How to spend your money

Yesterday, as I was otherwise occupied (I spent five hours writing a post about programmable thermostats, a post nobody will even like!), the conversation on Donna Freedman's article got a little cranky. Donna wrote about pinching pennies on some things so that she could splurge on others. In Donna's case, that meant a trip to England.

Tyler K., who's always a little cranky, wrote in response:

I'm just waiting for the post where someone's passion, the thing they're willing to scrimp on everything else so that they can afford, is a Range Rover. Or anything else but travel, really…It'd be fantastic to see someone write about not going to Europe so they could buy a luxury SUV

The Other Brian expressed his frustration, too:

I agree with Tyler 100%. I'm pretty sure the person that wrote that post would get absolutely BLASTED in the comment section for their prioritization of Stuff over experiences…

And Jane, who is usually mild-mannered, chimed in:

I would love for someone to actually have the courage to write a reader story or guest post about how they scrimped and went without for a big screen television! Why is that any less valid than saving for a trip to Paris? I'm sure everyone would say that it is just as valid and cite J.D.'s mantra “Do what works for you.” But let's be honest — there is a pretty obvious privileging on this site and others of certain types of ways to spend your money. Travel is one of the ones that people categorically praise.

First of all, I'm as tired of travel articles as everyone else. Yes, it's one of my pet topics, but we've featured it a lot around here lately. Time for it to take a back seat for a while. Second, I think travel gets praised a lot because people enjoy it. For years, I heard people extolling the virtues of travel, but until I tried it, I didn't really understand.

That said, Tyler, Jane, and The Other Brian have a valid point. We do talk a lot about Experiences here — but I think that's because in Real Life, so much attention is heaped upon Stuff.

Stuff isn't evil (though too much of it can certainly become a burden). Maybe it's time for a little reality check…

How to Spend Your Money

Jane is right: My gut reaction is to cite my motto: “Do what works for you.” Because that's what it's all about. If you're out of debt and meeting your savings goals, spend your surplus on whatever you want.

  • If you want a big-screen television, buy a big-screen television.
  • If you want a Range Rover, buy a Range Rover.
  • If you want a surfboard, buy a surfboard.
  • And if you want to travel, travel.

I don't care what you spend your money on, and neither should anyone else. Travel isn't inherently better than television, and I'm not arguing that it is. (For me, travel is better than television, but maybe not for Jane.)

I spend plenty of money on Stuff. In the past two years, I've bought a used car, a new bike, some nice furniture, season tickets to the Portland Timbers, and more comic books than a grown man really needs. (Trust me: If I'm buying all these comic books, I'm not about to judge you for buying a television!) I've also paid for an expensive gym membership and traveled to nine other countries.

I'm careful to avoid debt and meet my savings goals, but I spend my surplus on Experiences and Stuff. Both have value.

And Donna, who just wrote about eating lunches of cheese and crackers so she can afford to travel the U.K.? Well, Donna's willing to pay $9 for half a dozen cupcakes. Is that frugal? Of course it is! Well, maybe not frugal, but it's certainly a reasonable expense. Donna can afford it, and it makes her happy.

There's no one right way to do this. Donna splurges on cupcakes. I splurge on comic books. Maybe you spend on cable television. So what? If these are conscious decisions and we can afford it, there's nothing wrong with buying Experiences or Stuff. Or both. (After all, that's why we scrimp and save.)

Note: For another example of somebody choosing to use their money to buy Stuff instead of Experience, check out this guest post about a fellow who bought a boat.

What Do YOU Splurge On?

Financial writer Greg Karp recently dropped me a line. “I'm doing a column on what people splurge on,” he said. “Any thoughts?” I wrote back to share my main splurges: travel, travel gear, fitness, and computers.

I did a similar survey of personal-finance bloggers almost three years ago. “What do you splurge on?” I asked. Free Money Finance spends on cycling gear. Trent at The Simple Dollar splurges on videogames. And SVB from The Digerati Life buys stuff for around the house. Most of the people I polled spend on experiences: especially food and travel.

What about you? How do you spend your money? Assuming you have some sort of surplus after saving, do you focus on Experiences or Stuff? Do any of these purchases ever make you feel guilty? Or do you see this spending as a reward for making smart financial choices? (I used to feel guilty, but now I see spending as a reward for doing the other things right.) Chime in with your comments.

And, hey — if you want to write a reader story about how you saved for a boat or a television or a Range Rover, please send it in!

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SF_UK
SF_UK
9 years ago

Books. And knitting/crochet supplies (although my yarn habit is quite frugal for a yarn habit, I am experiencing lifestyle inflation, and I do insist on good quality needles/hooks). Arguably, these count as both Stuff and Experience. A book or yarn is Stuff, but I get hours of joy from it, particularly if I re-read a book or knit something complicated with the yarn. I initially reacted with “I don’t spend much on travel”, but now I’m not so sure. I’m going skiing soon – at a reasonable price, but I have deliberately chosen to pay extra for nicer accommodation and… Read more »

kim
kim
9 years ago

Children. We have 5 of them. My husband and I always wanted a life with a large family and planned accordingly. We are not flush with cash, but we’ve met all of our children’s needs and many of their wants. Too many PF sites seem to dismiss a life like ours as “ordinary”, somehow less, but we’re living our dream, and our life is rich, edifying even.

leslie
leslie
9 years ago

For me, the goal of being frugal and having my money in control is then being able to use that money to make my life more enjoyable. Yes…for me that partially means travel. However, it also means spending money to build a nice screened in porch and deck extension on our house. My husband has both a Wii and an Xbox with Kinect because he likes playing video games with our kids. I am slowly (as I have the extra money) buying new dishes because I hate our old stuff and the growing collection of Fiesta Ware in the china… Read more »

Another Dave
Another Dave
9 years ago

We splurged on a big screen TV. We use it for movies and th Wii that we received as a gift. We don’t even have TV programming. No Antenna, No Satellite, No Cable! It was going to be a Xmas 2010 purchase so we could reap the big deals. Walking around in July ’10, we came across a deal we couldn’t refuse. Basically 50% off similar models and it met my specifications. But the only reason we have it is becuase we saved, and had the money available (Opportunity $). Buying in July instead of Dec was total impulse, but… Read more »

Gabriela
Gabriela
9 years ago

I’ve never posted here before, but I feel now is the time. I’m 24 yrs old, brazilian, public servant. Since my last vacation in Sep 2010 I’m saving to go on a sabbatical for 6 mths to 3 yrs. I intend to live in my parents apartment, where I won’t pay rent (just the condo fees), eat at my grandmother’s who lives 3 floors below, and watch tv (I’ll buy the big LED 3D), play videogames (Already have the Xbox 360 and I’ll buy Kinect), read and surf until I get bored. I’ve already let my parents know I’ll probably… Read more »

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
9 years ago

We’ve done almost no traveling for the last few years in order to “splurge” on being able to do work we enjoy for a living.

DW works in Social Work, and I quit my job to run a business that at the time was making about 50% less than my salary. (Now it makes more, but there was absolutely no guarantee that would ever happen. And we’d have been perfectly happy if it never did.)

And we do splurge on some Stuff. DW is passionate about cooking, so we probably have more high-end kitchen tools than most.

Hannah
Hannah
9 years ago

I’m sick of hearing about people who travel all over to world just to collect the experience and be able to say “I’ve been there.” Amassing countless travel experience is the same as hoarding physical stuff in my opinion. Personally I enjoyed the reader story about splurging to see a shuttle launch, because that was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. The alternative to splurging on travel isn’t buying more stuff. There are a million reasons people could be saving their money to spend it here at home. Come talk to me about how your travel experiences were so worth… Read more »

Meghan
Meghan
9 years ago

Books definitely. I will gladly scrimp in other areas to buy more books. They are a pain to move (and lately I’ve been moving around once a year), but I don’t care. I love reading and I love my collection; someday my house will look like a library, and that makes me happy.

Bogey@BackNineFinance
9 years ago

Hey JD,

I’d love to write a post for you about how I consciously spend about $6,000 per year on golf! I’m thick skinned as well, so not afraid to face the commenters.

I agree with the commenters from yesterday though, would love to see more posts from the “other side” where people value things other than travel.

I like the theme of this post, it gets back to the true GRS tone, which has been missing for awhile, in my opinion.

Regards,

Bogey

Jenn
Jenn
9 years ago

Short term my only splurge is travel. Sorry if it’s repetative but it’s really the only non-essential we have in our spending plan. Long term my “splurge” if you can call it that is retiring early at 55. I figure that counts since we consciously cut our spending to ~55% of our take home so that we can contribute to our retirement funds and pay off the mortgage ASAP. Yes we could retire even earlier if we didn’t travel, but we also want to enjoy the present and there’s always the chance that if we put off all travel until… Read more »

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago

Well OK, here I go. I live in a small apartment with a low utility bill, drive a 12-year-old car, cook my own food or share with friends, don’t buy electronics or cable TV, and I don’t splurge on clothing or accessories, so that I can “have” a job that’s low-stress although low-paid … … and that enables me to volunteer for causes I care about. I serve on citizen boards in my city, give blood a few times a year, and I mentor a 7-year-old girl who is at risk because of her home of origin. I guess that’s… Read more »

Jane
Jane
9 years ago

Wow, I guess I was a little cranky yesterday:). But thanks for responding. I guess at some level it’s also a stages of life thing. Ten years ago, I would have cringed to see myself today with my nice television and love of my DVR. But travel once you have children is less of reality, so I guess I find other ways to amuse myself. I certainly have done my fair share of travel and even lived abroad for two years. I was just playing the devil’s advocate last night. Like you said, I think there are lots of people… Read more »

Squirrel Saver
Squirrel Saver
9 years ago

Yes, it’s very easy to point fingers at people for being wasteful or for liking stupid things. But at the end of the day, all we are drawn to can also be viewed as wasteful and stupid in numerous ways as well. There are infinite ways of interpreting experiences and things, and the things we like have personal meaning to us for numerous reasons. I think it’s more important to focus on your own wants while filtering out other people’s wants. Yes, you can’t totally ignore other people’s wants, but getting all indignant about other people’s wants is just wasted… Read more »

Danielle
Danielle
9 years ago

Maybe people could splurge on charitable giving? Sure, I love books, good food and groceries, travel, but it is a great feeling to give away a chunk of change to a worthy group. Village Health Works and Partners in Health also do a great job of letting you see what your money is doing.

I sometimes worry when I see news stories of “charity” executives with bloated salaries, but not these two. It’s worth double checking the organizations you favor, but it feels great to write that check–really, better than a steak for dinner.

Bruce
Bruce
9 years ago

My money is used to buy time. Time to spend at home with my wife and newly born child and then doing a little work in my free time.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
9 years ago

As I suspect many people on here do, we generally live frugally to free more money to spend how we would like to spend it — splurging on luxuries rather than general survival. For example, cheap (but tasty) food most of the times means we can eat out at fancy restaurants a few times a month. My splurges are a blend of stuff and experiences — eating at good restaurants, crafts (materials & training courses) and books (most are bought second-hand but we still buy a *lot* of them). I guess I do see it as a reward for good… Read more »

Casey
Casey
9 years ago

Here you go: my car. I drive a Mazda RX-8 that cost more to purchase, has higher maintenance costs, worse fuel economy, and generally worse reliability than a typical econo-box. I love it though. Driving to and from work are sometimes the highlights of my day. I don’t deride travel though. I’ve been all over the US, Canada, the UK, and lived in South Africa on an extended work assignment. It’s not just about “collecting” memories they way people horde stuff. Seeing how others live can profoundly change your view on what’s necessary and what you truly value. To link… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

This is a great topic, I’m glad to see the other side of the argument getting some much-needed attention. My wife and I splurged on our house. We’re mid-30’s, have no kids (and absolutely no intention for any). It’s just the two of us, plus 2 cats. We live in a 2600 sq. ft., 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath McMansion in suburbia. We even paid extra for the corner lot, and 9′ ceilings in the basement. Central air, upgraded finishes, cherry hardwood throughout the entire first floor (including the kitchen), granite countertops, 2-car garage (even though we just have one car,… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Like I’ve said before, I’m pretty sick of travel since I do it for work. (This year I seriously cut back– only going to LA and Boston!). I would love more vacation time, but right now time is way more precious than seeing exotic new locales. Our personal travel consists of visiting family in the rural midwest. Since we’ve found our “enough” (which is a pretty high enough, but just over half what we bring in), any large purchases don’t really need to be saved for. If I want $2000 in trees (which bring happiness when I look out the… Read more »

Celia
Celia
9 years ago

My family splurges on local food. We have two small children and don’t get out much to restaurants or on fancy vacations just yet. Instead we spend on local, organic food whenever possible and are teaching our kids how to cook so that they’ll have what I consider to be a valuable life skill in their toolbox for later. We’re also trying to teach our kids the importance of being conscious consumers–including considering the origin of what we buy. And yes, we do scrimp on some food items. Nearly everything is made from scratch; we buy dried beans; and we… Read more »

Gayle
Gayle
9 years ago

I do travel and love it but I “do frugal” so I can eat out, paying for my hosts while I stay with them. I also skip cable and internet at home so I can rent space at a pottery studio. I have just started spending some money on taking book binding classes and will continue to do that as a “treat”. Yup, learning is a great way to spend money on something one one can take away from you.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
9 years ago

Hannah: I completely agree with you about the collection/hoarding of travel experiences.

I had a “ten places to visit before I died” list until I realised that it was just consumerism in a slightly different shape. Sure, I might have some experiences there but the way I’d have to do it at the moment (very short stays) would be very surface, not full immersion in another culture — very much just ticking it off a list. To have rather than to be.

Trudy G
Trudy G
9 years ago

My extra money seems to be going to the dogs the past year – literally! We have three that I spend money on – not toys but obedience training, CGC classes, etc. Now that I have found their calling (for the two coonhound/wirehair mix at least) it has been getting more expensive as they and I all train for search & rescue. They love it, I love it, and some day soon we will make a difference in other people’s lives. That’s money well spent in my book.

Chett
Chett
9 years ago

Didn’t we hear grumbling from the GRS community as you were blogging about saving for your Mini Cooper? How is that different from a Range Rover? Now there’s grumbling because the discussion has turned to experiences. There are a lot, A LOT of families who don’t have the time or resources to blog that could write a guest post about their “splurge” to take their family to a restaurant, movie, or some other family activity once a month. Yes, someone could write about those choices, but that would be less inspiring and little to real for much of the population.… Read more »

ShimmerGeek
ShimmerGeek
9 years ago

Books 🙂

And gear for Roller Derby! 🙂

Both of these things are Stuff-Experiences. As SF_UK said, books are an experience – I get hours and hours of joy out of each one. And as for Roller Derby gear? Well, having a £20 mouthguard makes the hours of skating much more comfortable (and safer – since I’m not hauling it out every time I talk!) 🙂

Alma
Alma
9 years ago

My splurge areas tend to be food, craft supplies, DVDs, music, technology, and occasional travel. I also tend to categorize my material purchases into Things and Stuff. DVDs that I can watch and get enjoyment from, high quality yarn, and other things that I actually put to use (and especially that I thought about before I bought) I categorize as Things. Impulse buys that end up collecting dust I categorize as Stuff. I think a lot of people are afraid of splurging on material possessions due to Things turning into Stuff, or maybe being viewed as materialistic. (The 30-day rule… Read more »

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

I spent my money on a boat. And everything boat related. Its all true what they say about it being a hole in the water into which you throw money, but I wouldn’t do it any differently if I had the choice.

A boat is stuff that lets you travel.

Kelley
Kelley
9 years ago

We splurge on paying off our house. Most people would think we were crazy but it will be paid off before DH’s 35th birthday. Then I feel like we’ll be able to splurge on whatever we want for the rest of our lives. And we have a list a mile long, luxury cars, huge vacation to celebrate the payoff, orthodontics, DH’s dream yacht when he retires from the military and an awesome lake home. We will travel too at some point but when the girls are older so they can remember their experiences.

Cole Brodine
Cole Brodine
9 years ago

JD – I for one can’t wait to see your article about programmable thermostats. I’m an Electrical Engineer and I love reading about energy efficiency. If you can put it in terms of initial investment versus payback period I would think it would make an especially interesting article. I would love to see some more articles about energy efficiency and renewable energy options that can help people save money. I think it is important to emphasize payback so that people know what they are getting into with those improvements. Also, my wife and I rarely travel out of state for… Read more »

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
9 years ago

Some people just like to complain.

I just reread yesterday’s post and I thought Donna was clear as a bell on the idea that she saves in some areas so she can spend in others.

I don’t think it should take much imagination or intelligence to understand that the “spend on” area could be anything – travel, range rovers, comics etc.

My splurge is the same as Kelley – all the extra money goes into the mortgage which will be gone sometime next year.

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

Everyone who comes to this site is looking for ways to have a happy and fulfilling life. And we all recognize managing our money is a piece of that. I think Donna’s post served two purposes and is more valid than a similar article about sacrificing in some ways to afford other “stuff” instead of experiences. 1) Who needs another article telling you to buy an SUV or tv? We get those all day long. If J.D. wants a successful blog, he’ll post surprising info, not commercials. 2) It is true that people get more long term joy from experiences… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Interesting points. I know that studies have shown that experiences make us happier in the long run than “stuff”, but you don’t have to go far or spend a whole lot to get experiences. The idea that you’re “not really living” unless you’re travelling to far flung destinations is as much marketing speak as the idea you have to have more and more stuff. I honestly think people need to cut through the bull and do what genuinely makes them happy. For some people, that’s travel. For others, it may be a car or a TV that they enjoy and… Read more »

Luke
Luke
9 years ago

Kitchen equipment. I love to cook (the career that got away) and have bought a Kitchenaid mixer, a coffee maker, steamer and more in the last six months. In fact, if I ever decide to build a robot I’d probably just have to tape together the contents of the kitchen cupboards and turn on some plugs! That said, they’ve all been bought at the best price (sometimes with a huge discount) and I’m not a snob (although I like quality). So my £150/$225 mixer sits next to the £3/$4.5 food processor from the 70s that my mother in law found… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
9 years ago

Totally agreed with #23 Mike. That is what I was thinking as I was reading about all the complainers. Sometimes I think people don’t actually read the post to get the lessons from it, they just skim it and then complain about it. The title of Donna’s post says it all. One topic I would like a post about is how to negotiate priorities with a partner. I know Donna is making choices for herself and it seems that J.D. and Kris make a lot of independent decisions, but what do you do when you and your spouse have totally… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
9 years ago

Well, I clip coupons and turn down the thermostat so I can have a cleaning lady in twice a week. It embarasses me even to type that. But it makes me a happier and therefore better person.

Travel has no appeal to me, both (as Jane said in #10) because we have kids, but also because I like being around familiar, comfortable things. Travelling once our kids are grown might be a once in a while fun thing for us, but ultimately too stressful to ever become an actual hobby.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

For us it’s travel. Hubby and I love nearly everything about it- including the airports! In fact, we’ve been known to go on cheap dates to the airport- buy a coffee and sit by the windows and just watch the planes taxiing back and forth. That said, our travel priorities have begun to change. Rather than rying ot stretch it out as long as possible (trying to stay in europe for 3 months, for example), we’ve really started to value the ability to take shorter trips. They might be more expensive on a per-day basis, but it also allows us… Read more »

chzplz
chzplz
9 years ago

I’m splurging on a single family house. Not a traditional “splurge” item, but I really don’t need it. I don’t need the space (I own a townhouse now and have rooms I never use). I don’t need to be near good schools (single, no kids). I am 100% buying this because I don’t like hearing noise through common walls, I want to have room for a garden, and I want to be able to let my dog go for a pee without having to get bundled up for a walk in the Canadian winter. For the past three years I… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

I spend money on makeup and skin care. I’m using a serum right now that costs $95 a bottle. I’ll drop $50 on foundation. I like playing with different eyeliners and eyeshadows. I also splurge on pedicures, and I’m starting to really enjoying getting facials. Yes, I brown bag my lunch, check out books from the library, and all that frugal stuff to be able to spend some of my money that way.

Alexandra
Alexandra
9 years ago

I just bought a $60 Coach keychain.

It was a crazy spluge for me, but the blue elastic band that I took off a head of brocolli three years ago to use as my keychain was starting to fray.

I figured I was due.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

My wife and I scrimp on everything and live like students so that we can make movies, which are expensive and time-consuming to make, even with video. If we spent like everybody else we’d have to have 2 jobs and we would have little time for this (we have friends in that situation), but as it is we make do with one part-time check and a little bit of freelancing. The equipment has been bought with grants and with reinvested income from the freelancing, plus the part-time job provides free access to some extra gear (a perk that makes the… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

We splurge on our childrens’ educations. We have three children and use our money to pay for their college educations and keep them out of debt as much as possible, instead of spending our money on travel or big screen tv’s. We also funded our retirement accounts so we won’t be a burden to them in the future. We mainly eat home cooked meals and socialize with friends in low budget ways that involve sharing hospitality and conversation.

Jason
Jason
9 years ago

When I splurge, I do it on books. At the moment I am trying to pay off a buttload of debt, so I get my fix via GoodReads and PaperbackSwap. But I’ve noticed that when I’m having a bad day and decide to spend emotionally, I go to the bookstore.

-j

Ian
Ian
9 years ago

My passion is guns and shooting, and I happily spend a lot of my disposable income on new firearms that I couldn’t possible justify “needing”. But I like having them. One thing I did when I finished paying off all my debt was set aside a fund specifically to take advantage of good deals that came up, and I’ve used it several times to buy firearms that cost more than my truck is worth. Hopefully it doesn’t make me like a stereotypical xenophobic creep, but I’m not particularly interested in travel. I’m not against life experience, but I’d rather have… Read more »

HokieKate
HokieKate
9 years ago

MoneySavingMom had a story last month on saving up for a fancy television:
http://moneysavingmom.com/2011/02/we-paid-cash-laptop-tv.html

Kaitlin
Kaitlin
9 years ago

I think that one person’s “stuff” can definitely be another’s “experience.” I am personally not into cars, but for someone who really cares about the driving experience, clearly a luxury car is going to provide a different experience than a budget vehicle. The same thing could be said of a top-of-the line stereo system or large screen television (or projector and screen, in the case of my husband). The common thread is that it is consciously spent. I don’t think anyone will offer to write about how they “consciously” spent a bunch of money on impulse shopping just to fill… Read more »

AP
AP
9 years ago

A big splurge is my dog. I used to work as a pet sitter and got paid good money to watch and play with other people’s dogs. When that became not enough for me emotionally, I made the conscious decision to incur the considerable expense of owning a pet. Now I pay a dog walker to take him out while I’m away at work/commuting for 11 hours a day, but it is so worth it to have him part of my life every day when I come home. He opens up my life to neighbors, new friends, and now we… Read more »

Marcus Byrd
Marcus Byrd
9 years ago

I splurge on what ever my wife wants. It usually is clothes, jewelry, or some kind of home decor. I would love to spend nothing and let my money accumulate, but my wife is not the same. I have a hard time constantly saying no to her spending habits because i know they give her some kind of fulfilment. I guess I am a sucker but my splurging is letting her splurge. I could be much better saver if it was not for her. I try to involve her in our expenses but she shows no interest whatsoever. I would… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

I was going to say the P family don’t spend much money on stuff, but in the last 5 years we’ve scrimped & saved to do two major home improvement projects. First, we saved to hire an interior designer. We were still frugal about the experience. She was young and willing to just give us guidance & buy accessories. She let me paint the walls (normally a designer would hire someone and tack on a % towards her fee) and shop around to get a better deal on the sofa. It was worth every penny, because for 4 years I’ve… Read more »

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

I just splurged on my dream car – a VW Beetle convertible.

bon
bon
9 years ago

Travel and housing – I live in a very expensive city (Singapore) our apartment is a good deal for what it is, but we could get less comfortable and older accomodations for quite a bit less. I also splurge on practical things that i think are good quality and will last for a long time.

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