It seems contradictory, but I love being frugal and I also love spending money. Over the last few years, however, my love of frugality has outweighed my love of spending -- and it's been good for my savings.
Yes, it's OK to spend money sometimes. If you have it, and you're comfortable with your present and future finances, by all means, spend away. But a lot of us, including myself, spend when we shouldn't spend. It's to be expected, I think, in our consumer culture. I can't walk down my block without being sold something every minute or so, from billboards to petitioners to window sales.
Anyway, a couple of readers requested an article on how to avoid spending sprees. It's something I've been thinking about lately anyway, so this was a great reason to give the subject more thought and put something together.
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...
I must begin this tale of consumer conflict — both internal and external — with four caveats:
- I'm on the other side of 40, gaining weight, out of shape, and from a family with a history of heart attacks.
In 2001, I bought some magazine subscriptions from a couple of college students who were selling them door-to-door. I'd had my own miserable experiences trying to sell things to strangers, so I had a policy of buying from any kid who wanted to sell me something.
I let the young man and young woman come into the house, and I listened to their pitch. I browsed through a glossy brochure that listed a bunch of magazines I didn't really want or need. In the end, I agreed to purchase two subscriptions.
But as I was filling out the forms, I began to have second thoughts. Things didn't feel right. Should a subscription to Entertainment Weekly really cost $50 a year?
I feel as if I've been a Scrooge here lately: "don't watch Super Bowl commercials", "don't buy gadgets", "bundle up to stay warm", etc. While it's true that saving money requires sacrifices, I don't mean to make it sound like drudgery. Actually, I'm elated with my progress.
When I was working with Lauren Muney to create my wellness program, she emphasized that fitness should not be a chore. "Remember that you're working toward something positive, something long-term," she said. "And allow yourself a treat once in a while." She told me that as long as I stuck to my diet and fitness plan the rest of the time, I could allow myself a couple of "treat meals" during the week, meals during which I didn't worry whether I was following the plan to the letter. This has made a huge difference.
The same concept holds true for personal finance. I've written before that you shouldn't confuse frugality with depriving yourself. They're not the same thing. It's a good idea to allow yourself a reward now and then, to allow yourself to splurge.