The Art of Being Selective

Do you have a word to describe your spending style? The use of money can be surrounded by negative words, both for hanging onto it and letting it fall through your fingers. Thinking about the label you put on yourself can have powerful effects on your financial future.

If you want to spend less, frugal is likely the first word you’ll find in the name of a website aimed at helping you. But frugal is full of all that you lack, and none of what you get in return. After all, if you take money away from one thing, that means you get to put it toward another. Frugal gives no sense of celebration, no sense of control. The word frugal conjures images of nitpicking over a group bill at a restaurant. The words miserly, tight-fisted, or even cheap are no better.

On the other side of the spectrum, you could be a person that spends too freely. Words like wasteful, reckless, and frivolous come to mind –  and none of them are positive.

If you’re looking to curb your spending but avoid such negative words, there’s one word in the happy middle that will to give you a sense of power, control, and joy. That word is “selective”.

Selective means “careful about what you choose or accept.” It’s not that you don’t spend. It’s that you select where you spend. You think about what matters most. It’s something you actually want to be – it means you think seriously about where you’ll use the opportunity of your dollars.

It also means you’re empowered to select the life you want. It reminds you that you have agency to ask, “What’s most important?” You can select to take care of yourself now and in the future, to be healthy, and to enjoy life. It means you pay attention to what is most valuable. Research says that spending your money on experience over things can bring you more happiness, so you can select to save for a trip to Italy, rather that get that expensive watch.

The labels we put on ourselves affect our behavior. According to Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, once we label ourselves, we are more likely to act in accordance to that label. If you just label yourself as bad with money because you’re a spender, you’re only more likely to spend.

But, of course, not all spending is bad. You just want to make sure you’re spending on the important stuff, and not leaking financial power on the things that don’t matter all that much: the afternoon latte, recurring online storage you don’t use, fancy dinner with friends that could have just as easily been a potluck.

Once you stop trying to force yourself to be frugal, and start looking at yourself as selective with your money, rather than just bad with money, it brings a shift in your attitude. Being selective doesn’t mean you focus on what you don’t have. You focus on what you DO have, and use it as wisely as you can. You’re not buying something because you can’t, you’re not buying it because you choose not to. Yes, sometimes that’s a stretch – you’re probably not choosing to refrain from buying a private jet. But, you can choose to make enjoyment and connection the focus of your experience, rather than getting as rich as possible. With one of the top regrets of the dying being “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” you can select to work less and play more, which means you might also have to select to live more simply.

If you grew up in a broke family, this distinction will likely mean a lot to you. As a kid, if you were told, “no, we can’t” every time you wanted something, feeling like you can’t have something might make you want to splurge on it even more. When you remind yourself to be selective, you move from a sense of lacking to a sense of control. You’ll be reminded that you are the designer of your life, and money, in some ways, is the material out of which you can make memories. It will help you avoid Starbucks, when you know that $5 is getting you one step closer to the airport with your passport or to a debt-free life. And that sounds much better than the word frugal.



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