Last week I had a conversation with one of my students who is about to graduate. As we were talking I asked him what he was going to do after graduation. I thought he might talk about future career plans, moving to another state/city, or just general life goals. Instead, he gave me his immediate plan after school. He stated that considering he was graduating and had extra money set aside from working and his student loans he felt (and these are his words) he “deserved” a trip to Europe and a new car when he got back from his vacation.
I don’t remember my outward reaction to this revelation, but in my head I was like WTH? I know that this student has student loan debt, has struggled a bit financially (like most of my students he works 1-2 jobs), and was looking forward to going out into the “real world.’
I think he could see the perplexed look on my face and quickly offered up an explanation. He said that he had worked hard during his four 1/2 years at college and felt like he deserved some time to relax and to enjoy the fruits of his degree with a trip and a new car.
Satisfied with his explanation and the now somewhat changed look on my face (I think it was bemusement) we made chit chat for a few seconds more and then he headed out. From there I continued to advise other students.
As I thought about this encounter I realized that the word “deserve” has become almost a synonym with “need” when we justify how we spend money, even when we can’t afford or really need too. And I admit I am totally guilty of it and I am trying to be more conscious about it.
How Do We “Deserve” Things?
So when I started thinking about my student and the word deserve I realized that a lot of people I talk too or see or whatever use that word more and more. They deserve a new outfit, a new car, a new whatever for doing things.
My first reaction to this line of thinking was well there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself if you hit a specific goal that might have been difficult (losing 25 pounds), receiving an award at work for an exceptional job, etc. But I guess what irritated me when I started thinking about how we use the word deserve is how we justify it for a whole host of things.
For example, when people use the word deserve to justify buying stuff they don’t need. I “deserve” it because I worked hard that week. Now I am sure they worked hard, but aren’t you supposed to work hard? Isn’t that normal? Why do you “deserve” to be rewarded for something you are supposed to do? Particularly, when one is DROWNING in debt?
Maybe that is what set me off when I think about deserving things. We use that word in our vocabulary to reward ourselves for doing stuff that I think is normal. The truth is that this student’s job was to graduate. I realize that it is hard and there is nothing wrong with a little reward. If someone wanted to give him a present for Europe or a car or whatever…no problem. But taking that money, when you have had financial difficulties and justifying spending things that you don’t need because you “DESERVE” it I wanted to shout at my student and tell him you did what you were SUPPOSED to do. You did well in your classes or your job or whatever. That is what we are supposed to do. How do you deserve something for something that you are supposed to do?
I fully admit I did the same thing just over a year ago. I justified spending a few thousand dollars on a vacation because I said I had worked hard, I was turning a certain age, and I deserved it. I didn’t DESERVE it. I rationalized my behavior to make myself feel better. I am deep in debt. I am broke (proverbially speaking). I don’t deserve something because I did what I was supposed to do. What a moron I am.
Wants Becoming Needs?
In some respects, I think the word “deserve” has become a synonym for the word “need.” I fully admit to people watching and sometimes listening to interesting conversations. On more than one occasion I have heard people say that they “needed” that new outfit. Really? You needed it? Like it was a matter of life and death?
Last time I checked basic needs were food, shelter, and clothing that you don’t throw on the credit card. You don’t “need” a new car or a trip or whatever.
Now I know partly how wants became needs. We live in a consumer culture and companies have done a great job in making us think we need it.
For example, Apple is a fantastic company that has made many people believe they “NEED” the latest iphone or ipad. Really, you “need” it? Or is it just more convenient? Full disclosure, I don’t have a smart phone. I sometimes use Mrs. ROB’s phone, but I only want one on occasion and I most likely will get one someday, but I don’t need one. It doesn’t add any true value to my life.
How Do We Overcome This Mindset?
Let’s be clear I am NOT someone who is against totally spending money. I have no problem with people buying nice things because they “deserve” it if they can truly afford it. I have a problem with us justifying and rationalizing “rewards” or “deserves” because of stuff we should do in the first place. And I have a problem with those wants superceding basic responsibilities like not paying your bills/debts. That I have a HUGE problem with. Being irresponsible, like I have, drives me nuts. And it drives me up a wall even further when I realize how dumb I had/have been with spending choices.
The solution is really something we should all do anyway and god knows I need to do a better job (particularly with food): be more conscious with our choices? Do I really need that desert? (In my case: the answer is decidedly NO because I am overweight and made bad choices). Do I really “deserve” that new outfit? Is it a true need? Or should I spend that money and pay off my credit card bill or add more money to my car payment or mortgage or whatever? Being conscious should be something more of us need to do instead of rationalizing stuff we don’t really need.
Again, there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with you hit some goal or even spending and buying uber expensive things. But I think it is wrong when you do it on the backs of not taking care of responsibilities like paying bills, paying off your student loans, paying back your parents, whatever it is. I have made more than my share of stupid mistakes but I don’t “deserve” a reward for doing paying back my debt or working hard. My reward is achieving more freedom for myself and family.