Thursday, September 29, 2011

Money Traps: Nostalgia

This is the first in a series of posts I'm working on that describes ways in which we fool ourselves into parting with our cash.

I sure didn't think it was the truth.  I had just gotten out of football practice, and my dad smiled at me as I was slowly but sorely getting into the car.*  He looked at me and said, "You'd better enjoy this, because you're going to miss it." 

I just shook my head because, I mean, what do you say to that?  Why exactly would I miss bodily pain?

As a high school student, I didn't have the perspective.  I enjoyed playing football well enough, but more than that, I really loved acting.  In addition to that, I was really good at, and really enjoyed, school (I'd eventually graduate valedictorian of my high school class).  Football was for the body, and I was eager to get to college and start a more intensive life of the mind.  Who likes running laps and doing bear crawls anyways?

Still, I was young, my body worked perfectly, and I could run for distances exceeding that from my car to my condo.  Life was good.

Flash forward to today.  I'm over a decade out of high school.  I'm no longer the slick, sleak beast that I once was.  Two nights ago, I played on my neighbor's slow-pitch, coed softball team, and today my body's screaming like it was hit by dozens of very small, but very real, hammers.** 

Didn't I used to be a different person?  Didn't I used to be an athlete?

And you know what?  I did.  But unfortunately, no amount of diet or exercise will make me that person again.  17-year-old me is gone as a teenager after a six-pack of Natty Ice.

Photo by no-frills marilyn

Still, I remember 17-year-old me fondly.  This is somewhat surprising because I (as most teenagers do) thought I had it pretty tough.  It seems that time has glossed over the negative aspects of being a teenager (the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to) and the negative aspects of football (the running of laps, the losing seasons).

And all I can think when I look back on that time is that my dad was right.  I should have enjoyed it more. I do miss football.

Nostalgia means a love for the past.  However, nostalgia can trip you up in a couple of ways.

1)  Nostalgia looks backwards, not forwards - If you're always thinking about and reliving that which has been, it will keep you from living the life you have now, as well as the life that you could have.  If you believe that every new day is a gift, then you're kind of turning your nose up at those gifts by focusing on the past.

2)  Nostalgia will bleed your bank accounts dry - If you chase those things that meant a lot to you when you were younger now that you have disposable income, you're going to find your bank balance sorely lacking.

For me, I find myself going to a lot of football games, which I justify in a variety of ways.  I get to hang out with my brother, for one.  I get to cheer on my favorite team.  I get the enjoyment of looking forward to the game.

But in my heart of hearts, I can't help wondering how much of my motivation to go to games comes from the nostalgia and memories from my own football days.  And, if I'm just chasing that memory, I'm just throwing money away because, like I stated above, I'll never be high-school me again.

This is just one example of nostalgia influencing buying decisions.  Some other examples are:
  • Music - I'm very guilty of this.  I don't know about you, but I love the music that I only liked in high school.  As such, even though I never saw the need for this before, several months ago I bought an Everclear greatest hits album.  Is getting to listen to Santa Monica on demand worth the $10 I spent on the download?  Probably not.
  • Fashion - Did you always yearn for some particular article of clothing, but never had the money?   And now that you have the money, you are totally going to buy it?  Boom.  You've just been nostalgia'd.
  • Complexity - This one is admittedly a little more abstract than the first two, but stick with me.  Another aspect to nostalgia is that it helps you see earlier times as simpler times.  The next step to this train of thought is that since now is so much more difficult than life was then, I deserve to spend extra money on frivolous things for myself instead of putting that money to potential better uses. 
Now, I am not going to broadly state that all spending on items that you are nostalgic about is necessarily bad.  All I ask is that, when you're evaluating a purchase, make sure that it's something that is absolutely valuable for you now, not something that is primarily valuable to a younger version of yourself that no longer exists.

What are some purchases for which nostalgia has been a part of your decision to buy?  Let me know in the comments.

*I did mean the word "sorely" in this sentence, thanks for asking.
**To paraphrase Joey Tribbiani

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wordy McWord to all of this. Although, in my case, when I see outfits I wanted to wear at age 6, I am powerless to resist. Which is why I own a lot of neon-coloured tights, tiger-print things, and denim miniskirts (yes, I was 6 in the 80s, why?)

Although, I think that this can be *incorporated* into my current lifestyle, it's totally true that sometimes I see stuff and am like, "6-year-old me would have LOVED THAT!" and feel like I owe it to my past self to buy it.

I won't even begin to discuss the time I went to the Barbie Room at FAO Schwartz. As an adult.