A lot of websites focus on finding ways to save or invest money. If you are a regular reader of this site, you know saving and frugality are topics I spend a lot of time writing about. And with good reason – maximizing your savings and investments is one of the most important things you can do for your future. That is because money saved now is worth more than money earned in the future. The time value of money, compound interest, taxation, and other factors play a key role in this fact. But there is more to life than just saving for a rainy day, or investing until your net worth is the size of a small country.
Money is Only Meant for One Thing – Spending
Think about it for a minute – why do people focus so much on saving and investing? It’s so they can have more money later… to spend. Otherwise there would be no point in saving or investing. The key is to spend less than you earn, but still enjoy life in the present.
Many people equate saving money to increased security. And that is a good thing. It’s always good to have a financial buffer. An emergency fund can prevent you from going into debt. Having that financial security can help you sleep better at night. These are good things. But it’s also good to have a healthy relationship with spending money.
The Benefits of Spending Consciously
There is a lot to be said about being a frugal person. I try to save money whenever possible – I use coupons, buy quality items, and shop with a plan. But that doesn’t mean I am cheap or afraid to spend money. I have no problem spending money, so long as I make the conscious decision to spend. I don’t like the idea of buying things out of habit.
I try to avoid spending money for the sake of buying the newest gadget or out of boredom. When I spend money, I want to receive value and pleasure from the action. Let me give you an example.
Eating out. Once a week I go out to eat with a coworker or with my wife. It is a planned event and it certainly isn’t a big splurge for my wallet or my waistline. I have no problem spending money once a week for a change of pace, to socialize, and to get out of the office. The rest of the week I prefer to brown bag it. I enjoy eating leftovers – they often taste better than eating out and are healthier for my waistline and wallet. I enjoy going out to lunch, but I don’t think I would enjoy eating out everyday. Now let’s look at a different situation.
I have a coworker who eats out for lunch everyday. Is that a problem? Not for him. I asked him about it one day and he responded, “I’m in my fifties. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t fool around with the ladies. This is my vice.”
I’d say on average, my coworker spends $10 or more on each lunch (he never eats fast food). That comes out to well over $200 per month, and probably over $3,000 per year. But that is not a problem for him because he budgets for it, he enjoys it, and he does it consciously. Eating out is one of his spending priorities.
It’s OK to splurge
JD, from Get Rich Slowly, asked several personal finance bloggers and his readers what they splurge on. His article contained responses from about 15 personal finance bloggers, and elicited over 150 reader responses. The items people chose to spend a little extra on, even when it wasn’t necessary, shared a common bond: they make life a little brighter and more enjoyable now.
Unconscious Spending Causes Problems
Spending money is not bad – it is designed to be spent. But unconscious spending can cause big problems. It would bee a big problem for me if I ate out every day, spent several thousand dollars every year, blew my budget, and didn’t derive any pleasure from it. But it’s not a problem for my friend who budgets for it and enjoys it.
So long as you are sticking within your budget and aren’t spending yourself into debt, then you shouldn’t be afraid to go out to lunch every day, or spending money on another habit. If it is important to you, then find a way to fit it into your budget. Just make sure that when you place those items on the counter and reach for your wallet that you are doing so consciously, and not out of habit.
Spend Money on the Important Things in Life
Everyone had at least one item they often splurged on. The most common items I noticed were food, experiences (travel, concerts, eating out, etc.), quality of life issues (clothing, appearance, housing, etc.), and recreation.
People splurge on things that are important to them. My answer was experiences (more on that below). But others prefer to spend extra money to enjoy life every day with a nice meal or a quality glass of wine. Others prefer to spend more money to decorate their house or buy nice clothing. Sports, video games, and other recreational items bring others joy.
I Like to Spend Money on Experiences
Last fall my wife and I took our honeymoon – a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. We traveled to Spain, Italy, France, Corsica, and Gibraltar. We did as many excursions as we could, ate wonderful food, and had an exceptional time. The memories we made during our honeymoon will last our lifetime. We spent several thousand dollars and came back with nothing but memories, hundreds of photographs, and a few small gifts for family. And it was worth every cent.
My wife and I also like to travel or go to ball games, concerts, musicals, and plays. These are experiences you have to pay a lot of money for, and when it is all said and done, there is nothing tangible to show for it (unless you buy overpriced souvenirs).
So what? Having the opportunity to see a commemorative showing of The Phantom of the Opera in London was an awe-inspiring event. Rock concerts? I have been to dozens. I have spent hundreds of dollars on live concert events, but I have seen some amazing bands perform live and it was worth every cent.
Money is for Spending. Money is for Living.
It’s easy to get caught up in debt reduction or retirement planning and get stuck in the rut of “cut back, spend less, save more, repeat.” It’s easy to forget that life is more than just living for tomorrow. We need to remember to live for today, while we think and prepare for tomorrow.
Let me give you an example: One of my favorite personal finance blogs is Gather Little By Little, which chronicles the author’s journey out of debt. Glblguy shares his experiences, and though he has a ways to go before he is debt free, he and his wife have made great progress. One of the things I really enjoy about his blog is candor in sharing his financial decisions. You see, even though he has debt, he still knows it is important to spend money now.
The best example of this is a recent article in which Glblguy shared how he bought his wife an engagement ring on-line to replace her old one which they had to sell because of financial hardship. I know this was a difficult story to write, but it illustrates how dire their financial situation was, and how much it affected them emotionally. When they had an unexpected tax return, they decided the money was worth more to them to replace the ring than it was worth to repay debt. And I agree, 100%. This is a must read story to understand why spending money now is just as important as repaying debt or saving money for later.
There is more to life than repaying debt or saving for a rainy day. Money is for spending. Money is for living. After all, life is too short to drink cheap beer.