In a recent USA Today article Top 5 money problems Americans face cited that “living for today”, “ensuring a comfortable lifestyle”, “accumulating too much debt”, and “making poor purchasing and investment decisions” topped the list of financial concerns for survey respondents.  I’m not alarmed. Ok yes, I am alarmed. Maybe surprised, is a better word. I’m not surprised. This has been the tone for quite some time. What concerns me most is that it’s not changing. We can blame the economy; stating that jobs are not paying enough, that the cost of living is too high, etc. We can look at a lot of external factors. While those things contribute, I think the bigger problem lies in us.  More importantly, so does the solution.

When you look at even our very basic expenses, our “needs”, our expectations have changed. A house in and of itself isn’t sufficient anymore. It’s has to have the amenities (walk-in closets, granite counter tops, state of art appliances, etc) Just spend an afternoon watching HGTV. Somehow we feel “less than” if our houses don’t measure up. Or lets talk technology. Cell phones used to be a luxury now I’d say the majority of Americans rank it a necessity. (And they’re not cheap, especially considering how often we upgrade them and the money we spend on data.) Not only have our lifestyle expenses grown but what we consider to be necessities has also changed.

I’m not saying that we can’t have these things or even wanting them is somehow wrong. But we do have to face the reality that we can’t have it all and have it all at once. We have to choose, we have to prioritize. I think that’s where we’re all so scared. We don’t want to choose. We think that if we cut something out we’ll feel deprived.

Happiness researchers prove it’s not the amount of stuff that leads to our happiness. (More doesn’t equate to more happiness.) It’s about the “right” stuff. And that’s where it gets tricky. The “right” stuff is different for each one of us. It’s highly individualized and is based on what we value, what makes us come alive inside. It takes work, though, to discover what that is. It takes introspection and the ability to see what we already have in a new way.  We have to get in-touch with ourselves.

I think perhaps it’s just easier to see and believe an add that tells us, “This will make you happy.”  So we go out and buy that. Or we see a friend who seems happy and buy what they have. We waste a lot of money chasing what we think will make us happy. We spend more in lifestyle expenses. We buy more than we need. We take on more debt. We make poor purchasing decisions.

We’re looking in the wrong places. We’re looking at everything around (external factors) instead of looking within. I believe that when we focus on the “right” stuff, we can actually spend less and be even more fulfilled. Until we change how we measure happiness, how we spend, and what we value we’ll continue heading down the same road of feeling that we never have enough.