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Conspicuous consumption: it can happen when you least expect it.

"Conspicuous Consumption" was a term coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his best known book, "The Theory of the Leisure Class" (1899).

As a student of economics in my undergraduate days, I was forced to wade through Veblen's theories as part of a class requirement.

Then, as a starving student, I struggled to understand "conspicuous consumption," having little to consume. The thought of conspicuously consuming anything was way beyond my pay grade.

I found myself revisiting his theories the past two weeks as I helped my wife pack up our house in preparation for a move to a new residence. As I carefully wrapped and packed box after box of family artifacts, refrigerator art that chronicled our daughter's younger days, old furniture that we absolutely could not part with, and family artifacts inherited from our parents I realized that we were on our way to proving Veblen's theories.

Veblen divided society into two classes based upon their productive economic activity. In his world there were those who made their way via exploit and those who made their way by industry.

The former were his leisure class who provided little in the way of productivity but instead spent their time and money on acquiring social status by spending and wastefully consuming. Put another way, to him, conspicuous consumption was nothing more than spending more money on goods than they are worth.

The latter class was engineers whose inventiveness and productivity were more beneficial to the general welfare as a whole.

He saw society moving through a process where first came conspicuous leisure followed by conspicuous consumption--both performed for the sole purpose of demonstrating wealth and social status.

Fast forward to present times.

We have moved twice in our 25 or so years of marriage. The first time we were shocked by how much stuff we had accumulated and swore that the next time would be different.

It wasn't, much.

Despite making extensive use of "Craig's List" to sell off unwanted furniture and household effects, we still had much more than I thought we should. And, the cost of moving, measured per pound, made it easy to put a price tag on anything that went in the moving van!

The point: our experience makes me wonder if in our desire to consume--doing our fair share of spending to keep the economy afloat--we lose sight of what we can really do with our discretionary wealth.

Could we have saved more, instead of spending, to start another business that might offer employment to others? Could we have built up a larger retirement account to buttress the effects and cost of living longer ... which we will! Could we have put more of that money aside to help pay the increasingly higher costs of the college educations that will challenge our grandchildren?

In the end, having kept all this "stuff", matters little. In the past few years I have helped a number of clients and their families deal with the estates of loved ones who have passed on. Disposing of a lifetime of collected memorabilia becomes a chore for those left behind.

Every Christmas our family watches the Chevy Chase's movie "Christmas Vacation." In one scene, the character "Clark" gets trapped in the attic and entertains himself by watching old family movies. Tears roll down his cheeks as he is taken back to his early childhood. As I packed and sorted this past week, at times, I felt a little like "Clark."

On our next travel adventure, I will think twice about buying a souvenir that will become just another thing to pack or throw away at some point!

Wendell Cayton is a Registered Representative and Investment Advisor Representative with the securities and investment advisory services offered through Transamerica Financial Advisors Inc. (TFA), a broker-dealer and registered investment adviser with the SEC, and a member of FINRA and SIPC. Investment advisory services are also offered through Wealth Management Advisors LLC. Wealth Management Advisors LLC is an Independent Registered Investment Advisor and is not affiliated with TFA. Contact him at wendell@ wendellcayton.com.
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Title Annotation:TAKING STOCK
Author:Cayton, Wendell
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:679
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