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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The One Lesson I Couldn't Learn from The Berenstain Bears

The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies
When I was a kid my favorite book series was The Berenstain Bears. (Can I get a high five from my '80's brothers?!) The Berenstain Bears taught us everything, didn't they—how to have good manners, how to deal with peer-pressure, how to tell time.

One of my favorites was “The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.” In that one, Brother Bear and Sister Bear developed quite the anger-management issues whenever Mama Bear and Popa Bear said they couldn’t have something. The book dealt with the topics of respect, consumerism, and greed. However, as many times as my mother read that book to me, I still grew up with undeniable love of… well, stuff. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. Sign me up for the support group right now.

The Berenstain Bears taught me all about plenty of other things, but that one lesson on “stuff” just didn’t stick.

I never realized how much of a problem this would be until I got married. My wife, Danielle, God bless her little frugal heart, didn’t quite know what to do with such an over-spender. Three months into our marriage and our diametrically opposing views on money management was the one thing that was driving us apart.

We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in the fall of 2012 and it helped pull us out of our tailspin. It gave us a unified vision for our finances as well as a common language for communicating about money in a way we both could understand. But even after taking FPU, Dani and I still struggled, and a lot of that had to do with my love of buying things.

Impulse spending should be considered it’s own addiction, shouldn’t it? They should make a public service announcement featuring a man standing at a checkout line waiting to cash out.

NARRATOR: This is your brain.

The man spots a pair of night vision goggles on clearance just an arm’s-length away. His eyes go wide as saucers. The urge to splurge is building within him. He can't help himself. He shoves past an old lady to grab the goggles and whips out the credit card.

NARRATOR: This is your brain on “the gimmies.”

It's not such a problem when you're a single person, unless you're a single person who plans on getting married some day. Then it becomes a whole new ball game. Then you've got to remind yourself that there's another person who is going to be impacted by your purchasing decisions. That person may have a deep need to feel financially secure, and when you splurge all your money away it shakes them up emotionally. At some point you have to ask yourself how much you care about the way you make them feel.

For me, getting free of wanting more began by recognizing three things:

  1. Recognize that I don't need everything right now. Even the things I really love—in my case, movies. A little patience never hurt anybody (another lesson I learned from those lovable anthropomorphic bears). Nowadays I more carefully consider what movies I want to buy, and this has led me to being more careful in general of the purchases I make.

  2. Recognize that saving works. When we first started FPU I was skeptical. It took about three months of following Dave's plan, of budgeting with his principles in mind, for me to see that where this plan was taking us was actually working. After about six months we had paid off my car six months early. We had paid off my motorcycle a whole year early. All that's left now is our mortgage, and we've been attacking that like a couple of crazy people.

  3. Recognize that my spouse is more important to me than stuff. Now, she'll probably tell you, and I'll freely admit, that I still have my moments. The 2013 Ford Mustang convertible that we rented for our honeymoon road trip was a beauty that I was embarrassingly reluctant to let go of. To this day there is hardly a Mustang I see that doesn't cause that little impulse spender in my brain to get excited. But as fun as it is to dream about owning things like that, I occasionally have to remind myself of the bigger picture here and the financial plan that my wife and I have set before us.

Truth be told, I still want more stuff, but it's becoming a different kind of stuff that I want. I want more for my wife, our children (which are merely intentions at the moment), more of a future that doesn't involve paying off debt until I'm 90. I want more freedom, more joy, more peace from consumerism.

And maybe some day I'll be able to look back on "The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies" and say, "Ah-ha! I finally learned that lesson, too!"

Keep pinchin' :-)

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