Is it better to not know what you’re missing?

Today’s post is a bit more philosophical, but it reaches to the heart of the whole consumerism problem that most of us (especially my clients at work) struggle with, so I thought it would be a good one to discuss with you.

A village of display homes - take one look inside and there's a good chance that your existing home will forever be a disappointment from then onward. Everyone knows this but they still go inside anyway!

A village of display homes – take one look inside and there’s a good chance that your existing home will forever be a disappointment from then onward. Everyone knows this but they still go inside anyway!

Have you ever heard the phrase “you don’t know what you’re missing”? That’s obviously a rhetorical question as everyone I know would have heard of that phrase, but I’m not sure that people ever really think about what it actually means and whether it encourages a good attitude towards unnecessary consumption. Maybe I’m the only weirdo that questions this, but if you’re committed to achieving financial independence I think that you really need to get a handle on this question and your attitude towards it.

Don’t test drive a car

To illustrate this point, the first example that comes to mind is my father and cars. Now Dad has had a number of reasonably expensive cars over the years, the latest of which is a Toyota Landcruiser Sahara. While it’s certainly a nice car (if you’re into cars that are enormous and use so much fuel that they need their own fuel tanker to tow along behind them), at the bargain basement price (in his view) of $110k I can easily think of better things to spend my money on.

A Toyota Landcruiser Sahara - I don't care how nice a gas guzzler it is, there's no way I'd be test driving one of these, especially with the "discounted" price of $110k.

Toyota Landcruiser Sahara – I don’t care how nice a gas guzzler it is, there’s no way I’d be test driving one of these, especially with the “discounted” price of $110k.

Now ordinarily people might see a price of $110k and that would be enough to scare them away entirely (as it should), but that’s because they are only looking at the car from a distance. Where things start to change is when they get up close, say for a test drive, and this is where my father has always gone wrong.

He has had a series of Toyota Landcruisers and other stupidly overpriced cars over the years, and the trap that he always falls into is taking the new model for a test drive. Every time he drives the new model he always comes back thinking that the new version is so much better than his old one, even though hours before that he was entirely happy with his existing Landcruiser. What follows is obvious (he buys the new car, using finance of course), and the cycle of revolving door vehicle finance continues, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

If he “didn’t know what he was missing” and treated that like a good thing (rather than a bad thing as is usually the case) then he’d never test drive a car again. I have personally never taken a new car for a test drive, and don’t plan on ever doing it as even though I won’t buy the new car, it will just make my existing car feel crappy and therefore make me unhappy at some level.

This brings me to one of InsiderAccountant’s basic rules for financial well-being and happiness: Don’t test drive new cars as they will always be better than your own car, and then you’ll just want to buy the new car!

Don’t look at display homes

Similar to new cars, I’m always amazed at the people that seem to go streaming through display homes in new housing estates. How can people be surprised at how nice and modern the new homes are – isn’t that what they’re supposed to be? It’s all a big marketing ploy to get you to buy their new product (a house and land package) and overlook the fact that the new home is actually situated so far out of the city that you’ll need to take a packed lunch, a tent and a first aid kit just to get there and back.

Now I think that if most people read this post they would understand the effect that display homes have on our ability to think rationally, but a lot of people just don’t think about it that way – viewing a thing is just another step on their path towards gratification, and once you’ve viewed the house your senses will be going into overload and ramping up the “I want I want I want” impulse in your brain. For some people this is a good feeling and something to strive towards, but for someone that’s trying to avoid unnecessary consumption it’s downright dangerous.

And this brings me to another one of InsiderAccountant’s basic rules for financial well-being and happiness: Don’t look at display homes as they will always be better than your own home, and then you’ll just want to buy the new home!

Sample nice things, but have an attitude of temporary appreciation

Clearly the above two areas (test driving cars and viewing display homes) are only a small sample, but I like to think that they demonstrate my point that knowing what your missing can actually be a bad thing. If you know what you’re missing then there’s a huge chance that you will then become unhappy with what you currently have, and you’ll end up making reckless decisions to address this unhappiness (like buying a new car on finance).

I have found that with this sort of thing (but not all things of course), it is far better to not know what you’re missing, at least until you believe that you have changed your attitude enough to not be affected by such things.

Once your mindset has evolved enough, I like to think that you can arrive at a point where you have an attitude of temporarily appreciating nicer things, but not needing to actually possess those nice things.

As an example, about two years ago I took my wife to stay at Crown Towers in Melbourne and also took her to see Pink in concert on the same weekend (she’s quite a fan, and I’ll admit that the concert was actually quite impressive as well). Crown Towers certainly lived up to its $600/night reputation (it was a special occasion, but I agree that it was a ludicrous sum of money to spend for just one night in a hotel), but we were able to temporarily appreciate the luxuriousness of the place without returning to our house and being desperate to buy a brand new luxury home. How easy this is depends on the standard of your home in the first place, and while our house is nice enough, it’s certainly nowhere near the standard of a new display home. Even so, we felt no need whatsoever to go searching for a new place to live, and I like to think that this was because we could temporarily appreciate the luxuriousness of the experience, and then return to our real world.

So what about you – have you ever tried something out and then forever been disappointed with what you currently have? And did you ever think that you were better off not even knowing what you were missing out on? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

IA.

3 thoughts on “Is it better to not know what you’re missing?

  1. On houses, yes, my in-laws try to get us to go to a yearly model home extravaganza some of the developers put on. I never understand the appeal of it, since I don’t really like new homes anyway. I might get some ideas for DIY projects from them if I did go. And you’re right, once the in-laws started going to these shows, they started paying for big home renovations (kitchen, living room, a small addition, outside). Probably not a coincidence.

    I’ve definitely learned to appreciate luxury in small bits. My wife and I collect frequent flyer miles and we flew first class to Japan and back this October, a ticket which has the retail price of a compact car! I really look forward to experiences like that, but I am also perfectly fine back in what we call “Scum Class.” I love luxury, but I’m never going to pay for it.

  2. I have found that the WORST thing I can do is watch the American HGTV channel. (Unfortunately, last year they started airing in Australia too!) In case your not familiar with them, they have a constant stream of how to update and decorate homes. I had no idea that homes without granite countertops were “gross” or homes without hardwood floors are “sooo outdated” prior to watching. I am just glad that I didn’t watch HGTV (or any TV) when I owned a home.

  3. You have really hit upon something here. Without knowing it, I believe the Surprise Millionaires I profile on my blog lived in this way. They were always satisfied with what they had and in turn had the capital to invest and become the millionaires that surprised everyone!

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