I’m looking at the sweetest vase I purchased this spring, hand crafted by an Albertan artisan. I normally have a mound of flowers displayed in it but even empty it’s a work of art in its own right. It makes me smile and I’m so happy it’s in my home. Yes, Marie Kondo, it sparks joy. However, it took me a year to make a purchase from this artisan and this has me baffled. When I saw the series of vases in a gallery I ooh-ed and aah-ed, giggled at their whimsy and reluctantly walked away without taking anything home with me. Why did it take me so long to feel like I could justify buying something I loved, especially when I know - and believe in - the value of the work artists create? Haven’t I learned this lesson before?
Can you relate to having to justify purchases - especially ones that extend beyond your basic needs? (And this basic needs deal can get rather ridiculous because there’s not much that we own that we fundamentally need.) I find that purchasing artwork easily falls into this category and the higher the price point, the harder it is to be okay with making the purchase. I feel like I’m always looking for a deal and struggle with feeling guilty about purchases that go beyond the key necessities. Yet, we’ll drop quick money on consumable items (like that fancy latte) without batting an eyelash - and those purchases add up! Both as an artist and as a consumer, I find myself wrestling with the monetary value we assign to things, how much and when to spend, and when to embrace the inner bargain hunter.
Many moons ago I had a friend begin to change the way I looked at money - and it had a surprisingly spiritual connection. Behind the important skills of budgeting, balancing the chequebook, and making wise financial decisions, was a philosophy that was bigger than her. She believes that the money in her bank account isn’t actually hers but God’s, entrusted to her. This leads her to make decisions that will benefit, support and encourage others (in addition to taking care of her needs and wants). This certainly challenges our societal way of looking at money as something that is ours - something we have earned primarily for our own benefit and enjoyment. The other key moment that impacted my financial philosophy was a sermon I heard. The pastor also held the belief that what we have is meant to bless those around us. He shared the example of hiring a friend for a job you need done in your home. Instead of thinking of hiring the friend for your own benefit (because maybe they’ll do it for free or cheap), flip it around to make sure that you’re hiring this skilled friend as a way to support them. When you hire this friend, do not expect them to give you a deal. Pay them their full wage and tip them too. He encouraged us, when we are able and in the position to do so, to be that blessing. We get the service or product we desire while we bless someone else in the process. The more we look outwards in this manner, the more needs would be met, hearts encouraged and passions/gifts supported - what a beautiful way to live our lives.
These two philosophies have continually challenged me through the years. I must admit, the default mode is living out of a place of scarcity, looking to save as much as possible. I wonder what we compromise in the process? We have been taught in our commercialized society that the lowest price is always the answer but perhaps saving money shouldn’t be what drives us. What if our finances became a vehicle for something so much bigger than us? What if we began to consider how our purchases are a mutually beneficial transaction? I purchase something I want and/or need - a service or a physical object - and I support the person who provides the item or service I require. They are able to continue to provide their product or service and on the cycle goes. Another aspect to consider is that our dollars have the power to ensure fair and ethical treatment of workers, if we so choose.
We can unpack this endlessly... So, let’s focus in on how the consumeristic culture affects the arts. As an artist, it is difficult to navigate this insatiable appetite for bargains. As I shared in the previous post, there’s quite a bit that goes into pricing artwork and offering discounts can be detrimental to the value of the artwork (although it certainly is an effective marketing technique that we all love). It is important for an artist to keep their pricing as consistent as possible. And there’s the reality that many artists are not appropriately pricing their work to ensure that they have a sustainable income... all because of the feared perception of not being “affordable”. It’s difficult to feel the pressure of having to prove that you have value that is worth investing in - that your time, talent, and artistry are worthy of the dollar amount attached to each work or service. Even as a working artist, I constantly have to remind myself of this when I consider other artists work. The ‘get-a-deal’ root runs deep in us but we need to stop expecting others to take a cut for our benefit. If someone wants to offer a discount, it should be their choice, their gift - not an expectation or a demand from us. And when someone does choose to offer us a deal, we can accept the blessing from them, realizing that an outward (rather than inward) approach to finances has a profound ripple effect. Sometimes we can be the blessing, other times we humbly accept it. But, when we are constantly looking to save a buck, we end up diminishing the value of the product/service being provided - which can very much feel like you devalue the soul behind it.
What would be the impact if we began to make purchases from those we want to support - whose work resonates with us? I am convinced that this would make us more thoughtful spenders - more mindful, responsible and less frivolous. This isn’t about living beyond our means, it’s about living with values and actions aligned. Can I be courageous to challenge the fears behind my penny pinching? Imagine a world where that lovely shop on the corner doesn’t have to close or the artist doesn’t have to work three unrelated jobs because we stopped to challenge the voices that made us reluctant to purchase the work that we just ooh-ed and aah-ed over.
I love my little vase. I could have lived without it but I didn’t want to. And the funny thing is that it wasn’t even a big purchase that I needed to budget for yet I still found myself in default purchase mode. I finally challenged all those thoughts that needed me to justify why I’d buy it and realized that it simply came down to this: I could afford it, I wanted it in my life and I wanted to support this artist. May I encourage you, as I continue to challenge my own financial philosophies, to consider the impact of our purchases? How can we enable and support? What are our excuses and what are our limitations? Where can we cut back on mindless spending so that we have an increased budget from which to buy those products and services that we want? What would happen if we made our purchases with a different perspective - a different focus? Would it have a meaningful impact?