I started over in November. I moved, got rid of most of my possessions and brought everything down to four suitcases. When I got to my new home, I had to buy a lot of new stuff. I gave my normally frugal self permission to buy anything I wanted to make my new life comfortable.
At first, it was fun. I decorated my new apartment in a style I found pleasing. I bought the set of pots and pans, dishes and silverware that I wanted. I got a new wardrobe that fits me perfectly and looks great. Each click of the “Buy Now” button was thrilling, a quick little dopamine boost of retail therapy.
About two weeks into this, I noticed that the dopamine boost was lower than the day before. Each new purchase started to be more of a hassle, just one more thing to research, decide on and deal with. I’d hit the satiety point of consumerism. By the end of the month, several purchases I’d planned just didn’t happen because I was done buying things.
What’s more, I started to feel guilty for all the packaging I’d been ripping open and discarding, from boxes to metres of bubble wrap. This was also not a good month for my personal environmental impact.
This was a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. What was first fun and thrilling became more of a burden each time. It then became normal, pedestrian and finally flat. This is precisely how the hedonic treadmill keeps us trapped.
The hedonic treadmill occurs when if you get used to a certain level of spending and you have to increase it to get the same fulfilment. That’s why no matter how much money some people make, they can never get ahead as their level of spending keeps increasing to match their pay raises. The Toyota you loved when you first got it is no longer good enough, now you need a Mercedes-Benz, which will eventually be replaced by a Rolls-Royce.
If I’d wanted to keep the dopamine buzz going, I would have had to continue increasing the level of purchasing. But by condensing all my spending into three weeks, I think I hit an overload point that made further spending unpalatable. It brought me back to my normal set point, where I prefer saving to spending.
While spending money can be fun, I found that I will stop when it becomes normal and loses its novelty. I prefer to limit my consumption to fit my minimalist lifestyle.
With Christmas coming up, I will have to buy gifts for people, but at the same time, I would like to donate to charities they care about, instead of purchasing more materialistic stuff.
It’s best to limit your spending so you don’t burn out or raise your level on the hedonic treadmill, which could lead to long-term financial consequences and an inability to hit financial goals. The good spending and saving habits I’ve built up over the past few years reasserted themselves in a matter of weeks, and I’m glad that they did.
Schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher