Steadfast FinancesVisualizing How Your Stuff Owns You

Visualizing How Your Stuff Owns You

Filed in Consumer Education , Saving Money 14 comments

Updated version: Visualizing How the Things You Own, End Up Owning You

I’m fascinated by the consumerism trend of acquiring stuff. Somehow, consumer psychologists and advertising geniuses the world over have joined forces and sought to convince all of us that it’s in our best interests to buy “stuff.”

Regardless of whether they tapped our false belief that acquiring goods will boost our perceived self worth (or our social status), preying on our emotions since sad people spend more money, or you simply felt that you had to buy because everyone else was buying it’s been a highly effective PsyOps campaign.

To counter this pseudo propaganda, I’m going to throw out my own visual representations of how I view the anti-consumerism movement and perhaps one of these images will burn itself into your brain and haunt you the next time you’re thinking about signing away away a few additional years of your life by taking on additional liabilities.

How the Things You Own End Up Owning You!

#1 – How much time do you work for XYZ object?

Visualization - the stuff you own, owns you

For simplicity, let’s say you bring home $200 per day after taxes, insurance and retirement savings. If you have a $2000 mortgage due every month, you’re working for 10 days or 2 whole work weeks just to keep a very expensive roof over your head. If you have a $500 car payment, you’re working 2 and half days. Throw in the mandatory fees that come with these two items (insurance, taxes, etc.), and you’re talking another 2 and half days of bring home pay.

This means you have just 8 working days in the month of December where your money is actually your money, and not on a predetermined course to repay one of your creditors. One could argue that this money isn’t really even your money anymore because if you don’t repay your debts, you won’t have a house to live in or a car to drive.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the cell phone, cable bill, past credit card debt you may or may not have, and any other regular expenses and liabilities you may owe every month. (Please note, I was highly generous in not including any other liabilities/expenses on the calendar.)

If this example intrigues you, learn how to create your own “How Much Your Stuff Owns You Calendar” in just a few minutes and some basic math.

#2 – How much product must you churn out?

The never ending ditch (for ditch digger analogy)

The world always needs ditch diggers (as the adage goes), and let’s just say that it’s your job to dig ditches in order to get paid. So every day, your calloused hands and aching back have to shovel X pounds of dirt at Y depth for Z miles.

Which is an pre-algebra word problem method of asking: how productive do you need to be to generate XYZ dollars to keep your stuff?

If you’re a writer, how many articles do you have to write per day? If you’re a football player, how many tackles or touchdowns do you need to make per year to keep your multimillion dollar salary?

(Have you noticed the ditch is never ending yet?)

Units produced to cover your outgoing cash flow is a very effective metric to reduce your spending when you actually consider how much you have to work to meet your financial obligations.

#3 – Who really owns your stuff?

Goldman Sachs Building in New Jersey

Home ownership is a bit of a misnomer for anyone who has a mortgage. If you disagree, just ask your mortgage lender what happens when you stop paying your monthly bill.

Which poses an interesting dilemma: if your mortgage banker owns your house, and you’re paying him for the right to live there, does he really own you since you’ve obligated yourself to repay what you owe? Debt is slavery after all!

If you have a healthy disdain for the banking industry, you might want to considering joining the fight against the Too Big To Fail banks. By simply ceasing to do business with them and refusing to buy their #1 product (e.g. money), you’re sending a message to the folks sitting in the ivory towers that the cash cow lending business is going to shrink by a factor of you!

#4 – How much does your stuff cost you to move, store, or maintain?

Huge Storage Unit in Queens

Have you run out of places to keep your stuff? Is it so valuable that you can’t throw it away, but so invaluable that you can’t keep it in your house? Do you have to visit your stuff like you would a extended member of your family – once every 3 months as a chore?

When you’re paying to keep stuff outside of your primary residence without a very good reason, you might want to re-assess your life goals on what is important to you, and what isn’t.

#5 – How much are losing by selling your stuff second hand?

Yard Sale

Everyone knows that buying a new car is a bad financial decision. Why? Because most new cars lose half their value within the first two years of ownership.

So why should your less expensive stuff be any different? If you’re fortunate enough to know that hoarding your gifts away in a storage unit is a bad idea, you’re probably smart enough to figure out that buying a stereo for $100 and selling it in a garage sale for $25 is a terrible investment. Unless, you don’t mind losing 75% on every investment you make. (If so, hope you have a pension plan and not a 401k!)

Remember, if you don’t buy it, you never have to yard sale it!

~ ~ ~

Photos by Atli Harðarson, wallyg, Penningtron, NicestAlan.

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Posted by CJ   @   16 December 2009 14 comments
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Dec 17, 2009
6:50 pm
#1 Tracy :

Great post Matt. This is ea problem I am trying to clear up in my own life. I don’t want to be owned by stuff anymore and I sure don’t want to keep working so hard to maintain it. While researching a post on storage facilities, I was astonished to discover that paying to keep stuff in it’s own special house costs Americans over 20 billion a year in over 51k storage facilities averaging 45,800 sq. ft. a piece! Mind boggling.

Dec 17, 2009
8:43 pm
#2 Matt SF :

Thanks Tracy. I came across the calendar exercise when I bought my first house at 25 and realized I was “mortgage poor”. I was working 2 weeks, or a whole biweekly paycheck, just to pay the mortgage and the accompanying fees (insurance, electric bill, etc.). Of course, that’s when I got a roommate to move into the bottom floor to help improve the cash flow numbers.

I believe their are actually Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that invest solely in storage facilities. It’s a real cash cow when you think about it. Throw up a crappy structure that doesn’t need to meet the usual building code, and as long as it’s water tight, you’ve got yourself something that generates some pretty hefty cash flow each month without all the normal tenant headaches.

Almost makes me want to go out and buy a half acre 10 miles outside a major city and get started building one! ; )

Mar 26, 2010
11:57 pm
#3 Pineview Style :

When I read this I thought of this mini storage facility I first saw east of Greenville, NC back in 1997. I was nothing but a fenced in lot with some floodlights and about 20 of the “box” parts from old box trucks up on cinder blocks. Funny thing is, it was still there as of late 2009. Surely, this enterprise is pure profit at this point!

Mar 27, 2010
12:03 am
#4 Matt SF :

Hey I’ve been to Greenville, NC, so I believe it! Storage facilities are one of the great real estate cash cows believe it or not.

You can actually buy REITs that are invested solely in storage facilities. Throw up some cinder blocks, put a roof on it, don’t have to worry about water or heat, and boom… $50/month per unit.

Dec 29, 2009
3:00 pm


WOW! That calendar graphic says it all. Absolutely brilliant!

Good job!

Leo Quinn
.-= TheMoneyMan-Leo´s last blog ..Yup. Credit card debt is your fault =-.

Jan 5, 2010
3:14 pm
#6 Matt SF :

Thanks Leo! Not sure if it’s my original idea or not since I’ve been doing this since 2001, but it’s a highly effective visual exercise when it comes to cost cutting and reducing the desire to leverage yourself up for a 4 to 30 years (car payment, mortgage, etc.)

Jan 5, 2010
2:49 pm
#7 Ana :

wow…I’ve mentally thought about how I work 2 weeks out of the month to cover basic monthly expenses, but seeing it in calendar form really justifies my beliefs in frugality! Thanks for this. Your site is brilliant, btw!

Jan 5, 2010
3:20 pm
#8 Matt SF :

Hey thanks Ana! Really appreciate those kinds of compliments because it makes blogging that much more worthwhile.

I think I’m going to expand upon the calendar exercise in a future post. Lots of people have mentioned it’s a straightforward, in your face graphic to really symbolize that your a slave to your stuff… especially when you’ve taken secured loans to purchase it.

Thanks for commenting!

Jan 21, 2010
2:09 am
#9 Sharon :

Greetings from Australia!

Great post Matt, and terrific work in representing this visually! Have you heard of Vicki Robin’s book ‘Your Money or Your Life?’

You might want to connect with Scott Pape, a lay finance adviser who has a high media profile in Australia:

He is always on about educating people to think like this! In fact, I posted your calendar to his Facebook Wall…

You might also be interested in a blog myself and two sustainability writers/activists from Seattle and Chicago have just launched: Post Growth


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