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Everyday Cheapskate: The Excess of Consumption

Mary Hunt on

The dreaded disease we know as tuberculosis was at one time known as consumption.

A highly contagious illness, consumption got its name from the way it takes a person's life slowly from within -- first with a bloody cough, then fever, pallor and the long, relentless wasting away.

What irony that consumption, as we know it today, has an eerily similar effect.

Consumption is what consumers do to excess. We buy, acquire, eat and listen. We'd rather pay to have things made and done for us than to do them ourselves. We want to be served and entertained. When we take it to an extreme, consumption eats us from within and causes a relentless economic wasting away of soul, spirit and finances.

If consumption is at one end of the spectrum, production is at the other.

Take food, for instance. When you buy and eat food, you consume it. When you grow, store, preserve or cook, you produce it.

The U.S. used to be the world's dominant producer; we were also the world's dominant creditor. We made enough to lend to others. We produced so well that we created wealth at home and exported it to the rest of the world, too.

Slowly, over many decades, that has changed. We stopped saving. Instead, we sent manufacturing overseas, deciding to deal in non-exportable services to the point that we have become the world's biggest debtor nation -- borrowing money to finance excessive consumption of imported goods, our hat in hand, looking for more credit.

All this excessive consumption reminds me of the biblical story of the prodigal son.

A man has two sons. The younger son asks his father to give him an early inheritance of his portion of the family estate.

The father agrees, and the son immediately leaves home and travels far away with his newly found wealth. He doesn't save a dime, blowing through his fortune in record time. He applies for credit and takes all he can get (a little literary license, please). He borrows from friends and neighbors but soon learns how impossible it is to keep everything paid on time and his life moving forward. He loses everything and finds himself in dire circumstances.

He takes what he can get -- slopping pigs for some poor farmer. He is so bad off that he begins to notice the pigs eat better than he does. Soon, he comes to his senses. He crawls back to his father, admits his foolishness and asks to be taken back into the family. The father is overjoyed and takes him back with gratitude because his son, who was once lost, has now been found.


Some of you reading this have, in a sense, taken your "inheritance" in the form of home equity loans, credit card loans, student loans and all manner of consumer debt to which you've felt entitled. You even borrowed from your retirement accounts. You've been living it up, convincing yourself that you were building wealth.

Now you are in dire straits. But there's no wealthy father, no bailout. It's time to figure out what it was in you that gave way to consumption.

A life of consumption stifles productivity -- the production of physical objects, experiences, relationships, knowledge. You've been so busy consuming what others have produced that you haven't taken time to be productive yourself. And the more you consume, the lazier you get.

Consumers import, producers export. Consumers borrow, producers lend. Of course, we cannot eliminate consumerism altogether; consumers are an important part of the production process. The problem arises when we're consuming more than we produce. Then, it becomes a crippling and addictive drug. Here are simple ways you turn the tables on over-consuming and start producing:

-- Downsize. That may mean shopping at a different grocery store, moving to a cheaper area or making gifts. Whatever you can do, get up off the couch and get busy.

-- Save. Stop whining about not having enough money to save. Just give it up. Take $50 from your next paycheck and put it away, period. If that means you have to ride your bike to work, fine -- great, in fact. You will produce energy.

-- Produce. What can you do so you don't have to buy from someone else? What skills do you have that are lying dormant? Where can you give back? What can you do for others? Keep thinking.

You'll know you've made the transition from consumer to producer the day that your exports exceed your imports!


Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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