So, "what is upscaling", you ask? You actually already know what it is because you (and I) are voluntarily participating in it, whether you realize it or not.
Nevertheless, "upscaling" does deserve a proper definition.
Why? Precisely because we’re so completely engulfed by it that we likely wouldn’t even recognize it as a “thing” unless someone articulated it for us.
Upscaling, also known as “hyper-consumption” or “excessive consumption”, is the phenomenon in consumer our culture that encourages us to consume more, bigger and more luxuriously.
At this point, it’s kind of like water to a fish, basically invisible.
I know I didn’t recognize it as a "thing" until I consumed the documentary, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Do Not Need, based on Juliet B. Schor's book of the same title.
It’s the reason we're building ever larger houses, buying ever more more luxurious cars and that we’re going into ever-higher levels debt.
Although I wouldn't have been able to articulate it this way back in 2004, my own realization of this phenomenon is the reason I became utterly disgusted with my own hyper-consumption (that led to my $43k+ of debt).
This disgust fueled my own desire to get out of debt and why I now coach people how to do it themselves (with a little help from yours truly at times).
Put another way, I got sick of being on the "hedonic treadmill", decided to step off, for good.
So, that's upscaling . The "why" of needing to abandon in order to dump your debt will become more evident as we dig in.
Luxury is totally fine if you can afford it. But the question is, can you ACTUALLY afford it?
Like I mentioned earlier, the documentary is primarily based on Juliet B. Schor’s academic work documenting this “new consumerism" and it's affects on our culture.
Let me say at the outset that, while I think her research and analysis of the problem itself are “spot on”, the solutions that she offers close to the end of the film I am not in agreement with (i.e. more taxes, more regulation, more systemic "behavior modification" via social programs and governmental policies).
But we’ll talk more about that later. :)
"“The new consumerism” is defined by an upscaling of lifestyle norms; the pervasiveness of conspicuous, status goods and of competition for acquiring them; and the growing disconnect between consumer desires and incomes."
Joshua Becker on his blog “becoming minimalist” describes this now pervasive phenomenon with great precision:
"Excessive consumption leads to bigger houses, faster cars, trendier clothes, fancier technology, and overfilled drawers. It promises happiness, but never delivers. Instead, it results in a desire for more… a desire which is promoted by the world around us. And it slowly begins robbing us of life. It redirects our God-given passions to things that can never fulfill. It consumes our limited resources."
At one point in the film the very succinct statement, "Keeping up with the Joneses has morphed into keeping up with the Gateses" got introduced. And I think this one statement crystalizes the message of the film perfectly.
In fact it was kind of like at “eureka” moment for me when I heard it.
The "Gateses" phenomenon perfectly explains where we are as a culture and why so many of us (including me, formerly) have so much debt, are stuck in jobs we hate, working longer and longer hours “just to pay the bills” and are suffering (arguably) unnecessarily for all of it.
A couple of very important supporting points articulated in this piece are: 1) The element of “competitive consumption” and 2) the influence of mass media.
See if these resonate with you.
1. Competitive Consumption: is driven by comparative or competitive processes in which individuals try to keep up with the norms of the social group with which they identify - a “reference group”.
2. Mass Media: Television shows portray the lifestyles of the rich and upper middle class in such a manner that the viewer’s perceptions of acquirable consumption are greatly inflated. Examples used include “The Cosby Show” and “Friends”.
This is documentary does a great job of articulating what has happened in the US (and really globally), when it comes to "standard of living inflation”.
Whereas in the middle part of the 20th century, it was about keeping up with the Joneses and their aspirations, now it’s become the pursuit of absolute billionaire luxury of “The Gateses”.
As an easily recognizable example, the average home size in the US in the 1970s was 1660 square feet. Now, the average square footage of a home in the US is around 2600+ square feet.
Why? What happened?
Ever inflated consumer desire, "keeping up with the Gateses", mass media marketing and just plain ol' human nature is what happened. Just look around you and you'll recognize it immediately.
As an anecdotal example, my wife and I look around us at the home buying options in our community and we're just flabbergasted. We currently live in Woodstock, Georgia which is a rapidly growing northern suburb of Atlanta. Here's what we see in 2019...
New home subdivisions: nothing available under $390k. Most are upwards of $400-$500k+.
New townhome subdivisions: nothing available for under $280k. Again many are approaching the $300-$400k range.
AND, all of the available options offer WAY more square footage than the 1000 square foot ideal that would more than sufficiently meet our “needs”. We simply just don't need any of the 2000-3500+ square feet of living space options we see, nor do we want want them.
For us, that extra square footage represents 1) wasted/unwanted living space that we don't require, 2) space that "begs" to be filled with "stuff" we neither want nor need and 3) represents a needlessly larger utility bill.
As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Schor’s and the film’s analysis of the problem are both spot on.
And again, as I also mentioned earlier, I do not agree with her proposed solutions. She proposes more taxes, more regulation and more "systemic behavior modification" via public programs and governmental policies.
My coaching experience has taught me quite the opposite.
Contrary to this more collectivist viewpoint, I absolutely know it to be true that the cultivation of the correct desire to live within one's means and eliminate debt only advances one person at a time. It does not advance in large groups of people such as in a "movement" or "program" as her proposed solutions would suggest.
As a successful debt-eliminator, saver, investor and financial coach myself, I can tell you that I've witnessed this personally in my own situation as well as hundreds of times in coaching situations.
There are just no "programs" or broad brushed political agendas that will make people want to be responsible with their money.
None. It’s not going to happen that way no matter how much money or political energy we throw at it.
Rather it happens one person, one couple, one business, one set of behaviors at a time.
I’ve sat “kneecap to kneecap” with hundreds of individuals and couples and I can tell you anecdotally that, they don't get anywhere by someone "offering a handout" (without expectations or consequences) or "mandating that they behave a certain way".
They just have to want it badly enough that they're willing to do almost anything to make it happen.
Like Dave Ramsey is fond of saying, "you just have to be sick and tired enough of being sick and tired to want to change”.
No one can make anyone do that. You just have to be uncomfortable enough to want to.
So, are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Have you had enough?
If so, allow me to show you THE way out.
0. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)2. Starter Emergency Fund of $10003. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)4. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses5. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)6. College Funding (if applicable)7. Pay Off The Home Mortgage8. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!