Opting in or Opting out…

I recently returned from a wonderful, relaxing vacation with my wife, Angela. While on vacation we had a lot of time to reflect on things, since we were not so caught up in day to day activities that we could step back and see the big picture. I’m not sure, but I think this is what vacations are actually supposed to accomplish! This little essay is simply to get my thoughts down “on paper”.

In this crazy world that we live in, especially in the States, life can easily become a treadmill or “rat race” where you move quickly from one task to the next, all to keep up with your peers… even if you already have Dolby Digital 5.1, you are behind the curve if you don’t have at least Dolby Digital 7.1 and a shiny new Blue Ray disc player…

and then you realize that your A/V receiver which was perfectly acceptable a moment ago doesn’t have any HDMI ports on the back….

or you realize that your two-year old car does not have a bluetooth interface or an integrated GPS, so you go further into debt to acquire a new car that is practically identical to the one you already own, with the exception of these new added features.

Previous generations did not live like this! They would use the same tools for decades, not buy a new set because an engineer decided to improve the handle.

At some point, you have to take time to reflect and decide if it is really worth it to keep upgrading everything you own ad nauseum, causing you to work more and more hours, which at some point begins to squander the precious moments you have to live and spend with your families and friends…. or even worse, resort to credit card debt to keep up with the latest gadgets and trends, promising yourself that at some point you will buckle down and start whittling away at the debt you owe others… not realizing that the mountain of debt can become almost impossible to repay.

So many people seem to live to work, rather than work to live. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past and struggle with it even now. There is a simplicity to life that we are missing out on. There is even pleasure to be enjoyed in work, if it benefits yourself, your family or your friends, and not some nameless corporate entity which can only reimburse you monetarily for the time you commit to them… there are things more precious than that monetary compensation. I’m talking about mowing your own lawn, trimming your own hedges, helping your neighbor build a deck, etc. Some of my best memories of my grandparents are of helping them in the yard or watching my grandmother working in the kitchen or her garden or flowerbeds. You can’t buy those moments working alongside your grandfather, each of you exhausted and sweating.

We were having a discussion with someone recently while on vacation, each of us comparing notes and expressing our concern with the way people are living their lives today… young couples, rather than start small and pay for things as they go, immediately go into debt to have the nicest cars, a house full of furniture and gadgets, appearing at first glance to have surpassed those older people who have the same things, yet it took the older couple 20 years (or more) to acquire, through hard work and sacrifice. This isn’t a jealousy thing, it is a general concern with the way society is progressing.

The scary thing is that our economy has actually become dependent on people being in debt, and the government literally encourages consumers to go into debt to help the economy! So now when they go to the store and buy that big-screen television on credit, they consider themselves patriots.

If I understand it correctly, credit was something that used to be used by farmers, etc. so that they could survive until their crops were harvested. It was used for essentials that you needed to survive, and was considered a temporary loan that you repayed at the first opportunity. Over the years it has turned into an entire industry of pirates and swindlers, who try to suck you in as soon as you turn 18, even if you don’t have a job. They figure once they have you hooked on credit, and living “in the negative”… you are theirs for life, and most people seem to fall into this hole and are never able to climb out. Why would you want to owe money to companies that can change the terms pretty much on a whim?

At some point, you have to make a decision… are you going to opt in or opt out? We’ve decided to opt out… and have been reducing our debt over the past five years of our marriage, rather than continuing to accumulate it, by opting in and “keeping up with the Joneses’. Life should be about accumulating memories and friends and not about accumulating “stuff”.

Please, consider opting out. It’s nice out here!