In my first post I made a comment that I’m pretty good at taking a critical look at how I spend my money. I went into a little detail, but in the context of January’s resolution I thought it may not make much sense. Why would a guy who claims to be good at controlling his spending need a resolution to track his spending habits? I figured I should go into a little detail here…
As I’ve said, I don’t own a lot of stuff. This isn’t because I don’t like owning stuff or because I don’t have the money… I just don’t buy much. This is really weird considering how cool I think certain things are. I like gadgets. A lot. But I don’t really have any. Last year I bought a Kindle, a laptop, and I got a GPS for Christmas. Before that… pretty much nothing. Hell, I’m still rocking a Razr (but only until February, thank you very much Verizon).
I also like entertainment. However, I spend approximately 0 dollars on DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs… I spend a little on books now (for the Kindle) and occasionally buy a game for the 360 (generally Used, with a trade-in for good measure), but we’re still talking very low volumes. Before the Kindle, I got most (if not all) of my books from Library sales. For movies, I stream Netflix. For music, there’s Pandora. Also, a surprising number of bands offer their stuff for free. As for those that don’t, that subject is better left undiscussed (which is too a word, Autocorrect!).
The reason for buying few things stems from a house fire some eight years ago. I was living in a condo with my mother when the lighting outside our neighbor’s door shorted and a pretty significant blaze ensued. The entire building didn’t burn down or anything, but the units burned out. For a day or so we thought we had lost everything (we had to wait for the fire department to deem it safe for us to enter and assess the damage).
This all happened mid-day, so the remainder of the day went by in a strange blur. Somewhere between devastation and panic, I started to look forward to starting over. Losing everything means you can rebuild however you want. The things we own define us through the timeline of our lives. We build ourselves upon what we were, so what we are can never stand alone. Unless you start again with nothing. I was excited by the idea and it helped dull the shock of the day’s events.
In a surprising twist of fate, it comes out that my room was virtually untouched by the flames. There was tons of water and smoke damage, and a fair amount of my belongings had to be trashed, but a lot was saved. This came to me as a mix of relief and disappointment. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t lose everything I owned. This is very hard to admit. I haven’t discussed it with many people, partly because my mother did lose a lot of things, and partly because I’m not sure who can understand that feeling. Also, I’m just that private (and now I share it all on the Internet. Ironical).
This was a turning point in my life. I started to take a hard look at the things I own and the question of “do I really need this?” became an all-encompassing part of my shopping habits. Given enough time, the answer is almost always “no”. Sometimes “but I really want it” wins out, but it wins substantially fewer times than it had in the past. Thanks to the fire, I started to see things for what they are, just things. Stuff became less important as I tried to find ways to enjoy life without owning so much. Should I buy this book? Nah, I can get it at the library. How about this movie? No, I’d probably only watch it a couple times anyway. That critical voice became standard whenever I considered a purchase.
However, this is not entirely a good thing. Sure, I can stop myself making frivolous purchases of things that will go unused or wasted, but I also have a hard time buying all the things I really do need. My girlfriend will tell you (she certainly tells me often enough – love you dear!) that we need a new couch. Now, we’ve got an old futon that’s quite literally falling apart, so she’s completely right of course. But this is where the questioning insidiously turns into “do I really need this, now?”. This leads to all sorts of delays where the bare functionality of an item keeps me from improving the quality of my (or our) life.
So now you know how and why it’s hard for me to spend money. Then what’s the problem? Why do I need a resolution? As previously explained, entertainment and food. I like going out, and I like eating out. Granted, we don’t go out a lot, but aside from bills that’s where the money generally goes. To the point that I don’t have much savings (really if it wasn’t for an employer 401k plan I wouldn’t have any savings at all). I’m one of those people whose budget matches their income, regardless of their income. I imagine at some level a disparity must occur between the two, but then again if that were the case we probably wouldn’t be going through such tough economic times now.
Groceries. Man, I’m the worst shopper at the grocery store. I have little to no understanding of what things cost, if it looks good and we could use it, in the shopping cart it goes. This doesn’t cause quite as much of a problem as it could, and I think more grocery shopping is actually what’s needed here. Because it’s eating out that causes the most pain. That’s a big part of this month’s experiment. Discover how much I really spend eating out, and then try to curb that by buying more groceries (while tracking how much I’m spending on those grocery items), thus bring down my total spending.
Anyway, that’s a fair bit on the how and why I spend money. A resolution later in the year will tackle the things I own, but for now I’ll continue to work on the things I buy. It’s all a very strange experience. I see people with nice things and I feel a bit of jealousy, but when I think about it I can’t really bring myself to deciding it’s a good idea to spend the money to actually get those sorts of things. Big purchases are always a struggle (buyer’s remorse is almost instantaneous, regardless of whether it was a good idea), yet it’s nothing to spend $40-$60 out on dinner. Put a handful of those together for a couple months and we could have had that couch.
This is what resolutions are for… right?