making progress toward financial goals. But it also feels like the ethical thing to do, given the global context of people who simply cannot afford our lifestyle and the limited resources that we all share. How do you keep your consumption in control? What motivates you?

4 thoughts on “Spending Too Much Money”

  1. The first route to keeping your consumption under control is knowing how much you consume.

    Right now I’m trying to track down why our electricity consumption has increased 70% during the past two months. A chunk is due to slightly colder weather compared to last year, but I suspect having electricity out in my workshop is a bigger chunk than I anticipated.

  2. I have heard that simply tracking and reporting things like energy consumption, especially in comparison to one’s neighbors, has a positive impact on consumption. Good for you, George, keeping track of how much energy you use. I bet the same applies to money and budgeting.

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