Between me, Mrs. Mortimer, and our kids we have five birthdays spread throughout the year. There’s also Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Each holiday is the subject of tremendous marketing pushes. Show you care! SAVE 40% NOW! Sale ends tomorrow! Instant savings at checkout! Over $3000 in savings in this coupon book! And so on. It seems there’s always a reason to “save” some money by purchasing something.
To quote Blazing Saddles, Hold it, hold it, what the hell is that shit?! You aren’t “saving” anything when you spend money. You’re spending money! You might be spending less money, but you are not saving money. To clear up the apparent confusion on this subject, saving money occurs when you (1) set money aside in some type of investment account, and (2) let that money grow more money for you. Saving money is the exact opposite of going to the store and spending money on anything.
“But if I needed to buy Super Widget 3000 anyway, and I’m spending less, that means there’s more money in my super awesome interest bearing savings account! I’m saving that money. Right?” Wrong. You may have reduced your expenses. That’s a good thing. But spending less money is not a savings plan. Unless you immediately take the fat you just trimmed off a necessary expense and put it to work for you in an investment account, you haven’t saved anything.
But more likely than not, you didn’t need to spend that money at all. And if you’re like me, once you start spending money—unleashing your desires— you’ll start feeling so good about your “savings,” that you decide that now you can afford to “save” a little more money buying something else that’s on sale. (I’m especially vulnerable to this feeling during Christmas.) Eventually, I’ll have “saved” so much there’s no money at all. WTF?!
This extremely successful marketing doublespeak is insidious, and ubiquitous. People adopt it as their own language. “I saved 80% buying that TV on sale!” No you didn’t!! You got a discount on how much you spent. Buying anything is an expense that prevents you from saving money. This is especially true if you would not have spent the money in the first place but for some special deal that allowed you to buy a luxury item for slightly cheaper than you otherwise could.
This principle also applies to any recurring expense, like insurance, that you might reduce by switching to a different provider. But again, unless you take those reductions and invest them, you are not saving money. You’re just reducing an expense. And although reducing expenses is great, and I strive to do so as much as possible, I haven’t saved any money by reducing an expense unless I put that money to work for me.
Once you notice how this language blankets every store—brick and mortar or digital—and billboard, and how constantly people use it, it’s hard not to notice it. But practicing a little stoicism, you can protect yourself from the siren call of “savings” at the store. Next time you see one of these ads, or you hear a friend use this language, instantly think to yourself, “I could buy that, but I will still be spending money; I’ll just be spending 20% less. Do I really need to spend this money?” Rephrase the lie into its true meaning, and undo the doublespeak.