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Understanding the value of purchasing things that make you feel good.

Posted by Charles Haine on 10/13/2016

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The sun is going to someday expand to swallow the earth.  Literally everything we’ve ever known will disappear. I try and remember this when I’m considering a purchase.  

There’s another fantasy I know a lot of people use to help them avoid purchases. It’s the “dying old and alone” fantasy, in which you spent all your money frivolously in your youth and you have nothing left for old age.  It’s a valid exercise to think about this, to plan for the future, to remember that you will need the money in your pocket not just today, but also some of it you will need later.

It’s also important to remember t. If you put that money in a specific fund today, it could double by the time you retire.  So, that $100 you are thinking of spending on going to a theme park might be $200 when you are 70, and you might really need that $200 for rent or medicine or senior citizens day at theme park.

Sometimes forget that someday we’re all going to be gone, including our savings account, our 401k, pension fund (if you are one of the lucky few who have one of those anymore).  And, while it’s important to work hard and be of service to others, it’s also important to do a few things that bring you joy.That can be paying for an experience or purchasing an item.

Some of this nervousness about buying things is leftover childhood baggage, because as children, we were terrible at making predictions about what would make us happy.  I was convinced this one motorcycle toy would be amazing, I would play with it every single day for hours on end, and I begged my parents for it.  You all already know where this is going: they bought it for me, and I was bored in 5 minutes.  And I felt guilty about all the begging, felt guilty about my parents spending the money.

That doesn’t mean you should never buy yourself toys as an adult.  If you’ve got your cashflow covered, and some sort of savings going, it’s also important to enjoy your income, and toys for adults (like motorcycles, fancy boots, or a really nice meal out) are great.  Dieters who stick too closely to their diet and deprive themselves of what they love have a tendency to binge, defeating the purpose of the diet, and I think it’s like that with finance too.  If you are making enough, there’s nothing wrong with spending 5% on stupid stuff if it makes you happy.  Denying yourself that could lead to a terrible binge later, or worse, missing out on some things and experiences that can bring you joy.

That’s the key.  It’s got to actually bring you joy.  And to know that, you’ve got to pay attention.

I used to buy cheap, used laptops.  Never anything less than 3 years old.  They were always slow, because software makers design their apps for the newest hardware.  It’s not fair, but it’s true. Realizing I spend 30-40 hours a week on my computer for work, I decided to try buying brand new laptops.  You know what?  To me, it’s well worth it.  Insanely worth it.  Wonderfully worth it. It brings me joy completely worth the extra expense.

I still won’t buy a new car, because I’m hard on things.  I bought a 20 year old Land Cruiser, and it brings me joy. It cost me $1800, and if it gets scratched or dented I don’t bat an eye. It was a top of the line luxury car in it’s day, but it’s still a Toyota, most things still work, and when it needs repair, it’s still less than a payment on a new car would cost.

Like every major lesson, it really comes down to learning about yourself.  What you actually like, what actually brings you joy, is worth it.  Don’t be afraid to spend on it.  What doesn’t actually bring you any joy, don’t bother.  Remember, there is no way to learn this perfectly.  You can’t learn you don’t enjoy some things until you’ve paid for them.  Instead of thinking about that money as a waste, think about it as paying for the lesson that you don’t enjoy that thing.  Me, I love roller coasters, maybe you don’t, but it’s worth paying $70 to find out.

And if you waste a little bit here or there, really waste it, pay for something you know you won’t enjoy out of pure impulse, don’t be too hard on yourself about it. Joy matters.

It’s very hard to see that when you are struggling financially.  It can feel absolutely overwhelming.  If you are under the shadow of a giant student loan. But it’s important. And unfortunately some things that bring joy cost money. Worse still, the cost of learning what actually is worth it also costs money. Sometimes the price of the thing is worth paying because of what you learn from the regret of buying it. At least you’re learning, if you’re paying attention.

Topics: Saving

Meet the blogger

Charles Haine

Charles Haine

A long time artist and contributor to the Citizens of Culture print and web magazine. He writes to promote conscious consumption and the idea of thinking before you spend.The views expressed are those of a discerning young consumer, not a financial advisor and may or may not reflect the views of Logix FCU.

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