Making the move from spender to saver

Opal Creek Pool I pulled out my camera gear last night. It’s been two years since I used it regularly. Before I started Get Rich Slowly, I seriously considered trying to become a professional photographer. But for a long time now, my camera stuff has been gathering dust in the corner of my office. I can’t even remember the last time I used it.

It’s fun to look at all my equipment again. It’s fun to handle it, to imagine the possibilities. I’m eager to get outside and make some images. (Kris and I are going to a garden show this afternoon, and I’m taking the camera with me.)

As I sorted through my bodies and lenses, though, I had to shake my head. I bought a lot of the gear on credit. For a time, I had the photo bug, and in a bad, bad way. I craved new lenses and bigger memory cards and fancy filters. I wanted to take expensive photography courses. There was always something bigger and better to buy.

When I was in debt, when I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, it was always like this. I knew I should save or pay down debt, but I spent my money on comic books and camera gear. I spent it on books and bikes. I got a perverse thrill from spending money I knew I could not afford to spend. In some ways it made me sick — I felt guilty, it gnawed at my gut — but in others, it gave me a sense of exhilaration. If I had cash in my bank account, I spent it.

But now that I’m out of debt, now that I’m building my savings, I find I’ve lost the urge to spend. Now I could actually afford to buy a better bicycle. I could afford that wide angle lens that I used to covet. I could afford to buy all the comic books that once seemed out of my reach. I could afford all of these things and more, but I’d rather save my money.

Somewhere along the way — perhaps the moment I got out of debt — my mindset moved from spender to saver. I once viewed money as something to spend — now I see it as something to save. I still indulge myself now and then — I just picked up Mario Kart Wii, for example — but the urge to spend all of my money is gone. It’s vanished. It doesn’t give me a thrill anymore.

It wasn’t easy for me to switch from spender to saver. If you’re trying to make a similar transition, consider the following techniques:

  • Open an account at ING Direct (or another high-yield savings account), and make regular contributions to it. When you develop the saving habit, it becomes second nature.
  • Set a medium-term savings goal. Some goals, such as retirement, are too far away to get excited about. Short-term goals aren’t enough to build the savings habit. But consider saving for a trip to London or Hawaii next year. Or saving for a new car. I’ve found that saving for goals 18 months to five years in the future has been a great way for me to get excited about saving.
  • When you receive a windfall (such as the upcoming tax rebate), don’t think about how to spend it. Think about how to save it. Windfalls used to be fun money for me — now I view them as a way to jump-start my savings.
  • Avoid situations that lead you to spend. One of the best ways to move from spender to saver is to remove yourself from temptation. Since I’ve stopped going to the comic book store so often, I buy fewer comics. One reason I haven’t bought any new camera equipment is that I haven’t looked to see what’s available. Sometimes where spending is concerned, ignorance really is bliss.
  • Consider alternatives to buying new stuff. If I find myself in a mood where I have to shop, I make a trip to Goodwill. For $20, I can fill a basket of books and clothes, and I don’t feel guilty. Better yet, take time to go through the things you already own.
  • Don’t spend your time looking for ways to spend your money. Instead, spend your time finding ways to save and invest it. Over the past few months, I’ve learned there are all sorts of things I’d rather do with my money than spend it. I want to max out my Roth IRA. I want to learn about rental properties. What about re-investing some of my cash into Get Rich Slowly?

I haven’t shaken the urge to spend completely. After playing with my camera equipment last night, I was curious what sorts of new gear was available. I spent twenty minutes on Amazon, drooling over the Nikon D300. I’m tempted — but not much. I’d rather save that $1,800 for the future. I’m a saver now, not a spender.

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