Using Desire and Greed For Motivation

On the path to financial freedom, it’s easy to get bored and unmotivated. The thing about goals like an early retirement is that they can feel just too distant. I mean, there are always those articles about how you can still retire even though you’re 50 and broke, right? Why worry now?

When I get that way, I actually try to channel my inner greed. Let’s take a new cell phone that costs $100. In order to justify buying it, I’ll need to somehow generate at least $200 of “new” money – either by making more of it or saving more than last month. That way, I’ll still have $100 to put towards my net worth, but I use my toy fixation to drive me.

My only problem? Recently, I can’t find anything I want that badly. Computer? Nah. Digital Camera? Cell Phone? Clothes? DVDs? Video Games? Nope. What’s wrong with me?


  1. Your ‘Marginal Utility’ for additional goods has bottomed out according to economic theory. I.e., that second piece of pizza doesn’t taste as good as the first.

    You are now ready for to fulfill some other need on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    1) Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.;

    2) Safety/security: out of danger;

    3) Belonginess and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted; and

    4) Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition.

    5) Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore;

    6) Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty;

    7) Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one’s potential; and

    8) Self-transcendence: to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.

    Or maybe you and your wife are ready to have kids. πŸ™‚

  2. There is nothing wrong with you! It happens to most of us. I have my days where I actually do want to spend thinking I am being too frugal but I can’t find anything I really want to buy. My one weakness is food so I just end up wasting my money eating out πŸ™ But look at the bright side, no desire to buy something now, makes you save that money for later when you might want something a little more expensive!

  3. Ha!Ha! thats what happens when you approach 30s.

  4. Nothing is wrong with you. You just enjoy stockpiling money more than owning other things. If you enjoyed having a some other gadget, you would have probably bought them already.

  5. Hi, Jonathan — I know what you mean! Still, this might be a good opportunity to use some of your creative energy for something other than finances and acquiring “stuff” — when I start to feel like this, I channel my energy into volunteer work. It doesn’t have to involve much time, but the rewards really are terrific — knowing you did something non-self-centered, improving the world a little bit, you get the idea. Hey, how about volunteering to help high schoolers improve their financial literacy? You’re young enough that you’d probably “click” with that age group very well. Eh, just a thought.

  6. oops, that should read, “I recently blogged over my inability. . . ” Sorry for the garbled HTML!

  7. cashforflow says:

    You need a new goal that is almost impossible to reach, but requires extensive amounts of effort and saving. Something that will really drive you all night. I have your dilemma.

  8. What about a GPS device. You sound like a traveler…

  9. Those 24″ widescreen lcd’s are sure nice..

    I think that’s a great system for saving, I used it with someone before for a repayment plan. (only wants not needs) It does run into that headache, you don’t want to start buying things just because you justify it by saving more/making more money. If you don’t want it then.. make a new house fund or something πŸ™‚

    Living the frugal life for even a brief period can make you re-appreciate all the money we spend on stuff we don’t really need.

  10. Clearly, you need a hobby. Between my motorcycle racing, road bicycles, digital photography, I don’t have this problem.

  11. If tangible goods don’t work, how about saving for an expensive vacation (even let your significant other decided on the location). This way you will have to save for double the time giving you a few months to think about what else you desire. That?s all good if you really get motivated by purchasing luxuries. It might be best to just have a quarterly goal of reaching a predetermined amount in your savings account. But when you reach that mark and you don?t make the goal, feel disappointed. That might bring out a competitive spirit. It also made me think of another possible way of motivating you. Find someone else who is in your income bracket, and have a friendly competition of who can save the most by a specific date. Put wagers on it, such as you having to take the other person out eat if you lose. There are some guidelines that have to be ironed out for that to work but it?s doable. If you do decide on something let us, maybe it would help the rest of us out when we get into that situation.

  12. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. Even though you are talking about using greed as a motivator for wealth building–you’ve actually tackled the real problem most people have with wealth building–which is failing to curb all the wants and expenses.

    I did notice that your list of ‘want attempts’ was all physical/material goods. Perhaps if you made yourself accountable to some kind of benevolence goal, you might feel more motivated. For example, if you knew some missionary in Albania was depending on your monthly gift for sustenance–you’d probably care a lot more.

    Not “needing/wanting” more stuff is a great problem to have. The ones with that problem tend to be poor in pocketbook as well as spirit.

  13. Hey, material desire only last you so long. You gotta find something more rewarding than a new guddget. I think you need to find the kind of non-calculative things that fulfill one’s life. For example, you can be playing an musical instrument in an amature orchestra, or playing some sports with a bunch of friends. Are these have anything to do with your income or retirement plan? Probably not, but it keeps your spirit up and make your life worthawhile. Retirement is important, but it’s not the only thing. If you focus too much on that, it’s just becoming another fundamentalist religious life – devote entire life for the death or after death). That is, to me, wasting of your current life.

  14. Nothing except the fact that you think something is worng with you. Thinking that way is a simple product of 3000 advertisments that attempt to make you believe that you are inadequate unless you a) buy stuff b) specifically, their product. As an econmist I have long since forgotten the name of once said, consumer economies thrive on consumer disatisfaction. It’s one of those ironies of life – we all want our economy to do well because we want to live comfortably – see our pensions and investments go up so that we can retire – and yet the only way they do that is by coporations convincing folks that they must spend their money to avoid being socially disenfranchaised. Of course, conspirisists would argue that the real fat cats that manipulate the populus into buying “s**t you don’t want or need” (to quote a well known movie), and very effectively I might add, don’t buy it themselves, knowing full wel it’s “s**t they don’t want or need” and luagh long in the halls of the powerful about how easy it is to make teenager girls cry unless dady buys them product X. There! So try to look deep and see if there is anything, and not necessarly a material product, that you would like and if not then sit back nd let others inflate your pension, but don’t spread the word too much or we won’t have an economy πŸ™‚

  15. You “need” an HD TV… which will then spur the “need” for an XBox 360/PlayStation3 and HD DVD player…

    And then when you have all of that, you’re going to “need” a Media Center PC to drive it all and store all your movies/games/TV.

  16. Then put your desire on something you can’t buy with money.

  17. I think that once you can easily buy most of the things you want, the intense longing for those things goes away and it no longer seems like such a big deal to get new toys. Ever since I got my last raise, it seems like I have wanted less stuff than ever before.

  18. Great, now I feel unmotivated AND guilty for not doing something higher with my life πŸ˜‰ Just kidding, the comments are great.

    I have plenty of hobbies, but I think I just work well with small, attainable goals. If it’s too small, like a Frappacino or trying out a new brewery, I’ll just go out and buy it. Too big, and I lose focus. Being good at playing violin or something takes years and years of practice. Charity is a great goal and something I’d like to do, but again, too vague to be motivational for these purposes.

    The problem with putting my desire on something I can’t buy with money, is that the GOAL I’m talking about here is to make more money! Nowhere did I say I’m unhappy with life. Life is great!

  19. I can only think of one thing that you can buy which is also somewhere in your list of goals to have. Its the house you wanted to buy. Why not start looking early for one? Look at foreclosures, etc…and you never know what you might get. Also you’ll get a better idea of what kind of homes you want when you do start looking for one.

    BTW its amazing how many times Ive read your blog and thought “wow thats exactly how I feel / what i was thinking about”. This is just another instance of it.

  20. I’m with Jennifer. Once I got to a position where I could afford virtually anything (within reason), the intense longing for those material possessions substantially waned. And this allows me to save even more.

    This is not to say that I’m not fairly materialistic – but having is so often not as pleasurable as wanting. I could “afford” to buy a wide screen HDTV for every room in my house, but I only own 1 old-fashioned TV that I’ve had for close to 10 years. And I do watch TV almost every night for about 2 hours. I’d love to go out and buy a new one, but some misterious force (it might actually be laziness) keeps me from doing so. Next year I think I might bite the bullet and upgrade on the TV, but I’ve been telling myself this for the last 5 years.

    Likewise, I don’t own a car, though I could “afford” to buy just about anything (and pay cash). I love cars, read reviews, and day-dream about tooling around in a brand new Porsche. I figure, someday I’ll blow the money on it, but right now, the insurance, parking, worrying about it getting scratched, etc. just seem like too much hassle.

    Ultimately, the financial security of putting the money in the bank seems to outweigh the need to have these luxuries. Funny, because when I had little money, I would have thought nothing of borrowing to buy these things. Ironic isn’t it.

    Maybe it’s that these things are “luxuries” that wouldn’t make all that much difference in my life. And maybe I have a finer appreciation of all the risks and hard work that it’s taken to earn the money that would buy the goods. When you really start to think of your money that way, as earned with the sweat of your brow, you really begin to see spending it in a whole new light.

    Ultimately, I’m not sure why this inverse-spending effect works, but it does, much to my relief. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to show for years of work other than a house full of TV’s and a garage full of cars.

  21. I have my eye on a fancy new cellular phone. But it doesn’t go farther than that. My old cel phone has some sticky keys, but overall it still works. Just like my old car still works. Just like my old computer still works. Just like my old clothes still work. The Buddhists renounce all that desire as a false idol. I bet there are some rich Buddhists.

  22. I think Alex is on the right track with his idea. A different way of measuring savings, that would work in a competitive format, would be to measure the increase (maybe % increase) in savings month-to-month rather than the absolute amount. That way you can sort of rule out variables like housing, income, etc.

    Another way to stimulate savings without a reward per se, but in a competitive way, would be to put “money saved” into a jar. Like you roll your coins, and don’t use CoinStar, put the equivalent of CoinStar’s fee in the jar. Use coupons, put the amount in the jar. Go below your budget on groceries, find cheaper insurance rates, put the difference in the jar. Then count it each month and deposit in savings, and try to beat last month’s record.

    Or, maybe don’t try to save the whole 100% of your “toys” value, but 20%. Trying to save 100% of the purchase price is a bit draconian, especially if you are already saving more than 20% of your gross income, eh?

  23. I’m sure you could find a worthy cause to donate to. If you want to get creative start an investment that you will give away someday.

  24. I’ve been married for about 6 months and I’m finding my wife is able to ‘want’ enough for the both of us… πŸ™‚

    I’d consider your ‘problem’ a fortunate circumstance! There are many worse forms of de-motivation you can find yourself mired in… Looks like you have lots of advice and ideas to get you out of it already, so I’ll spare you mine.

  25. I remember buying tons of clothing right after getting my first real job about 10 years ago. I also desired lots of gadgets, but only bought a few, as the value of electronics always goes down over time, no matter what I bought, it would be cheaper in a 6 months. I only like bargains, so I lost in interest in all that. Then I bought a house and had to move all my junk into it and realized – wow – THE LESS STUFF THE BETTER! I can’t remember who said it (It was a millionaire though for sure) that when you get rich your stuff begins to own you. You need to be responsible for more and more junk. And who needs it? Really, the thing I want most now is financial security — that’s it. I mean aside from decent food and regular comforts, I almost deliberately don’t acquire stuff anymore. It’s lost it’s spark. If I have an extra $100 bucks, I would take my mom out to eat and then get a pedicure. I don’t want to bring anything home with me. I would recommend getting into Feng Shui (especially clearing out clutter). You could spend your money on an expert to clear the Chi in your home (I’ve never done this, but find it fascinating) and set up your rooms properly so that money will flow freely into your life. That’s what I’d spend money on now.

  26. If you’re really looking for somewhere to spend some money, well, I could always use a little help with tuition! πŸ˜€

  27. Agree with everything mc said about your situation, which happens to be the same situation I find myself in right now!

  28. True, but the Nintendo DS Lite is worth the splurge! Brain Age may help your neurons stay young, and if not then at least pleasantly entertained.

    I’m a miser with money, but this was absolutely worth the splurge.

  29. Try or, these sites are very good at helping you save spend money. I can usually find something there that I “need”.

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