Should I Feel Guilty Because I Like to Have Nice Things?

Filed in Living by on April 7, 2016 0 Comments

Luxury Car 2

People are often critical of others for being too interested in material things. It is very common for the more spiritual and high-minded among us to denounce people who buy a fancy car, fine jewelry, and other expensive items. In fact, Pope Francis was just recently quoted as warning that “bold cultural change is needed to save our planet from consumerism.” Yikes!

So should we feel guilty for being so materialistic, and mend our wicked ways?

I think it is instructive to break “material things” down into four categories so we can evaluate the issue more effectively:

  1. Needs

There are many material things we require simply to exist, such as food, basic shelter, clothes, heat, etc. I don’t think even the Pope would begrudge us these, so let’s move on to the next category.

  1. Common wants

In each society, the standard of living dictates that most people have certain things they don’t necessarily need to live, but which make life easier. In America, these include air conditioning, one or more cars, a roomy house, modern appliances, etc. The Pope might look down his nose at us for some of these fairly common wants, but I don’t think he’ll get far with that argument either.

  1. Luxury wants

Now we’re getting into morally and philosophically shakier territory. Personally, I think that if you have the money, and you already take good care of your family and are a generous person with your time and money, it doesn’t make you a bad person if you buy some luxury items that you truly enjoy. I want to emphasize that last point: you must purchase and own these things because they give you some intrinsic satisfaction. This is distinguished from conspicuous consumption, which I address below as a final category of material things.

As an example, I know some people (mostly guys, of course) who love cars. They could talk about them all day: makes, models, horsepower, blah, blah, blah. If they have the extra money and want to buy an expensive sports car, I think that’s quite alright, and they won’t burn in hell because of it. Also, my wife is a very kind and generous person, and she happens to love coats. She doesn’t spend much money on them since she’s always looking for a sale. Should she deny herself this one pleasure? I don’t think so, and I’m certainly not going to be the one to suggest she does (happy wife, happy life, as they say).

  1. Luxury conspicuous consumption

This is where I do have an issue with materialism. Some people buy expensive items just to keep up with the Joneses, or to show off. This is a mistake. It makes it even worse if their spending on these luxury items is above their means, and causes them to put their family’s financial situation in jeopardy.

What I tell people about conspicuous consumption is this: one-third of other people don’t even notice; one-third aren’t impressed; and the other third think you are an insufferable, vain, and ego-obsessed fool. (Oh, and I suppose some people actually will be impressed—really watch out for these people.)

So to sum up, I don’t begrudge a well-off woman or man a nice car and home, if that’s what they really want and will truly enjoy it. But I can also say that I know some people who drive to work in a beat up old car because they have several kids at home to feed, and many other people who spend their extra money on those less fortunate, and I reserve my greatest respect for these types of people. Don’t you agree?

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

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