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Money creates its own mythology. It has become a powerful symbol of success, personal worth and social status. And spending can be fun—it can even make you a bit giddy, at least until the bill arrives, and that’s the trouble. My mantra on the subject is this: You can die looking good.
Both professional and personal success depend upon a healthy relationship with money and a good sense of how to budget, invest, spend and save. Traditionally, in every culture I can think of, saving and conserving are seen as virtues. Wealth, if present, has been kept completely private and discreetly concealed. Aesop’s Fables praises the thrifty ant that gathers and stores supplies in anticipation of winter, and it scorns the light-hearted grasshopper, who prefers to fiddle the warm summer days away with no thought of the future. And even religious ascetics of many traditions have taken vows of poverty.
However, times change. Today, lavish consuming and spending often are interpreted as very public proof of having arrived, and the flames of consumerism are fanned by our love of celebrities. We covet the brands they endorse. And perhaps inspired by the meteoric rise of endless Britneys and Nicoles, there is no denying that baby boomers and subsequent generations are seekers of instant gratification. We want our candy, and we want it now.
This attitude—what behaviorists call a lack of impulse control—can quickly cause our credit cards to self-ignite, possibly explaining why the young woman working in her first professional position needs to spend $3,000 on an “it” bag. It’s dangerous both personally and professionally. Am I a penny-pincher? Not exactly. But I do know from experience that spending must be strategic in order to serve you in the long run.
Think of money as power units, similar to calories or the stoked-up cells of a new battery. Every U.S. dollar, British pound, euro, franc and yen represents stored energy.