You can’t always get what you want: The dark side of personal finance

I drove down to clean the moss of the roof of my mother’s house last week. I spent several hours on top of the house with my cousin Nick, scraping and hosing and blowing away years of green growth. We chatted as we worked. I told him that I was going to speak with a literary agent on the following day, and that I hoped I might soon have a book deal.

“How does that work?” he asked me. “How do you make money on that?”

I did my best to explain, but it was difficult. I’m not sure I fully understand the system myself. “When a writer sells a book, he gets an advance on the profits,” I said as I scraped moss from between the shingles.

“For example, I might get a $10,000 advance. The publisher pays this to me before the book is even printed. As the book sells, I am entitled to a share of the profits from each copy. However, I see none of that until my share of the earnings is at least $10,000. Then, if sales are strong, I get paid for anything beyond that initial $10,000. The advance is guaranteed money — they can’t take it back unless I don’t write the book — but I don’t get any more unless the book sells well.”

“And the agent?” asked Nick. He was hosing away the moss and debris I’d scraped from the cracks.

“The agent gets 15% of everything I earn,” I said. “But that’s okay. In theory, she’ll more than make up for it by getting me a better deal, a bigger advance. It’s sort of like hiring an accountant to do your taxes. It costs you something, but in general you get more than you pay for.”

If you do sell a book, what will you do with your advance?” Nick asked.

“That’s a good question,” I said. “I don’t know. What I really want to do is buy a Mini Cooper. I’ve been saying that for a long time now. I hate my car, and every time I see a Mini, I covet it. My advance is likely to be small, but if I got a really big advance, maybe I could afford to buy one outright.”

I stopped scraping shingles and began scooping crap out of the gutter.

“That seems so crazy, though.” I said. “I barely drive now as it is. I don’t need a brand-new sporty little car. I could put that money into savings. Or into the stock market.”

I paused to think.

“But I really want that car. I’m obsessed with it. I’ve got to get over that. I’ve got to stop wanting.”

“Why do you have to stop wanting?” Nick asked.

“Wanting is bad,” I said. “Wanting makes me buy things.”

I was remembering Yoda’s speech from The Phantom Menace: Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

I imagined that the personal finance equivalent might be: Want is the path to the Dark Side. Want leads to spending. Spending leads to debt. Debt leads to suffering.

Nick set me straight. “It’s not bad to want things,” he said. “Want is good. It keeps you motivated. It makes you save and earn. Look at you. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you hadn’t wanted to get out of debt.”

“That’s not the same thing,” I said.

“It’s close enough,” Nick said. He stopped his work, pulled off his cap, and wiped his brow. “It’s okay to have something in your life that you hate. And it’s okay to have something you want. It’s natural. The problem is that once you get that thing, you’re just going to hate something else, you’re just going to want something more. It’s not want that’s the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.

I was about to argue with him, but then I realized that he was right. Wanting isn’t the problem. Problems occur when we develop the habit of indulging every want, or wants we cannot afford.

When I accumulated debt in the mid-1990s, I was constantly satisfying my wants. I wanted a new computer, so I bought it. Because I had the new computer, I wanted a bigger monitor, so I bought it. I wanted a better graphics card, so I bought it. I wanted new games, so I bought them. The wanting never ended, and neither did the spending. I didn’t know how to say, “Enough!

“I want things too,” Nick said. “But I’ve learned that it’s okay. It’s fun to want things. It’s even okay to buy the things you want sometimes, too, if you can afford it. It’s like when you were a kid, and you cut pictures out of magazines showing the things you dreamed about. You’d save up to buy a football or a bicycle or a BB gun. That was fun.”

“I think I see what you’re saying,” I said. I picked up the rake and began to sweep the oak leaves over the edge of the roof, watching them whump to the ground. “Wanting keeps us motivated. It gives us goals. So it’s not a bad thing in and of itself. And it’s not even a problem to satisfy some wants. The problem is when we try to satisfy all of our wants, when we get caught up in a never-ending series of wants.”

“Exactly,” Nick said.

After we’d finished working, we climbed down and picked up our tools. I was cold and tired and wet. I was hungry. I wanted a hamburger. I wanted a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger, a side of fries, and a coke.

My initial reaction was to dismiss this, both for health and financial reasons, but then I thought of my conversation with Nick. I thought of the five dollars I had in my pocket. I thought of the four hours I’d just spent on the roof scraping moss. I made up my mind. On the way home, I stopped at a drive-thru and I bought a hamburger. It was delicious. It was just what I wanted.

Today, as I was writing this story, I found myself craving a hamburger again. And fries. And a coke. But today, I didn’t fulfill that desire. I knew better than to fall into the cycle.

Sometimes it’s okay to buy the things we want, but the constant fulfillment of desire can lead to the Dark Side of personal finance.

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There are 127 comments to "You can’t always get what you want: The dark side of personal finance".

  1. Leslie says 24 November 2008 at 05:12

    Good article. Of course, I appreciate any personal finance story that can make a reference to a speech by Yoda :-).

  2. Valeria | TimelessLessons says 24 November 2008 at 05:16

    I’m not sure that anyone can mentally afford to be 100% disciplined 100% of the time. So, don’t be afraid to be flexible. And anyway, there is definitely no easy answer to anything.

  3. Andy says 24 November 2008 at 05:16

    Would you just buy the damn car already?

  4. Miranda says 24 November 2008 at 05:16

    Love this post. There is definitely a difference between wanting something and indulging every want. Treating yourself every now and then, when you can afford it, is fine. But what happens when what used to be an occasional indulgence becomes commonplace?

    Also, I think your post says a lot about contentment.

  5. pinkc says 24 November 2008 at 05:24

    Sage advice. Nick is absolutely right.

  6. Christy says 24 November 2008 at 05:33

    I don’t want to be a bubble-buster, but JD, I would encourage you not to count that advance money just yet.

    I used to work in a publishing house, and still take on side work as a freelance editor/writer to help make ends meet. The advances you read about in the news make up less than 1% of all books published. Most deals – particularly first book deals with relative (or total) unknowns … and forgive me, but you do fall in this category, your fantastic blog notwithstanding – have little ($2,000) or no advance whatsoever. And the climate for betting on the come (which is all that an advance is) is getting colder and colder.

    I may be all wet. You may have found the most spectacular literary agent on the face of the earth (though I’d love to have a chat with you to explain why you DON’T need an agent), and said agent may get you that mythical $10k deal. If I am, I offer you my heartiest congratulations.

    Literary deals aside, I really appreciated this “wanting” post. All things in moderation. The trouble is remembering what moderation actually is in the midst of totally jonesing for something cool. 🙂

  7. Angela says 24 November 2008 at 05:54

    I’ve followed your blog for quite a while. This is absolutely the best thing I’ve ever seen here. It’s just so RIGHT.

  8. Money Minder says 24 November 2008 at 06:02

    Good luck with the book deal…would it be a collection of your blog posts?

    Have you thought of renting a mini-cooper for a special occasion like a birthday or road trip? I have a friend who indulges his love of exotic cars by renting them. I think he’s rented a Jaguar, a Ferrari and a Porche.

  9. dian says 24 November 2008 at 06:05

    Want is the path to the Dark Side. Want leads to spending. Spending leads to debt. Debt leads to suffering
    Nicely put 🙂
    I agree on Nick, with
    “Want is good. It keeps you motivated”
    but we just have to learn how to balance it

  10. Kevin @ The Money Hawk says 24 November 2008 at 06:09

    Very good article. And good luck on that book deal!

  11. KC says 24 November 2008 at 06:21

    I think it depends on how much advance money you get. I have a friend who got a rare, rare book deal of 6 figures. Her books have been on the NYT bestseller list a few times. But she was the rare exception. However, if you get a 6 figure deal, do us all a favor and buy the Mini Cooper, and take lots of pictures and post it on the website!

    But in reality you likely won’t get enough to buy a used Mini. In which case the stock market looks like your best bet. If the market rebounds (as history shows it will) then you might be able to get the Min with the invested money.

    On a separate note you’ve coveted that Mini for a long time. At this point it is almost certain to not live up to your expectations. I wanted a luxury sports sedan all my life. I finally bought one a few years ago, used, low miles, and good price. Its been less than spectacular. Sure it looks better and handles better than a Camry, but its been less reliable. It is much more costly – everything from gas to wipers appears to cost more than on a non-lux car. I don’t necessarily regret the purchase, but it hasn’t lived up to my expectations, probably cause I wanted it for so long and thought owning one would be so nice. I think I’ve realized…its just a car, too.

  12. eto says 24 November 2008 at 06:24

    I’m in the same boat, JD. I’ve wanted a MINI for about 5 years now. I’m currently working to pay off some debts, and each year I’ve said “Hopefully next year, I’ll finally get my MINI.” 😀

    • billtech says 08 July 2013 at 16:11

      I work on Mini’s and they are the absolute WORST car that I’ve ever done a clutch job on. (Auto tech since mid 1960’s)
      Half the front end has to come off top and bottom.

      And like another posted for some expensive luxury cars, the Mini is prone for problems, much more than average.

      Maybe think and rethink that lust for a Mini, Hmm?

  13. William says 24 November 2008 at 06:35

    J.D., thanks for this post. It’s a remarkably clear, concise piece about the very heart of managing personal finance. I know my experience has been that some folks – usually the ones who have the greatest need for some discipline and focus in their personal finance – are resistant to changing their ways because they fear they’ll “never be able to do anything fun again” or some such nonsense. It’s not about total deprivation – heck, even Gandhi kept lots of books – but about balance and focusing on what you really want.

    Unfortunately, of course, that means there’s no easy path to getting this right – no “silver bullet” that fixes it for everyone. If there were, you wouldn’t be doing this blog, right? 🙂 But it does mean we can each look at our own wants and needs and try to be clear about how we address those.

  14. Frugal Dad says 24 November 2008 at 06:43

    This post reminded me of something I heard on one of those PBS seminars with Dr. Wayne Dyer. He said one of the most freeing experiences of his life was giving away his most prized possession, because the item seemed to own him, rather than him owning the item.

    Even though you don’t yet own the mini, perhaps you can identify it as the thing you prize the most. Free yourself by looking only at the practical aspects of a car. Four tires, some sheet metal, a little oil and gas designed to get us from A to B. Sure, there are different designs, and features, and brands, but when you get down to it, they are strictly functional items used for transportation.

    I’m a truck guy, myself, and wanted a Chevy Silverado for the longest. One day, on a whim, I went to a dealership, traded in my beater and signed for a Chevy Silverado. It was beautiful. I loved it! A few months later I sold it. As the new owner backed out of my driveway I felt forever cured of car fever. It really was liberating.

  15. Gen says 24 November 2008 at 06:43

    Have you driven a Mini yet? If not, see if you can rent one for a few days. Not sure if the Mini is one of them, but I rent a lot for work and I find a lot of cars don’t live up to the hype. (I really wanted a Prius until I rented one on a work trip. I didn’t dislike the car or anything, but from driving it for a few days I could tell that it wouldn’t be a good fit for me.)

    Also, I have a friend who owns a Mini and she says it only runs well on high-grade gas. The price of parts may contribute to a much highter TCO as well.

    From the publishing side of things, I have to agree with the earlier commenters that a first-book advance high enough to buy a Mini is a rare thing indeed. Less rare if you’re writing non-fic with broad appeal, but still.

    Check out John Scalzi’s Real World Book Deal Descriptions for an idea of the general amounts involved. (After taxes + agent, a Mini Cooper would require a deal on the fifth bracket up.)

  16. Michael | Go Success Now says 24 November 2008 at 06:43

    I definitely agree with Nick on everything he said. Of course you need to save, but what is the point of savings if you don’t get what you want. It’s is natural for humans to want something new and good, but as you already said we need to control our wants, to not get caught-up in never endings wants.

    My opinion is that we need to satisfy all of them, but not all at once. You can make something like a wish list and get them later, make it like a calendar (I’m talking about the big stuff, not about hamburgers:)), and in that time you also save and some more ideas can come to your mind and bring more money.

    I think you should get the Mini Cooper.

    Good article.


  17. Shaun says 24 November 2008 at 06:45

    The secret to both happiness and saving, moderation is. Much saving leaves no happiness too. Much spending leaves no money too. Money and happiness, to have, moderation, one must have. Hmmmmmm.

  18. J.D. says 24 November 2008 at 06:50

    I hear you! I’m not banking on any particular advance. The number I used was only a hypothetical. And the dreams of a new car are just that: dreams. For me, any potential book deal will be a great way to reach a larger audience. Obviously, I’d love to have a big advance, but it’s not something I’m counting on.

  19. Neil says 24 November 2008 at 06:52

    Fantastic article and great Yoda reference. Like everything else moderation needs to be exercised in order to achieve balance. Afterall, there is no point in being rich and miserable.

  20. Nicki says 24 November 2008 at 06:52

    Great insight. It’s so easy to say, “exactly.” Boy is it tough to put it into practice though. It’s literally retraining yourself to think and spend differently.


  21. Mike says 24 November 2008 at 06:56

    The Mini Cooper is a chic car anyways. 😉

  22. Scott NJ DAD says 24 November 2008 at 06:56

    What an excellent post JD! Very thoughtful, and accurate.

    I also think that many people don’t make a decision on what luxuries they can afford, and which luxuries they don’t really need.

    I really good hamburger at a restaurant, its relatively cheap, reasonably healthy, and who wants to fry meat in the house (smoky, smelly, greasy). What a deal, $5 for a little nirvana.

    But it is so easy to turn a reward for hard work into an entitlement, diminishing the reward and creating an awful spending pattern.

    Also, I have noticed, that anything that people get on a regular basis becomes mundane and unappreciated. I believe the term for this is jaded.

    Rich or poor, the ability to appreciate the little things in life is the key to the pursuit of happiness.

  23. Scott NJ DAD says 24 November 2008 at 07:02

    I also think that your post speaks to the lack of self control that has become epidemic in American society. I think that it is at the core of our current fiscal melt down, and it is in every one of the stories about how people lost their homes.

  24. Sam says 24 November 2008 at 07:04

    I think part of being smart (or smarter) with one’s money is that there should be some pay off both in the short term (i.e. new pair of shoes) in the mid term (a vacation or a new car) and in the long term (a comfortable retirement).

    Wanting a new car was a great motivation for me. I put that item on our 2008 saving list and we saved up that money until we had enough for a nused car. Buying a car with cash was a wonderful experience and every time I get into my new car I am enjoying it. I waited so long to get a new car that I know I appreciate it all the more.

  25. RT says 24 November 2008 at 07:09

    Excellent article.

    I think one of the ways to determine the importance of our wants is to look at the ‘why’s’ behind them. Coveting something because you are drawn to it, dream of it, love the way it would fit into your life can be a huge motivator.

    But if the reason you really want it (speaking hypothetically here – not of you specifically) is because your friends and neighbors all drive new, impressive cars or because you are trying to maintain a ‘lifestyle’ or because you just like new gadgets or, or, or, … Well that is different.

    Sometimes the easiest answer to yes or no is ‘Why.’

  26. Nick says 24 November 2008 at 07:12

    Speaking of wants, don’t let that advance lure you into a bad publishing deal. Why not self publish? You may not reach as large an audience, but you’ll definitely grab a larger share of the profits (quality over quantity).


  27. Miss M says 24 November 2008 at 07:16

    Nice post, I’m having trouble getting past that barrier myself. Wants got me into debt, how could they possibly be good. But then I remember, I also wanted to get out of debt. Desire can lead to good things as well. It’s a balancing act, one I am still working on.

  28. Brandon @ Car Insurance Guidebook says 24 November 2008 at 07:18

    The wanting gives us goals. Sure it’s a silly car, but it will motivate you to write a good book and help out people like us.

    It’s not the best advice, but it goes along with your story. When my dad was starting out in his business, his boss told him to buy a car and go into debt. Why? Because going into debt and having that extra payment would motivate my dad to work harder. Working harder would put more money in his bank account and would thus pay for the car (and would probably pay his boss more $$). Same idea, but less responsible than buying a Mini with a book advance.

  29. J.D. says 24 November 2008 at 07:24

    I added a phrase to the post clarifying the fact that I realize any advance I get is likely to be small. It’s not a crucial detail, but I don’t want the conversation to get sidetracked by this topic. I’m not doing the book for money. Obviously, I would love to earn a lot of money on it, but that’s not my primary motivation.

  30. Johnny says 24 November 2008 at 07:28

    Great article… What a great point to appreciate, and occasionally indulge, small treats like a burger.

    Sometimes I’ll buy a beer for my ride home (on a bike, everybody chill). The fact that it’s not a habit it what makes it so satisfying and fun.

    If you can satisfy yourself like that for a couple bucks, I’d say we’re on the right track!

    Also, great Yoda reference. 😉

  31. jtimberman says 24 November 2008 at 07:31


    What you’re looking at with the Mini, and what you’re writing about here is “Opportunity Cost”. There’s nothing wrong with buying some wants, sure, but you lose the opportunity to let your money work for you and grow when you buy every want. Especially when the wants are expensive and rapidly depreciating assets.

  32. db says 24 November 2008 at 07:32

    JD, have you started a mini slush fund?

    What I’d do is this — set yourself a goal that a small percentage of everything you ear, goes into this fund — say, 1-5%.

    Then take that off the top of every bit of money that comes your way. Don’t treat whatever advance you get differently. Just take your percentage off of it and pop the rest into your normal, sensible funds.

    It will motivate you to keep the money rolling in and when you are able to buy the mini — voila! free from guilt that your robbing money from a “better” use.

  33. Laura says 24 November 2008 at 07:37

    I loved this article. I am so used to saying “I don’t want anything” which is so TOTALLY untrue. I do want things. I’m just not indulging in buying everything I want, or might need down the road, or give as gift, or maybe save it for one of the kids (I’ve used all of the above at least once!)…….
    This is an article that I need to read at least once a month to keep on track.

  34. bex says 24 November 2008 at 07:37

    firstly, the $10k is NOT guaranteed. Let me make this clear: in most book contracts, if the book doesn’t sell — or if it only sells in those “discount” bins — then it is quite possible for the publisher to SEND YOU A BILL. Under no circumstances should you spend that $10 in something as illiquid as a car.

    Being a writer is a lot like being a farmer, or even an inventor… the person who does all the thinking, all the creating, and all the hard work DOESN’T GET PAID SQUAT.

    The money is only made in the distribution channels.

    Frankly… considering the popularity of your blog, you should just be your own distribution channel. I would HIGHLY recommend a self-publishing experiment. Check out Lulu:

    You could set a profit margin (like $5 per book), then allow your users to choose what kind of book they wanted: hard cover, soft cover, or PDF. The e-Book would sell like hotcakes to most of your subscribers, and the other dead-tree versions would make nice gifts.

  35. JACK says 24 November 2008 at 07:37

    J.D., the problem is not knowing what you truly want. That’s the real problem. It isn’t that wanting is bad or that satisfying our wants is bad. It’s our failure to truly discern what we want at the deepest core of our being. The very fact that most things we covet that are material things end up being meaningless to us shortly after we buy them should be an indicator to us that what we truly want is something different than that. But, alas, it often doesn’t.

    So the real problem is in discerning what we really want and giving priority to those deeper values.

  36. J.D. says 24 November 2008 at 07:38

    Yes, I do have a Mini Cooper savings account. I throw little bits of money into it now and then. Right now I think it has something like $1500. It’s just another subaccount at ING Direct, and is dedicated solely to this purpose. The real question at the heart of this story is: if I do sell a book, where do I put the advance money? Do I put it in the Mini Cooper subaccount? Or do I put it someplace more sensible?

  37. vilkri says 24 November 2008 at 07:39

    First of all, good luck on your book deal!

    Second, in my mind limitations are really the juice of life whether we face physical, emotional, mental, or financial limitations. Imagine we lived forever and had everything we ever wanted! Would we really want that? What would be the point of living?

  38. bex says 24 November 2008 at 07:42

    to be clear…

    Even with a fixed $5 profit margin, the e-book would be very cheap… like $7-$10. The softcover would be about twice the cost, and the hardcover a bit more.

    Lulu also has editing and typesetting services, but then you’ll have to come up with about $1000 before you could publish it. Or, you could have a friend do typesetting, and select 10 of your loyal readers to do the editing for you in exchange for a free book.

  39. Freddie Blicher says 24 November 2008 at 07:44

    Great post J.D. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been following your blog for a couple years now. I look forward to your book.

  40. EscapeVelocity says 24 November 2008 at 08:05

    To cite another wise pointy-eared one:
    “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

  41. Andrea says 24 November 2008 at 08:09

    Wayne Dyer says give away your most prized possession- ok, does he want my two kids? They still cost a lot. I am confused because I don’t know what my most prized possession is in terms of a thing. I know my house(paid off) is the most valuable possession. I also have some inherited jewelry- I don’t really like it and keep it in a safty deposit box. I could give away or sell almost everything(my husband can barely give away a worn out shirt) so what would I keep(besides my kids)that is irreplacable? Besides some photos, I don’t really know.

  42. Chris from St. Mary's says 24 November 2008 at 08:10

    The question isn’t much more than a hypothetical “What should I actually do if I get a decent sized wad of money?” It doesn’t have to be a book advance for this scenario.

    For instance, my Mom is terminally ill. She does have some money, assuming that it’s not all spent on her care before she dies (BTW, if it is, I’m way OK with that. I’m just providing another situation where JD’s scenario applies).

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’ll get $50,000 from inheritance in the next six months. My goal for car replacement, which will be partially funded by then, is $8,000. I need a replacement car and it should be between $6,000 and $8,000. But I want a newer car than $8,000 can buy. In this situation, should I put away $8,000 until the current car dies, or take $15,000 and buy a car off-lease as soon as the money hits the bank account?

    (For Dave Ramsey fans, I have no debt, have a 3 month emergency fund and my other sinking funds will be funded in full. Under this scenario, I can easily put another three months aside and fund retirement at at least 15% and I don’t own a house.)

  43. Moneyblogga says 24 November 2008 at 08:24

    I realize that buying stuff doesn’t buy happiness and the lord knows I’ve bought plenty of STUFF. Now that I have that idea firmly planted in my brain, it has become so much easier to tame the “want” beast. Can’t buy me love.

  44. Vincent Scordo says 24 November 2008 at 08:35

    I often use the “wanting” feelings to satisfy the “having” feelings.

    That is, I’ll think long and hard about how badly I want the new BMW 3 series (going over the product features, color, and how I would go on endless road trips) and thereafter I think about the car payments, maintenance, fuel costs, and how I have a late model vehicle that is paid off and running fine. Point being is that I often fully give into “wanting” consumer products, but I rarely pull the trigger on the “haveing.”

  45. Chett says 24 November 2008 at 08:37


    I know you are a big fan of Your Money Your Life. What you are discusing falls right in line with the “Happiness Curve.” As we earn more our desires increase, and once we surpass comfort we are heading towards enough. We peak at enough and begin a downward spiral when we start chasing more. I guess your question is does the Mini fall into the catagory of “More” or is it still “Enough” since you have went about it in a sensible manner. I think if you find a good buy on one (possibly used) and have the money, buy it. You have to drive something, it might as well be something you enjoy. You have established saving and investing practices, you can afford all of your needs and this falls in the range of your “Wants” according to the Balanced Money formula. Come on JD you know the answer to this one! Buy the Mini with the Money. (Whenever you actually get paid).

  46. Brenda says 24 November 2008 at 08:52

    Very nice article, JD! Good luck with the book deal.

  47. Kai says 24 November 2008 at 08:54

    I’ve been reading you for a few months now and referred multiple people to your blog because I find it so helpful on the “everyday” level. Some days I disagree with you and some days I find myself nodding my head violently and sending URLs to everyone I know.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned from you, though, is that our “treats” aren’t the problem. It’s when those treats become a habit. For years I’ve been saying I need a daily latte from Starbucks and it’s just part of my budget. No, I don’t. I may need (or want) the caffeine, but I don’t need it at the cost of $4/cup. Three months ago I stopped buying that daily latte. Now I may go on the weekends or, during very stressful times, once during the week, but now it has the result I want: it’s a true pick-me-up, a treat I give myself when I really need it. Since I started doing this, I’ve even changed “my drink” from a latte to a simple cup of brewed coffee, so even those treats cost me half of what I would have spent.

    And the other days? Well, I brew a cup of coffee at home. Coffee made from beans that I learned to roast myself, thereby costing less than half of what roasted beans cost and earning me the knowledge of coffee roasting and what makes a good cup. It also earns me about $100/month I would have spent before.

    Today’s post was the perfect summation of the lesson you’ve given me. Wanting things is not bad. It’s continuously indulging those wants that makes them detrimental and not special. It spoils us, much like if I were to give my young daughter cookies every day. No longer would I get to see her face light up and watch her dance around the kitchen when she gets that special treat!

  48. Starving Artist says 24 November 2008 at 08:55

    Hey JD, argue hard for the advance. You have a steady audience of over 60K, and a witty and informative style of writing tailor-made for this economic time. You’ve been doing this for years and are one of the more impressive blogs on the net. In the past, publishers were putting out books by fly-by-night blogs; this was their bad business practice. Just because you’re a blog writer doesn’t put you in that category, so don’t let them say it! Good luck, and thanks for showing us yet again what hard work and perseverance can get you!

  49. deepali says 24 November 2008 at 08:58

    I think these are your best posts – the ones that are conversations that lead to profundities. 🙂

    But I think there is one piece missing – our relationship to our “wants”. Wanting is not bad, and indulging a want is not bad. What is the ultimate problem is WHY we indulge the want. Is it because we truly want/need it, or because we’ve beaten ourselves up so much for wanting that we finally just caved in and did it?
    The same applies to other aspects of our lives. I think until we can get in touch with and be with our wants/needs/desires, we’ll continuously get ourselves caught up in this vicious cycle of wanting, feeling guilty, indulging, fearing that we’ll never get better, and then beating ourselves up… and starting all over.
    THAT is what Yoda meant.

  50. Battra92 says 24 November 2008 at 08:58

    I know exactly how you feel about the MINI. I really want one as well but since I bought a new car last year I figure in 10 years or so when this one kicks the old bucket I will have a nice fund together to buy the car I want. Maybe there will even be something cooler than a Mini Cooper in the US (maybe a legal Kei car!)

  51. Studenomics says 24 November 2008 at 09:06

    Believe me I know how it feels to have the urge to purchase a certain vehicle. I have been debating to buy a car for the last 3 years or so. The thing that always stops me is seeing how some of my friends work so hard just to pay their insurance (high at my age)and make their car payments. I justify not purchasing a vehicle by telling myself that as long as I find a way from point A to point B (public transit) I should be alright.

  52. Christy says 24 November 2008 at 09:07


    Sorry if I started folks down the “don’t count on the advance” primrose path. I did understand the point of the article, but I also know that those who have not been inside the beast that is the publishing industry don’t always know how ugly it really is. 🙂

    To answer your last question … where to put the advance money if any comes your way … here is my suggestion (after taxes, of course):

    1. 10% for your emergency funds – a little more is always a good thing

    2. 10% for the “good deeds” fund – which can be charitable giving or whatever you consider to be a “good deed”

    3. 20% for the “whatever the heck I want” fund – which could be distinct from the Cooper fund, and could supply the occasional hamburger craving, etc.

    4. 25% for the “office technology and stuff” fund – for your next computer, additional monitor, or whatever increases your writing productivity.

    5. 25% for household operating expenses – since sitting at home to write costs in electricity, heat, food, etc.

    6. 10% for the Mini Cooper fund. I’m not trying to minimize the jonesing for the Cooper. But since an advance is money that you’ve not actually earned as yet, you could designate something like 50 or 60% of what you actually earn after the book has been published to the Cooper fund. This way, assuming the book is a smashing success, you’ll be able to have your fantasy car in short order. (Though I’d encourage you to consider the Honda Fit. Not quite as high in the “coolness” category, but it has better gas mileage, better driving performance, and since it’s a Honda it’ll run until the frame falls apart from molecular decomposition!)

    My two cents.

  53. vaughan says 24 November 2008 at 09:09

    What a great post! A very zen moral, wrapped up in a (very-well written) story… thanks a lot!

  54. RenaissanceTrophyWife says 24 November 2008 at 09:13

    I really like your introspective posts.

    Anyways, I’ve found that delayed gratification plays a huge part in my spending/saving habits. While it’s easier for me to buy something immediately if I want it and have the cash, I make much better decisions when I have to wait and save. Oftentimes I find that when I’ve saved all the money, there’s a better use I could put it towards. At the very least, by delaying a purchase, you get a better price on the item if it’s something like cars or electronics.

    If you do decide to get the Mini, buying at the end of the month (or better yet, year-end) may get you a better deal since dealers are trying to move inventory at those times.

  55. Kevin says 24 November 2008 at 09:25

    This is one of your best posts

    -Thank you

  56. jane says 24 November 2008 at 09:25

    the problem is we in this country are TRAINED TO WANT. WANT IS GOOD, want is the motivator – ? Why?

    Why not have meaning, love, peace, harmony, fairness, planetary survival, be the motivators. why the “greed is good” mantra? the Nearings didn’t need greed to be their motivator, sorry, I mean WANT. Re-read them for an idea of what we might adopt as motivation. they didn’t use ‘want’.

    Here in the U$ we’ve been taught that for capitalists, and of course captialism is good, Greed is good because it gives us good things. but as I read today that now Antarctica is showing signs of rising temperatures as well… does any one ask, how good is it really?

  57. jane says 24 November 2008 at 09:28

    PS, did you think about what that hamburger *really* cost? It wasn’t just $5. But, you wanted it, so…

  58. Katrina R. says 24 November 2008 at 09:30

    I like this story. That’s all I have to say. It made me smile. 🙂

  59. Shara says 24 November 2008 at 09:33

    I will start by saying your statement about want being a motivator is right on. But I would like to make a distinction between wanting and what I call the “I want”s.

    You want to get out of debt. You want a healthy E-acct. You want to be happy. You want to be loved. All of these are healthy wants. But a sports/luxury/new/[your adjective here] car, an ipod, a new tool, a bigger house, anything you covet but don’t need (need, of course, being relative) is a case of the “I want”s. You want because it’s shiny and new and darn it you WANT it!

    To me it is an exercise in outlook. I try to change my perspective so I don’t want to consume. Of course I’m not 100% successful. But when I think of how much I already have it’s a lot easier to keep from wanting more.

    I use the same mental games others have pointed out. WHY do I want it, and how will things be different if I have it? Nothing bothers me more than walking through my garage and seeing things that I wanted so very very badly and now it’s just taking up space. So often we only see the shiny/new. we don’t think of how much work it will be and how it will fit into our lives. At the same time we overestimate the satisfaction and enjoyment we will experience.

    But you’re right. We all need our “mini”, the thing that keeps us dreaming and working.

  60. Aaron says 24 November 2008 at 10:02

    Do all your readers a favor and purchase a more reliable vehicle. 😉

  61. Chris Johnson says 24 November 2008 at 10:14

    FWIW, the Mini Cooper owner I know has enjoyed his for the last three years and has no plans to trade. For me, a helpful exercise is imagining myself 3-6 months after I’ve bought whatever it is I’m lusting for, and thinking whether there’s anything else I’ll wish I’d have bought instead. I’ve saved a lot of money this way. Many things I’ve really wanted are things I don’t want any more, and I’m glad I still have the money.

  62. Robyn says 24 November 2008 at 10:16

    Very good point. Many people try to teach their children not to want things they can’t have, but in essence you are teaching them to not have any desires, and desires are very good to keep you motivated and passionate.

    One good practice I have learned is to make a list of things I want and things I need. I often get those confused and end up buying things I want because I justify that I need them. When I separate them into columns, and keep that list in my planner, I often find that the things I wanted 2 weeks ago, I really have no interest in anymore. So, if you just deny the idea of instant gratification for a while, I end up saving a lot of cash.

  63. Steph says 24 November 2008 at 10:29

    J.D., you need to read Epicurus. His philosophy was that wanting leads to unhappiness. He’s been misinterpreted as suggesting that we should satisfy all our wants, but he really meant that we should minimize our wants. It’ harder to do that in our modern era, what with entire industries devoted to making us want stuff and the ability to sell it to us on the internet, in newspapers and magazine, on television and radio.

    Your choice isn’t about a Mini Cooper. You know that. You know you have a car that meets your needs. You want a Thing that’s expensive enough that you realize that you have to give up something else you want in order to get it. So your choice is between two Wants: long-term financial security attained through frugal living or satisfaction of a craving for style (because, damn, those Minis are stylish fun cars).

    I’ve read your columns about all the Stuff you’ve bought over the years that now you count as clutter and reminders of the painful way you got yourself into debt. I think the best way to approach this choice is to remember the level of happiness you’ve received from your previous purchases and to figure out how much of your life you’ll devote to working to pay for the car. Maybe it’s 6-months of after tax pay. Maybe it means retiring 1 year later than you’d planned. Maybe it’s all the time you’ll devote to writing the book. Then ask yourself, is it’s worth it?

  64. Travis says 24 November 2008 at 10:29

    I’ve been experiencing this ‘struggle of want’ in my life through my DVD collection. It’s not a big collection…but I own many DVDs that I just don’t watch anymore. Heck, some of them I bought but I never took them out of the shrinkwrap! So I’ve been ‘collecting’ these DVDs for years and I watch maybe less than 10% of them. Isn’t there an old adage that says that we only use 20% (or less) of what we own? Anyway, I’ve been picking out some of the DVDs that I really want and I’m going to sell the rest. I doubt I’ll buy another DVD ever (especially since most shows you can watch on-line now and with Netflix you can keep a DVD as long as you want and have access to a much larger collection).

    But I’m still struggling with decision in two ways: 1)”what if I’m wrong and I’ll actually want what I sell?” and 2) “what about all the money friends/family spent on me to give me these gifts in the first place?” To answer my first question, I think this is just a natural feeling of separation. I experienced the same feeling of loss when I sold my Playstation 1 on Craigslist…as soon as it was gone I felt bad for about an hour; now I feel nothing. I expect selling my DVDs to be the same thing. As for the second question…the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s nonsense to hold on to something just because someone got it for you. So what am I going to do: hold on to it forever? I don’t want to live like that. So I’ll be carefully picking through my DVDs in the next couple of days to pick out the ones that REALLY ARE important to me and selling the rest. And I suppose I’ll do the same thing next year if I see that I haven’t watched them.

    Reflecting on this experience, I’m more aware now of what I ask for (such as for birthdays, Christmas, etc) and how these items will actually CONTRIBUTE to my life. DVDs and video games just don’t do it for me anymore. I’m reminded of director Kevin Smith’s thoughts on playing video games: “you’re doing something, but you’re doing nothing.” This doesn’t mean I’ll never pop in some episodes of Arrested Development or pick up a game controller, but this ‘want’ won’t be consuming my life any further. Great post, JD.

  65. allen says 24 November 2008 at 10:41
    I’ve always had a problem with Yoda’s speech. (and not just becuase it was in the Phantom Menance)

    “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”

    We all get scared/fear. It is a normal reaction. It is, in fact, a GOOD thing: You’re scared of the attack dog; you’re scared of the lighting strike that can kill you [so you don’t go out into the storm]; you’re scared of not being able to eat, so you work hard at your job. The trick is that not everything we’re scared of is somethign we NEED to be scared of. The Dog is behind the fence, the storm is outside the house, their is food in the cubord. BUT: If they weren’t, then it would be appropriate to be scared.

    It’s also OK to be angry. Even most who do non-violent protests are inspired by ANGER over what they are protesting over. It’s ok to be angry when your loved one is struck. It’s ok to be angry when the crooked policeman pulls over only Black people.

    ALSO: there is TOO a F*cking TRY, Yoda, you JERK! If you enter a marathon, then you TRY to finish. if you can’t, becuase you’re body couldn’t keep up, then you’ve still TRIED, you’ve gotten closer to your goal, and there is value in the attempt.

    Gosh Golly, but Lucas pisses me off sometimes!

  66. Gen says 24 November 2008 at 10:49
    @#34: firstly, the $10k is NOT guaranteed. Let me make this clear: in most book contracts, if the book doesn’t sell – or if it only sells in those “discount” bins – then it is quite possible for the publisher to SEND YOU A BILL.

    Not if you’ve got an agent who’s even halfway competent at their job.

    J.D., the following isn’t aimed at you — it’s aimed at anyone else reading this thread and wondering about these comments recommending self-publishing.

    There are situations where self-publishing is the appropriate choice. A very niche book to market to lecture attendes, or a family history, for example. I’ve ordered niche books from Lulu and greatly enjoyed them; there is a place for self-publishing.

    That being said, most writers are better off publishing through traditional channels. Why?

    1. Platform. Writing a book and bringing it out through a major publisher gives you automatic platform, and a publicity group who’ll be working to bring you in front of a whole new audience. Yes, JD could sell from the blog — but he already *has* the blog audience. A book should bring in a new audience.

    2. Book production. It’s expensive. The cost of putting out a well-produced book is around $4K. Publishing a book at Lulu is inexpensive; publishing a well-designed book isn’t.

    3. Economies of scale. Lulu, IIRC, uses POD tech, which isn’t designed for large printings. (A few years ago I heard that it wasn’t possible to have a best-seller through POD; the scale just wasn’t there. Not sure if that’s still the case, but.) Even if you shell out for off-set printing, the distribution costs won’t scale well.

    4. Priorities. Do you want to spend your time ordering inventory and shipping packages or do you want to have the time to write another book?

    For further details, check out this entry where author John Scalzi breaks down the costs and benefits of self-publishing, or any post about self-publishing at Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s blog Making Light (start with this comment). And if you’re wondering whether a publisher or agent is legit, start with Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.

  67. Emma says 24 November 2008 at 10:54

    Hi JD,
    I just recently bought a 2004 Mini Cooper (September 2008) and I love it. For my job I do a lot of drving. I go from client to client sometimes a one way trip of about 50 miles. My company reimburses my mileage which really adds up. It is the first car I have ever had the I even enjoy seating in traffic with.
    What are you going to use the car for? My MINI works for me because I rarely drive more than 2 people and I don’t ussually have a lot of stuff in my car. It doers work for weekend trips with two people but I wouldn’t have more than that. Many people I know have gotten the car only to realize that it doesn’t fit there lfiestyle.

  68. Tyler Karaszewski says 24 November 2008 at 11:05
    Just an anecdote from my own life about another way to deal with wants, or certain types of wants, anyway:

    I’ve wanted a boat for a while now. I live half a mile from the San Francisco Bay, where it’s sunny and windy all summer, every summer. I went out and took sailing lessons, and had a blast, and rented some boats, and took my wife and my friends out.

    But, while there is a certain practicality to renting (still though, it’s far from inexpensive), I wanted a boat to call my own. I realized that was not economically sensible, although it was economically feasible. What I mean by that last sentence is that any boat I buy was sure to be a money sink that I’d never be able to break even on, but at the same time, I’m well-off enough financially that it wasn’t unreasonable to think I could weather such a drain on my income in exchange for the pleasure I got from sailing.

    My first instinct, of course, was to look at new boats, which I quickly realized are astronomically expensive. Even small sailboats seem to start around $35,000 brand new. While I’m certain I could have found someone to give me a $35,000 boat loan, I have no interest in going into debt for a hobby, nor do I have $35,000 in spare cash sitting around.

    There are a lot of used boats sitting around though, in all shapes and sizes and states of repair. I ended up finding an old sailboat, built in 1967, that was sitting at a dock abandoned by its owner. The marina where it was parked had become the owner of the boat due to non-payment of storage fees, and they offered to give it to me for free if I would pay to store the boat there. I agreed, and a few days later the boat was mine.

    I started spending time on weekends working on the boat. The first thing I did was get the engine running, which took the better part of a day, but only about $20 in parts. The next thing I did was scrub the years of dirt away, and now the boat still looks faded and worn, but it no longer looks abandoned. I plan on painting it so it shines like new, eventually.

    After that I drove it to a nearby boatyard and paid them to haul it out of the water, scrape a decade’s marine growth off the bottom, sand, repair, and repaint the entire boat and put it back in the water. This work was a bit expensive, costing me about $2000, but it’s probably the single most expensive bill I’ll have while repairing this old boat. After that, and a few more small things, with a grand total of about $2500 spent, I took it sailing for the first time.

    Taking the boat sailing for the first time was *more* gratifying than it would have been to go sailing in a brand new boat, because of the effort I’d invested in fixing it. Certainly, there are many more things left to be done on the boat. Like the painting I mentioned before, and the sails are old and worn and will need to be replaced. But each time I make one of these repairs, I get to take the boat sailing again, and experience that satisfaction of being on the water in a boat that I rebuilt myself, and so, instead of a single big “oh boy, it’s new!” moment, I get a whole lot of “Oh wow, it’s better than before!” moments, and they’re all spread out a month or two apart, such that it’s almost like a get a new boat every couple months until my boat really *does* look like a new boat in a year or two.

    Even then, when the boat looks like new a couple years from now, I will have spent probably $5000-$7000 on it, which is a significant sum of money, but far, far less than the $35k a new one would have cost. And I’ll be less likely to get bored with it and want a newer, bigger, fancier one, because I’ve developed an attachment to this one through all the work I’ve done on it.

    Unlike saving up for a new boat, I get to enjoy this one after only $2500, and continue sailing it as I save the money for the next set of repairs. Or, unlike getting a loan for a new one, if I happen to hit financial hard times, I can delay my next set of upgrades until I have more money, without having an obligatory payment to make in the meantime.

    The moral of the story then, I guess, is that for certain types of wants you may get more satisfaction for less money by investing your time directly into satisfying your desire rather than simply dropping a bunch of money to have that desire satisfied for you. Certainly, time is money, and in a way they’re equivalent, but spending a day tearing something apart and putting it back together such that you’ve created something that was better than before just feels a lot nicer than writing a check.

    This could work for a Mini Cooper too, for the right person. Don’t get a new one, find an old one from the 60’s, sitting unloved in a garage somewhere, buy it for $3000, spend $5000 fixing it up, and even though it probably wont be as “good” a car as a brand new one, you may find that you enjoy it more, for 1/3 the price.

    And some people aren’t interested in this sort of thing at all, and that’s ok, too.

  69. JKC says 24 November 2008 at 11:14

    This lovely post reminds me of a poem that I noticed when it was originally published in the New Yorker on May 16, 2005. I liked it so much that I cut it out and put it on the refrigerator. When I get a bad case of the wants, or when business is not going too well, I read it and it comforts me:


    True story, Word of Honor:
    Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
    now dead,
    and I were at a party given by a billionaire
    on Shelter Island.

    I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
    to know that our host only yesterday
    may have made more money
    than your novel ‘Catch-22’
    has earned in its entire history?”
    And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
    And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
    And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
    Not bad! Rest in peace!

    -Kurt Vonnegut

  70. J.D. says 24 November 2008 at 11:17

    @JKC (#69)
    Bizarre! I just read that poem for the first time an hour ago as I was eating breakfast. It’s in a book I intend to review in the next week or two…

  71. Robyn says 24 November 2008 at 11:22

    Also, I wanted to say that I hope you eventually cave and get the cooper, since you have been coveting it for so long. My dad is extremely frugal…always has been. You’d think our family is poor and yet my parents have a joint income of over 150k a year. My dad has been hoarding money since forever, and has never bought a new car in his whole life. At 49, he finally bought a Prius in full, with cash. I can only assume that he probably had at least 100k in savings for him to buy a brand new car with no loan. And you know what? He loves his car. Takes care of it like it’s his child, and couldn’t be happier. He is a huge environmentalist too, and feels really good about driving it. I’m just saying, sometimes you just need to take the plunge.

  72. TosaJen says 24 November 2008 at 11:44

    Good article.

    I think it can take a long time to develop self-awareness and impulse control (some seem to be born with both, but not me!). Emotions can lead to action, but they usually shouldn’t without some thought and self-awareness.

    If having a Mini Cooper is more important than anything else you could do with the same money, then by all means, buy it. If not, then don’t. Put your money where your passions and values are.

    (And I covet a dark green mini-Cooper convertable, so I get where you’re coming from. I’m waiting for our current cars to die before I start looking seriously at that option, though . . . )

  73. slowth says 24 November 2008 at 12:04

    J.D., you must dump the Focus. That heap obviously irritates you, so bury the thing and buy the Mini. I also pine for a particular new vehicle, so I understand your longing very well. Quite simply, I enjoy driving, but I recognize that many people see a vehicle as utilitarian and thus purchasing a vehicle is strictly an exercise in frugality. These perfectly reasonable folks will question your desire for a contraption that only moves you from A to B, but this is useful advice for only those who share their viewpoint. I don’t follow this mindset, and I gather that neither do you, so I say send the funds to the Mini account.

  74. says 24 November 2008 at 12:05

    That is hands down your best article so far. You have totally hit the nail on the head.

    I have been short on money as I am a poor student at school, so I have been trying to find ways to make money without having to get a actual job.

    As I make money though, I find it increasingly difficult to not spend the money I have been accumulating. It’s not that I don’t want to spend, it’s just that I am afraid of not having any money when something decent comes along.

    I went and watched a movie the other day, and I left the theatre annoyed because I spend money, but didn’t love the movie. It was a break from studying though, so that was great.

    I think an extension of your article could be that impulse buying is often what needs to be controlled. When I have time to consider a purchase, I usually make the best decision.

    I have a new rule that I started about a week ago, it’s that I will only buy something if I have been wanting it for more then a day. If it’s something more expensive, I’ll take more time. It’s been working well so far.

    For the time being, I am trying to make a little extra cash through, as well as selling pizza in my residence. I am thinking of other little entrepreneurship ventures for the future.

    Thanks for this fantastic article, if you write with this heart in your book, you’ll be selling out. Best of luck, thanks for the guidance.

  75. kf says 24 November 2008 at 12:39

    Here’s the point of caution…the way you frame the story, it’s as if it’s a good thing that now you want a lot less than you previously wanted. However, take notice that the older we get, the more our wants sometimes increase in price! Your want for a mini cooper is a higher priced want than everything you blew money on in college. So, it’s not exactly a victory to want fewer things if those things end up costing as much or more than a ton of smaller things.

    I find that no matter the item, it’s nice to practice contentment. I would love an Audi A4 (or any new car), but I truly found some level of contentment in my 20-year old Accord that has allowed me to keep it and spend the thousands of saved dollars on more important things like retirement, savings, education, etc. Given how late in life you came to financial responsibility, it would seem like you might need to make up for lost time. This would involving saving the advancement (retirement, investing, emergency fund, etc) rather than blowing it all at once on a car.

    Also, a few times when I’ve read your writing about getting a mini cooper, you always reference a new one. That’s insane. I hope that if/when you do get one, you buy it used after doing a lot of searching from individuals to get a good deal. Let someone else pay for the depreciation.

  76. Daedala says 24 November 2008 at 12:40

    10k book deals aren’t _that_ unlikely. My first book (albeit with a recommendation from someone quite good) had a 10k advance.

    That said, I’m a professional writer, it was a highly technical topic, and they were paying for speed. But it’s still possible.

  77. Margot says 24 November 2008 at 12:52

    I’m not sure you deserve quite so many pats on the back for moving your “wants obsession” from dozens or hundreds of smaller things to one big thing that costs tens of thousands of dollars! It’s good that you’re thinking through purchases and not just looking for instant gratification (i.e., buying the car immediately on credit). But, spending that much money on one big non-necessity isn’t so different from spending the same money on a hundred smaller non-necessities.

  78. Justin says 24 November 2008 at 13:00

    Great post J.D. One of your best. Well done!

    I’ve always liked this take on it: “Happiness isn’t having what you want. It’s wanting what you have.”

  79. E says 24 November 2008 at 13:04

    Want a Mini Cooper? Join zipcar. Minis when you want them, by the hour or day. If you don’t drive much anyway, it’s seriously frugal.
    I’m looking forward to the perfect opportunity to take a mini or a prius out for a day… mmm…
    (I don’t work for zipcar but I do love them!)

  80. Michael says 24 November 2008 at 13:07

    Thanks for this post. It really makes me think about understanding the importance of exercising discipline in every area of life, especially when it comes to wanting.

    Oh, and let your publisher know that I’ll buy your book when it’s released. You’re worth reading.

  81. Charlotte says 24 November 2008 at 13:19

    #11 KC –
    Interesting note on wanting something for so long and when you finally get it, it won’t live up to your expectations. Yes, I find that to be true on most things. The more you tink about it, the more you put it on a “throne”, you start to believe that it is the ultimate perfect thing. Of course there is no perfect thing so you end up disappointed. I’m not sure if I explained that correctly. Like when somebody tells you, try a certain restaurant because it is soooooo good, your expectations become too high and you end up disappointed.

    On the topic of “wanting” something, yes the key is to know when it is enough and understand that you can’t have everything. “Happiness is wanting what you already have” – or at least I believe this is true.

  82. Janet Williams says 24 November 2008 at 13:20

    The tone of a few of these comments illustrats some of what’s wrong with America’s financial culture. A few people’s attitude is essentially, “good for you for delaying pleasure and controlling your spending more than in the past, now you ‘deserve’ to go blow a small windfall on a new car so just do it already.” I wish it were the norm in America for people to not spend money on so many wants and luxuries instead of something to be proud of ourselves for.

  83. cv says 24 November 2008 at 13:30

    I second the idea of renting a Mini on occasion to see if it would really fit your life. Portland has Zipcar, and they have some Minis. For something like $12/hour you could zip around running errands for an afternoon every so often in a Mini and not have to worry about gas costs or maintenance or the insurance premium on a more valuable car. It might be a good interim solution until you feel financially ready to buy the car for yourself – just consider it part of your entertainment expenses and budget accordingly.

  84. Jay says 24 November 2008 at 14:00

    “Moderation in all things” applies to finance too.

    In my practice I get to see all kinds of people, the spenders and the savers, as well as the rare but inspiring people who balance between the two extremes, and travel, and buy the odd new car, and enjoy thier lives while still spending enough to enjoy themselves.

    Spending every penny leads to stress, but saving every penny means you aren’t taking advantage of your life, and you only get one shot at this!

    The question is about PRIORITIES, not about money. Is it important that you go away for a vacation every year? Is that more or less important than owning a car? Is that more or less important than eating out once a week? Is that more of less important than buy your books instead of getting them from the library? etc etc etc

    Every time we make a decision to open our wallets and pay for something we are stating our priorities. If we haven’t thought about them then our spending habits reflect our subconsious priorities, and our subconsious doesn’t always make the same choices we would make if we consiously though about it for a while.

  85. Bud says 24 November 2008 at 14:19

    I encourage you to put any possible advance money you may receive into your Mini Cooper subaccount.

    I wanted a Corvette for many years before finally getting one in 2001 (when we could afford it). We have never regretted that decision for one minute. Was that car the smartest thing we could have done with that money? Heck no. Was it worth it? Heck yes.

  86. Shara says 24 November 2008 at 14:31

    I’m with Jay, finance is about setting priorities and hopefully exercising moderation. As far as spending is concerned I think adults that pay their own bills are allowed to make their own decisions. I think in that “pursuit of happiness” is the implied right to make stupid decisions.

    I think that every decision should be thought out. But it takes all kinds and even if I were in the exact same situation and would make a different decision, it’s each adult’s right to make a different decision. JD has taken responsibility for his financial decisions, so if he buys a mini or not, he will deal with the consequences.

    I however disagree with the deeper thought that unconscious spending reflects subconsious priorities, except that if we leave decisions to the subconscious we all wind up hedonists.

  87. Troy says 24 November 2008 at 14:36

    I feel for you.

    You have a car so high up on your list of wants – coveting it – that you WILL be disappointed if and when you get one.

    No material object is quite as great once you acquire it. WANTING it and imagining owning it is part of the enjoyment.

    Once you get it, you will be disappointed.

  88. Char says 24 November 2008 at 14:56

    I just wanted to tell you that I love this style of writing, sometimes when I am reading personal finance blogs I get distracted before the end because the topic isn’t #1 on my mind at that time. Your style of telling a story about you and your brother totally caught my interest until the end! Thanks.

  89. Phil says 24 November 2008 at 15:18

    I love the Yoda reference!

  90. Jordan Pearce says 24 November 2008 at 15:19

    Delaying gratification is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned and not just when it comes to money.

    Can you rent a Mini and get it out of your system? Maybe fly somewhere to rent a Mini for a weekend or a week? You can splurge without splurging in a sense.

  91. Martacus says 24 November 2008 at 15:30

    While a number of people have posted thoughts culled from other media on this subject, has anyone else thought of the scene in “The Producers” where Zero Mostel opens his safe, doting over his ill-gotten gains, takes out a bunch, and says “I’ve worked very hard for this money, and I deserve a toy”? He proceeds to buy/hire a secretary for her looks, a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur, and a complete new wardrobe.

    Not that a book advance is ill-gotten by any means. And sometimes we really do deserve a toy (like the hamburger in your article) for our hard work. Nevertheless, you should ask yourself, is this thing I want truly going fulfill my desire, or is it just a toy? I would want to be absolutely certain that a $30-35,000 vehicle is more than just a toy before I go splurging on one.

  92. Aleks says 24 November 2008 at 15:33

    Interesting note on wanting something for so long and when you finally get it, it won’t live up to your expectations. Yes, I find that to be true on most things. The more you tink about it, the more you put it on a “throne”, you start to believe that it is the ultimate perfect thing.

    I’ve found that when I buy something expecting it to change my behavior, it doesn’t and it ends up being wasted money. Whereas when I buy something that meshes with what I already do, it gets constant use.

    For example, I bought an electric piano with the plan of learning to play again. This despite the fact that the reason I no longer know how to play is that I never practice.

    I wasted $60 on an XBox Live membership, thinking that I would use it to play online even though I don’t play PC games online, which is free.

    Conversely, I bought a Nikon D80 DSLR to replace my film SLR camera. It allows me to instantly see my pictures and correct exposure, framing or what-have-you, as well as allowing me to put pictures online without getting them developed and scanned. I use it all the time. It cost more than the piano, but the money wasn’t wasted.

    I recently bought the Ion Drum Rocker, which is an electronic drum kit designed for use with the Rock Band videogame. Had I bought a real drum kit it would be sitting in the garage gathering dust. But unlike practicing, I play Rock Band probably 3 days a week. And should the opportunity to play drums ever arise, I now know how.

  93. J says 24 November 2008 at 15:36

    “I could put that money into savings. Or into the stock market.”

    Ha! $10K worth of stocks will be worth way less in 5 years than $10K worth of Mini Cooper.

  94. Anca says 24 November 2008 at 16:15

    Since most people quickly tire of their formerly new shiny purchases, it seems like renting or leasing a Mini would be the best option. I’d always wanted one, but after driving one from Zipcar, I realized I’d rather just look at Minis than drive them.

  95. Mike Randrup says 24 November 2008 at 16:21

    Great point.

    After all, a mini-cooper is simply the guy who makes those tiny barrels that St. Bernard rescue dogs have on their necks. 😛

  96. Doug says 24 November 2008 at 16:49

    This is probably my favorite entry that I have read on your blog. Keep up the good work.

  97. Angel Cuala says 24 November 2008 at 18:14

    Excellent reminders! This is very much applicable to newbies in blogging. Choosing a topic that you are passionate about is not really a guarantee that you’ll earn money.

    Sometimes, we need to analyze deeper.

  98. Anjelica says 24 November 2008 at 18:49

    This is exactly what people need to realize! You don’t have to keep satisfying your wants. My parents practiced deferred gratification for their wants so that their business could grow, and now they can reap the rewards. It’s interesting that they still don’t immediately buy things they want even though they can afford it. They still think about it, like will it contribute to their quality of life? They have many peers who kept spending money as soon as it comes in (my mom calls it anger at money because they don’t seem to like it in their possession!) are doing okay but not at the level my parents are, which is way above. I’m lucky to have seen the right thing to do in action.

  99. Will says 24 November 2008 at 18:56

    Wow! Excellent article and great posts everyone 🙂

  100. Neko says 24 November 2008 at 19:00

    A friend of mine just wrote a book. This is what he did.

    He found a publisher who paid him for a 2 year option to publish his book. He told me he received around $35K and that if the book is not published within those 2 years then he keeps the money and can shop around for another publisher (or the publisher can renew thier option for a price).

    Supposedly publishers will keep books shelved until the subject matter becomes popular. Then they release them. Once published, he will receive X amount per book sold. He didn’t give me the specifics on this.

    Did you shop around for a publisher?
    – Neko

  101. Lori says 24 November 2008 at 19:41

    Half in the mini cooper sub-account, half in someplace sensible

  102. Attagirl says 24 November 2008 at 19:51

    I agree that you definitely want to spend some time actually driving the Mini to be sure it lives up to your expectations before you buy. That said, I got a Volvo a few years ago and it’s still a joy in my daily life. I paid cash too. I hope to keep it for the rest of my natural born days.

    to 65 Allen: Like many of the posters here, I’m a big Star Wars fan too, but not particularly of Yoda. There’s a reason he’s known as the nasty green oven mitt. Most of what he told Luke was untrue. Well, don’t get me started. 😀

  103. V says 24 November 2008 at 20:30

    “It’s not want that’s the problem, but the habit of constantly satisfying wants.”

    I disagree. You can satisfy one desire and irreparably mess up your life forever. The problem is satisfying a Want or a series of Wants that are beyond your means.

    Forget Yoda. He miscalculated and was out manuevered by Palpatine, resulting in the deaths of billions and a forced exile. What Yoda should have done was whack Qui-Gon in the shin with this cane for disobeying the decision not to train Anakin.

    If you truly want the car and are willing to sacrifice and save up for it, I don’t see a problem. On the other hand, if you’re waiting to reach your financial summit before that new car purchase, then this is basically a question of timing.

  104. Robert says 24 November 2008 at 20:34

    Best post ever! You are now the Jedi Master of common sense finance! 🙂

    To Allen: Post 65: Agreed that fear is healthy, however, history has taught us that fear does lead to anger and hate.

    There are two types of fear; the fear that helps us grow and tells us not to stick our finger in the light socket because it is going to hurt; And the Fear of the unknown and the fear that your personal foundations and beliefs (basically everything you believe in) will be destroyed. Yoda, I believe, was referring to the last. I have provided a few real world examples of fear turning to anger and hate.

    Have you ever tried or known someone who has tried to lead that proverbial horse to water? This usually involves a family member or friend. You try to show them the error of their ways and get them on the right path and they end up hating you in the end. Why? In most cases it is fear change.

    In recent history the court battle over evolution comes to mind; Darwinism. On the one side there was religion and that God created all. On the other side we all came from apes. The fear that there is no God is one of the greatest if not the greatest fear of all. It was feared that Darwinism would prove God did not exist. The hate and anger which was spewed from the court room and in the newspapers was truly dark.

    In really recent history the completion of super collider in Europe has caused a great amount of fear. The fear it may cause a Black Hole and collapse the world into nothingness has caused hate and anger toward the Scientists who are working on the project. It does not help that we are closing in on 2012, the year the world will end according to the Aztec calendar.

    There are many more examples throughout history which can be quoted. Ironically most are centered around religion.

    Reflecting on Yoda’s quote I believe Lucas let part of it out. It should be: Not understanding leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

    Real world translation from a 16 year old: Not understanding: “I don’t understand geometry.” Anger: “This is stupid, why do I have to take this???” I am never going to use it; Hate: “I hate school, I hate Math” Suffering: 16 year old gets poor grades on report card and gets grounded for the summer.

    BTW: I sensed anger in your last paragraph on trying. Be carful or Yoda’s words will become a self fulfilling prophesy. 🙂


  105. Free Your Mind says 24 November 2008 at 23:13

    “Want is the path to the Dark Side. Want leads to spending. Spending leads to debt. Debt leads to suffering”


    Now, if anyone could figure out how the diabolical ones trigger over excessive “want” in the masses, one big ole debt epidemic could be solved.

  106. Chuck says 25 November 2008 at 04:29

    The Mini Cooper S is a piece of crap. Buy something else! I have a 2005 decked out with 50K+ miles, bought new. I’m getting ready to put the third set of tires on it ~ about every 20K miles. Brake dust on the front is a real problem. BTW, replaced the front brakes AND rotors at 22K. Used “low dust” pads, better but, not much. Those are ready to be replaced again. Driver’s side interior door handle has a small cable that has broken twice. The power steering pump is electric, guess how I know that. That little car is remarkably difficult to steer without P/S. And, even driving “hyper-miler” style & with a lot of highway (Edwards AFB is far from everywhere) the gas mileage is horrible. Front windshield cracked for no good reason. Had to replace that.
    All-in-all, not a very wise expenditure of your cash IMHO.

  107. Andy J says 25 November 2008 at 05:48

    LOL @ #88… Your entire comment makes me laugh because he was talking to his cousin, not his brother.

  108. Tordr says 25 November 2008 at 05:54

    This is one of the best blog post I have read in a long time. It is financial advice thrown together with storytelling of two people on a roof. I also liked the yoda reference.

    You are spot on with you advice in this story. If you neglect all your wants, then you will neglect all the things that makes life worth living. On the other hand satisfying all your material wants will ruin your life with debt. The goal is to find a good middle way.

  109. HollyP says 25 November 2008 at 06:43

    I am so glad you posted this, this week. My daughter turned 8 today. Last Saturday she was grousing about having a birthday party at home instead of having a $500 party at an indoor gym like her friends do. I wavered, but stood firm in the end.

    What she doesn’t know is that this “home party” is actually a gift. I knew a boy whose grandparents granted his heart’s desire. Piles of presents for every occasion. Expectations were raised over time. The year he turned 8, his grandparents had hit a hard year financially. The pile of gifts hadn’t grown exponentially. He ripped through 20+ gifts in 5 minutes, never stopping to notice what was under the wrap. Then he asked his grandmother where the rest of his gifts were. He refused to believe that there were no more. He ran to look in the back of the closets to find the hidden gifts that weren’t there.

    I don’t want my children raised with those ever-increasing expectations. My hope is that she will not need to live her life solely to satisfy wants, but to appreciate them. We seem to be on the path…at the end of a raucous party at home with 8 of her friends, my daughter agreed that her celebration had indeed been as much fun as the others.

  110. Christine says 25 November 2008 at 07:05

    Great article… this is definitely a struggle that every individual has.

  111. Rachelle says 25 November 2008 at 07:23

    Hey, I loved this article. Gotta love those mini-coopers. Is it safe to say you’re a fan of the movie “The Italian Job”?
    I agree with your cousin, it’s okay to want–but we don’t always have to have those things. I really want a mini-cooper too, but 3 kids in car seats can’t really fit in one of those things *sigh* but I’d rather drive them around than bars of gold any day! 🙂

  112. Jacob says 25 November 2008 at 07:56

    From the movie, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”,

    Fideo: The man who wants nothing is invincible, cabron.


  113. John says 25 November 2008 at 08:02

    Why not buy a used Mini Cooper? That way you can save money and still enjoy the car.

  114. Angie says 25 November 2008 at 10:14

    #107 — Thanks for the giggle. 🙂

  115. Leah says 25 November 2008 at 10:30

    very interesting article here. I make significantly less than a lot of people, so my big want for a few years was a dSLR. I pined, I craved, I compared. I wanted a Nikon d40 for about two years. I had money to buy one, but I always shifted it over into savings (I make under 20k a year, and I’ve got a 6+ month cushion in savings) or into traveling. Even when my digital camera broke, I limped along with the loss of my zoom function.

    What finally got me to buy my dSLR was a gift of $1,000 from my parents. And you know what? Best purchase ever. I use my new camera all the time. I should have known I would — I used my crappy broken camera (which I eventually fixed, so now I have 2!) even tho it was broken. So, when I think about whether an indulgence is worthwhile, I really think hard about what I’ll gain from it, how long term it is, and what the cost per use will be.

    Strikingly, this same thinking has kept me from buying a wii. I enjoy them, but I don’t use my gamecube as it is. I’d resent the time a wii takes up. So I’m able to appreciate and enjoy them at someone else’s house but not feel the need to own one myself.

    (PS I liked your post so much that I’m working on a much longer one of my own. I don’t see the option to trackback here, so I figured I’d just let you know.)

  116. Nick says 25 November 2008 at 11:17

    Having wants is as important as having a mindset to save. It helps motivates you to get to your goals. Then when you get there, you reap the benefits. Perpetually saving with no goal in sight may cause you to go crazy.

  117. Dana says 25 November 2008 at 11:21

    Do you have a few different subaccounts where you are putting money away for various wants and needs? I’d say take stock of what you’re saving and what you’re saving it for. Decide how important each item is to you and assign a percentage value to it. Then if you get an advance, split it up among the savings accounts according to importance percentage.

    Let’s say you’re saving for the Mini, a vacation, and a new roof on the house. They’re not equally important because you need the roof a lot more than the other two items. So, you might assign a 50% value to the roof account, 25% to the vacation account and 25% to the Mini.

    Then, let’s say your original figure turns out to be the advance you get. So you’d put $5000 in the roof account, $2500 in the vacation account and $2500 in the Mini’s.

    Make sense? It’s sad. I have no savings and am all thumbs with money and yet I can come up with ideas for managing it.

  118. Kevin H. says 25 November 2008 at 11:26


    This is THE opening to the book or at the very least a chapter in your book. This is the struggle, the yin and the yang of spending and you have encapsulated it into a post with an anecdote and a good quote from a current movie that most people will get…kudos.

  119. Dana says 25 November 2008 at 11:28

    Forget Yoda. He miscalculated and was out manuevered by Palpatine, resulting in the deaths of billions and a forced exile. What Yoda should have done was whack Qui-Gon in the shin with this cane for disobeying the decision not to train Anakin.

    Star Wars geekitude fail. Palpatine would have achieved power even without Anakin helping him–if you saw eppy 3, all Anakin did in the beginning of the coup was kill all the Padawan children. Palpatine had already maneuvered everything he needed into place to do what he needed to do to take over; Anakin was just window dressing.

    Anakin’s having been trained as a Jedi, however, when paired with his temper and overattachment to things (the very antithesis of a light-side Jedi), made him useful to Palpatine. Thus he remained Palpatine’s number two guy and thus he was in a position to kill the Emperor when Palpatine was on the verge of annihilating the Rebel Alliance with the second Death Star.

    If he hadn’t been removed from Tattooine and trained as a Jedi he likely would have perished in obscurity or been killed as a Force-sensitive upon discovery by the Galactic Empire, if he didn’t die in a pod race first. The Emperor would have taken over and that would have been that. There might not even have been a Rebel Alliance worth speaking of to oppose him, since Anakin’s daughter Leia was one of the major movers and shakers that made it the effective power it was.

    Life’s always more complex than it looks. 🙂

    And I would say Yoda’s statement about fear works out the same way as J.D.’s statement about wants. A little fear is healthy. It’s when you constantly indulge your fear and react to life from a place of fear that you mess everything up. When you live in constant fear, you’re more vulnerable to hate, etc., etc. Yoda was right.

  120. Lisa says 25 November 2008 at 12:00

    Great post, great blog. Oh, do I sympathize. I have a strong desire nature, but I agree with the Buddhists: Man suffers because he wants. I swing between idealizing asceticism and “hey, life is great, indulge your senses, that’s what we’re here for, whooo hoooooo! The Buddhists also value the middle way, so perhaps the suggestions for buying used, or saving up to pay cash, or renting one to tool around in for a while are the most sane. But then I am reminded of a favorite quote, “All things in moderation, including moderation”.

  121. Trip Savvy Travel says 25 November 2008 at 19:04

    I worked for a lady that saved her whole life for retirement; she pinched pennies and went without unnecessarily. When she retired she got Alzheimer’s and all that money she saved up went to pay for in home care until she died.

    She was too afraid to spend any of that money and didn’t enjoy life while she had the chance. It is okay to want and it’s okay to have, but you pay the price for both.

    Living life to the fullest means something different for every person, saving all your money for a rainy day is not a bad idea. Just remember that when the sun does come out you go get some ice cream, a really big one.

    J.D. I look forward to your book may you have a greater amount of success then any of us can want/covet/dream or hope for.

  122. Justin says 26 November 2008 at 09:55

    Wow! What a great story. Your thought process and rationalization on the topic of wanting vs needing is a great one. This is something I also struggle with in our quest to live debt free. We aren’t quite there yet and I continually have this internal battle with myself. I.E. the new Blackberry storm, I don’t need it but I really do want it. There is nothing wrong with my current blackberry save for the fact that it doesn’t do everything the storm does. Wanting vs needing.
    Thanks again for this great article!

  123. Victoria says 26 November 2008 at 23:43

    Great post! Best of luck with the book deal 🙂

  124. Joe says 30 November 2008 at 18:23

    In one of the Star Trek movies a number of years ago, Spock said “Wanting is the better part of having”. I don’t remember anything of the movie, but the truth of that statement imprinted itself on my mind. Reminding myself of this truth has saved me from a lot of needless spending for things I really desire but don’t need.

  125. La BellaDonna says 12 December 2008 at 14:02

    I like Tyler@68’s suggestion: find an old one and fix it up, if that’s within your skill set; the attachment you develop will outweigh any disappointment resulting from years of anticipation regarding a new Mini. There are other suggestions, too, which I think would be a good way of finding out if your love is really true: renting one for various periods of time, and finding out if having really IS as good as wanting.

    I particularly like Tyler’s suggestion, because it’s been my discovery that those things in which I am personally invested/have made myself are far more important to me than something purchased shiny and new might be.

  126. John says 09 March 2009 at 04:31

    Here’s my personal mind game in battling an attack of the Wants :

    I promise myself that I first look for alternative ways of paying for whatever I want this time instead of instant gratification for at least two weeks.

    Going around shops and noting the prices, researching the various internet markets , bartering in shops (works if you have the right info and come at the right of day or season)
    even thinking of taking part-time job, tax return, free in the library etc , etc.

    Usually at the end of those two weeks it has burned itself out by that time by either not wanting it anymore or even forgetting what it was in the first place (scary revelation !)

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