A few posts ago, my new (used) cell phone sparked some discussion that sparked some thoughts about my spending habits. In a conversation that week, Kent asked me if I feel bad spending money on expensive items. (I should note here that Kent considers expensive to mean something that costs more than it should. I've always understood it as something at or above a certain dollar amount. That dollar amount has changed through the years and I won't say what it is now, but it's basically more than I would normally drop on an item I like at the store.) His question, and my answer, which is that yes, I generally am adverse to spending for nice things, has been working in my mind.
Don't get me wrong. I like owning nice things; but only if I can get a really good deal on them or if someone gives them to me. It's not just a matter of being frugal. I deep down feel...what's the best word?..kind of undeserving of being able to spend money. I think there are a few factors that contribute to this part of my personality.
There is some part that humility plays here. (Don't you love it when someone tells you how humble they are?! That's really not what I'm trying to do. I'm talking about the humble circumstances that people can live in.) I don't begrudge how anyone else spends their money. I love this part of the American Dream, and I think people should work hard to fulfill their wants. I do not like when people rack up consumer debt to buy things that will force them into financial hardship later, but that's not what I'm talking about. Part of it is seeing the living conditions of so many people in developing countries, and even in our own U.S. history. Those people have lived happy, productive lives in small homes while wearing non-name brand clothing. I think a humble life is a good life and I simply don't want many showy things.
When I have wanted things that tend to be pricey, I've found ways to get them cheap or free. When we bought our house, we kept a lot of the previous owner's furniture with it. For landscaping boulders, I asked the developer's permission to pick big rocks out of the field next to us. For quality clothing, I usually shop at DI. And our family has been blessed with hand-me-downs since almost the beginning of our marriage. I love hand-me-downs. I think not having to pay for furniture or clothing has inhibited my ability to do so when I can't get it cheap or free. Instead, I just wait and eventually a neighbor will give something away that fits my need perfectly.
In reading The Tipping Point, I really identified with those people that the author calls "mavens". Mavens shop prices and quality so they know what a truly good deal is on a specific item, and then they only buy that item if it's a good deal. They research consumer reports and compare brands. And they pass their information on to others. That's me in many ways. For big-ticket items, I shop at least three brands against each other, and then I shop at least three stores or internet sites for the best deal on a given brand. The bigger the purchase, the more I compare. In buying our minivan, I narrowed the field to eight models that ranked high with consumers, and then I narrowed it to two models after sitting in and test driving six of the eight, and then I shopped prices with several dealers. We were so happy with our purchase and the experience with Utah Auto Sales that I have recommended them to many friends.
I find that when I am going to spend on something, I also have to take a lot of time. It's almost like the more time I spend shopping for it, the better I can justify later owning it. I would not feel right about buying something spendy on the spur of the moment. One of the reasons I haven't blogged recently is that I spent seven days placing an order in a seed catalog. It drives me crazy that I devote so much time to getting whatever I decide is the best price for something. What a waste of time!
I apologize for my meandering thoughts. I guess what bothers me is that I am bothered by the idea of paying a chunk of money for anything. Maybe the issue is that I don't have that option right now. I like to think that if we had a big income, I wouldn't feel guilty buying something nice that we could afford, but I really think I would have guilt attached to it. And I can't explain where that guilt comes from or if it's even valid.
What are your thoughts on spending?