This article is from new staff writer Kristin Wong.

Recently, my boyfriend and I took a somewhat last minute trip to Seattle. The goal was simply to get away from the grind for a few days and explore a new environment. In the spirit of frugality, we decided to relinquish one big luxury: car rental. Yes, we thought the convenience would be nice, but it would’ve cost upwards of $300, and we figured we could make the sacrifice and “rough it” by taking public transportation or just walking.

Turns out, roughing it wasn’t rough at all, and renting a car would have actually been less of a luxury and more of a burden.

During our long walks from the hotel to the Space Needle, Pike Place and Pioneer Square, we made some pleasant and memorable stops at various coffee houses, restaurants and boutiques — stops we wouldn’t have made had we opted for the “luxury” of driving. We also spent a lot of time talking during those walks, and those conversations have become some of my favorite memories. Had we rented a car, those talks would have probably revolved more around where to park, which streets to take, and other thrilling, driving-related topics.

Burden or Luxury?
Sometimes burdens disguise themselves as luxuries. By definition, luxuries already cost more than they’re worth, but we want them anyway, because they provide some sort of happiness. But lately, the question I’ve been asking myself is — do those luxuries provide happiness? Or, frugality aside, would I actually be happier without them? If I’d be happier without them, then those luxuries serve no purpose and are only big wastes of money.

Here are a few personal examples of how I suspect my burdens are disguising themselves as luxuries:

Going out
As my bank statements will tell you, I really enjoy going to restaurants and bars. Yes, I budget myself, and I’m frugal about it, but I choose to spend a certain amount on this each month because I just really, really enjoy it. But here’s the thing: I also enjoy my home. It’s my sanctuary. It’s not as if I like going out because I don’t like being home. But when I’m out every weekend, it keeps me from enjoying my apartment, and rent is my biggest expense. If I’m mostly using my home as a place to sleep and work, I’m actually missing out on truly enjoying what I spend the majority of my income on.

Thinking about this, when I have friends over, it gives me the same “high” as going out. Therefore, it’s not restaurants, bars, or other venues I enjoy as much as it is being around people. I’m not saying I should slash my restaurant budget to zero, but I bet I could cut back, invite people over more, and my time would be just as enjoyable–actually more enjoyable, because I get to simultaneously enjoy my home. I do like going out, but probably not as much as I think, and therefore, it’s likely not as much of a luxury I think it is.

Cable
Every frugal person will tell you this is the biggest luxury on which you could waste your money. But I really enjoy cable, both for the convenience and the programs. I really enjoy turning on the TV and knowing I just might stumble upon an old episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when I least expect it.

But still, there are better things to do than watch reruns of that show (no matter how awesome it was). I have a long list of books to read and movies to watch. Perhaps if I didn’t have the convenience of cable, I’d actually get around to that list. My justification is: “well, I wouldn’t, because I’m just in the mood to turn on the TV and zone out.” Zoning out is my luxury. But when I think about it, it’s a pretty crappy one. Without cable, I would be forced to be more conscious about my entertainment choices, and I bet those choices would then be of better quality. This isn’t to say that The Fresh Prince isn’t a quality show, but there are only so many times in my life that I need to see Will get stuck in that basement with Tisha Campbell.

Note: Tomorrow’s “ask the readers” column is specifically about alternatives to cable television.

Soda
Maybe this is a silly one, but I used to really love my soda. I drank one around the same time every day, and I considered it my little luxury. In the spirit of saving money (and being healthy), one day I decided to stop drinking it every day. Turns out, I actually don’t really like soda. Who knew? I had one last night, for the heck of it, and I realized it’s not very good. Perhaps I liked the ritual, perhaps it was the sugar I was addicted to–I don’t know. All I know is, for whatever reason, my body doesn’t even want soda anymore. It was an unnecessary luxury, and actually, not even a luxury at all, but a costly burden/addiction.

I could go on, but you get the point. So now that I’ve pinpointed these burdens disguised as luxuries, what do I do? Here’s my plan.

The Value of Luxuries
I’ve asked myself how much I enjoy my “luxuries” in the first place. What do I like about them? In Seattle, I wanted to rent a car so that I could drive from the airport to my hotel and from my hotel to the Space Needle. Ooooh, so luxurious! Sure, convenience can be a luxury, but is that convenience really worth $300?

  • Money aside, what would I do without the luxury? Is there a possibility my indulgence is keeping me from doing something I enjoy more? Am I paying money to be less happy? For example, I’m healthier and happier without my soda habit.
  • Why do I like it in the first place? What’s at the core of the things I deem to be luxuries? Why do I enjoy them and seek them? Is there better and cheaper way to get that feeling? I suspect I enjoy going out because I like being around people. Well, being around people is free. So this is an area I need to visit. It just might be that, at its core, my luxury is free. That’s something I need to determine, which brings me to…

My plan is to go without some of these luxuries for a month or so and see if they can’t easily be replaced by something better and cheaper. Maybe I’m actually happier without them altogether. This is how I plan to weed out what’s a burden and what’s an actual luxury. Maybe I do truly enjoy the simple act of zoning out on reruns. But there’s a good chance I don’t enjoy zoning out as much as I think I do, and a trial run without cable will help me to determine that.

We do so many things in life without questioning them. Sometimes we even determine our happiness without giving it much thought. Like me, you may find that your luxuries aren’t that luxurious at all. Sometimes, they’re just costly burdens.

This article is about Choices, Frugality