That's a lot of money to spend on hobbies and recreation, especially considering that I could probably make headway on my goals on my own — for free.
For example, there's my yoga practice. I've been through yoga teacher training and a few advanced trainings, and have racked up more hours in a studio than I care to tally. I can certainly save money and practice at home. Sure, I'd miss that sense of community, but once upon a time, that's not what yoga was about.
Another example? Last month I started working with an Italian tutor to prepare for an upcoming trip. I took Italian in college, and I did pretty well speaking to Italians when I went to Italy five years ago. I could go through my materials and review on my own. I could make vocabulary flashcards or buy a software program. I could start reading my book of short stories in Italian and pick it up as I struggle through the text. But instead I Googled Italian tutors in my area and arranged for a weekly lesson.
It begs the question: Why do I choose to pay for things I'm relatively qualified enough to learn on my own? Shouldn't I make the extra effort and save money, so I can get rich a little less slowly?
Why pay for what could be had for free
In the personal finance blogosphere, there seems to be more time and energy devoted to how to save money, such as how to save money on groceries or how to lower your auto insurance premiums. But there are a lot of time when it makes sense to spend money. J.D. recently talked about outsourcing his yard work because he'd rather be writing (which also provides income). The best $20 you'll ever spend is taking a mentor or expert out to lunch. And I've found that the best way to reach many of my personal goals, even the ones that are purely for pleasure, is by paying someone to hold me accountable.
Too many times I've started working toward a goal and didn't stick with it. Before I quit my job, I was continually making progress growing my business, only to slack off for a few weeks. When I signed up for one-on-one coaching, however, I had a real, live person who would hold me accountable. I didn't want to let this person down (even though, in truth, slacking off was letting myself down). Each week we'd set mini-goals, and I now had a task list and a deadline. If I didn't accomplish my tasks, I would have to explain why to my business coach.
The second reason that it pays to pay for accountability is that a teacher, coach, or mentor can help you look at a situation or problem in a different light. For example, my Italian tutor has devised little tricks to remember the difference between words and phrases that sound similar, but mean two different things. Rather than memorizing words on flashcards, I get a broader view of how the language works. It's incredible how much more quickly you can advance with a teacher than you can on your own.
Finally, I'm paying for motivation. Sure, I love Italian, but when I'm around other people who love it, their motivation rubs off and I'm excited about silly things like doing my homework and memorizing how to conjugate irregular verbs. When I've tried studying Italian on my own, at some point my excitement wanes and I fall out of the habit of making time to learn. Meeting with my tutor once a week recharges my enthusiasm.
Investments come in all shapes and sizes
When I was working to pay off debt, I didn't want to spend money on anything that wasn't a necessity. I wanted to be debt-free so badly that I didn't want to pay for a gym membership or language lessons or anything that I could do “for free.” And that probably made sense for someone in the first stage of the personal finance journey. I was paying off credit cards and auto loans, and I also was trying to find a balance between spending and saving.
But there are times when it's a good thing to spend money, especially once you're in the third stage of personal finance. You've mastered the fundamentals, your debts are paid, so what now? Are investing, self-education, entrepreneurship, or philanthropy in the cards? Self-improvement and investing can mean many different things, such as starting a business, a pricey Crossfit membership, or learning how to order gelato in Italian.
Whatever your goals, be willing to invest your time and money — it's not wasteful spending if there's a positive result.
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.