My boys are 3 and 5. We live in Florida. We spend a lot of time at the beach, at the playground, out in the sun.
Never once have either of my boys complained about not having sunglasses. Never once have they even asked for sunglasses, other than wanting to steal them off me or my wife because they though it was funny.
I, on the other hand, feel like my eyes are burning out of their sockets whenever I’m out in the sun without sunglasses for more than a couple of minutes. I need my sunglasses. It’s the only way I can survive these harsh Florida summers. (Cue the tiny violin.)
I used to be just like my boys, happily playing outside without even considering that my eyes might need shade. But over the years I’ve learned that I need sunglasses. Without them, life is a chore.
This is what I’ve come to call a learned affliction. It’s something that isn’t naturally a problem, but that becomes a problem through years of setting expectations and forming habits.
We all have learned afflictions in every area of our lives. Some of them may even be preventing you from reaching the financial success and stability you crave.
What do you need?
I used to “need” cable. The thought of not being able to turn on ESPN at any given moment, of not being able to watch my favorite basketball team play every single night, was too much to bear.
I apparently still “need” a toaster oven. Ours broke a few weeks ago and I immediately got on Amazon and ordered a new one. I honestly didn’t even really think about not ordering it. All I could see was the pain I would feel from not having one.
Cable deprivation is feeling I was born with. Neither was the need for a toaster oven. They are both learned afflictions. And they both cost money to indulge.
The toaster oven was a relatively small cost. We bought a replacement for $30 and it will probably last at least a couple of years.
Cable was a slightly bigger cost. We used to spend $60 per month, or $720 per year, on DirectTV.
Other learned afflictions are more expensive.
The affliction of having to prepare meals yourself often costs people thousands of dollars per year. The affliction of renting a place to live often causes people to rush into buying a more expensive house. The affliction of having a car that’s a few years old causes people to buy the newest model, with a new loan to boot.
We are all spending money all of the time in order to avoid afflictions that aren’t real afflictions. They are simply things we’ve learned to feel inconvenienced by through years of conditioning. And in most cases, we could just as easily condition ourselves out of the affliction.
My wife and I cut cable a few years ago and you know what? Life has been just fine.
I’m sure that if I simply hadn’t bought a new toaster oven, I would have formed some new habits and been perfectly happy.
This isn’t to say that no one should have cable or own a toaster oven, or that everyone should cook all of their own meals and drive 1998 Honda Civics.
There’s no judgment here. There is no right or wrong.
This is simply to say that it’s worth being aware of the things you’re paying for and, more importantly, WHY you’re paying for them.
I’ve personally benefited almost every time I’ve forced myself to live without something I thought I needed, especially when doing so resulted in me spending less money.
Because in just about every case, I found that I really didn’t need it. Or at least I didn’t need as much of it. I was perfectly happy with less, and by not spending money on my learned affliction I had more money to put towards the things that truly matter.
And in the few cases where I really did miss whatever it was I was living with out, I knew that I had found something that actually mattered, something that was worth spending money on.
Minimizing your learned afflictions
I challenge you to think about the learned afflictions in your life. What are you spending money to avoid? What can you not imagine doing without?
Take one at a time and challenge yourself to go without it for a defined period of time. How does it feel? Do you still miss it after a week? After a month? After a year?
My guess is that you’ll find ways to save money without affecting the quality of your life. Money that can be put towards other things that really are important to you.
My other guess is that you’ll be happier without those things in your life. Happiness = reality – expectations, and learned afflictions are really just expectations that have to be met.
The fewer learned afflictions you have, the easier it is for your reality to surpass your expectations.