(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

Are Money Complaints a Habit?

Posted on: Nov. 9, 2010  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

These are tough economic times, no doubt about it.  In times like these, it’s hard to think of things to feel grateful for.  Obviously, if I compare myself to someone living in a third world country who can barely feed themself, who worries constantly about the safety of their family, or about how much the next public official will cheat them out of their money, then I feel very lucky indeed.  In my discussions about money in my line of work, I try to bring these questions of the context of our well-being into perspective.

If you look at a shelf of one of the large retailers that we are all familiar with, it is a marvel of our modern times.  First, every inch has to be optimized since it costs so much for the retailer to display these items.  Then, we see how much variety there is.  If you look deeper, you see another miracle in how many lives and connections come into play along with how much it takes to produce and to quickly get this product to market.  At the same time, the costs of many of these items seem to keep coming down as a result of improvement in efficiencies and those very same production and distribution techniques.

Yet, we would mainly agree that we take that shelf for granted.  Most of us shop responsibly and not wastefully.  We do not wish to squander what we worked so hard to earn.  While being able to buy these things from the shelf of plentitude is seen as a form of freedom of decision making, we oftentimes only focus on the things that we may want but do not have or do not allow ourselves to have.  We may feel overindulgent by having them or feel that we are taxing our budget too much.

Furthermore, from my money conversations, we all keep changing our expectations in that we now assume that what we have is a new baseline.  If we have a flat screen TV, it is a need and not a want to have a maximum channel, high-definition TV service provider to take full advantage of what we decided to buy, the TV, in the first place.  Then we take that for granted while we decide whether the DVR option is worth the added cost.  We want to see that in the future, the new things offered will hopefully not be out of reach.  Is this some evolutionary thing from our hunter-gatherer past that wants to nail down if we will have enough for the next meal?  Do we have some built-in wiring that has to see things getting better?  At some point in our past, we came up with the narrative that the future is not fixed and that we can make a difference with our actions and self-determination.  We can reinvent ourselves as well, which is why the image of what we buy is now what we consume and not the product.

We have a double edged sword of image and substance.  Think of where we would all be if we did not all see each other as a work in progress.  Think of where we would be if individuals did not use material items as a way of expressing, discovering, and reinventing ourselves.  Think of where we would be without the insecurity of trying to be different from everyone else and wanting to not to be left out or missing the latest cool thing.  If we were satisfied with the present there would be no consumerism.  If we did not compare ourselves to others and want the inessential then we wouldn’t crave change, improvement, and the new and exciting.

Most likely these evolutionary and psychological takes on things are oversimplifications.  However, some of us now worry that our children will have it harder than we did.  When I was a kid, we always felt it was a natural right that things would always improve.  While we may hanker back to a simpler time, most of us would agree—other than the effects of the recession—that our lives are better in most ways than they were for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  We have quite a distance to go, but many of us are proud of the accomplishments of our culture.  We have seen improvements for Blacks and women, along with improvements in technology, communication, education, pollution, crime, lower food prices, and so on.

At the same time, when one thing seems to get better, another comes along to replace it.  We see improvements in polluted skies, lakes, and rivers, only to worry about Global Warming.  The end of the cold war and the birth of democracy in more countries are overshadowed in many minds by the threat of terrorism.  I call this two-sidedness the “everything is hunky do-doo” effect.  Is there some evolutionary gene that accepts what we have as normal and yet is discontent with what could be?  Perhaps complaining that things could be better, or worrying about if what’s out there is going to get us next is hardwired into us.  For example, I am self-employed and yet each day I worry that I am going to get the sack.

The one thing that I see that counteracts this is a sense of well-being, meaning and purpose.  If one has this feeling, then whatever objects we don’t have, or the difficulties we experience seem less fatalistic.  A hard road ahead is understood as the price we pay, as each day has its own reward.  These are the things we feel we can control.  If the next generation suffers from unnecessary hardships, this seems out of our control, and a sense of frustration sets in for the lack of fairness on their behalf.  In this context, it is time to stop complaining about the way things could be or used to be and how many things we would like to have that we cannot.  We need to start investing in ourselves, and not just things.  We need to start investing in making our companies more competitive, in educating those next-generation kids and working hard to that end.

At the same time, we have to find a way to restore fairness to wealth.  Money is a team sport, not an individual one.  If the system works that someone can make a quick buck and negatively impact a ton of others while doing so, then we need to cooperate with those that got the short shrift and do something so that it never happens again.  We should not feel that luck or cheating is the way for one to get ahead.  Nothing drives home a sense of meaning and purpose more than hope that there is fairness attached to the good chance that things will get better.  Perhaps it is a good thing that we complain so that we will keep trying to improve the way things are.  It is like a placebo effect in that even if the sugar pill doesn’t work, who cares if we get better because we believe in it.  Most consumers are co-conspirators in their own temptation and persuasion.  There is a circular nature to our money complaints.  We need to believe that things will be better so we will get out there and do something to make it that way.  It also doesn’t hurt to remind yourself just how far we have come and how much things are better than they were.

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