Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Upside of Spending

So we are in Paris, as I type up this blog post on my phone like a putz. It is foggy and raining and to a soft punk Arizonan, pretty cold, too. I shouldn't complain about any of this, either the typing on a tiny computer that fits in my pocket, the weather, or the supposed danger of going to Paris or Brussels. How can you be sad in a place that is so beautiful and where all the food is cooked in butter? I am ridiculously lucky and I intend to roll around in my good fortune, slathering it all over, enjoying as much as I can of it.

While the four of us were able to travel hack our way to free flights, we are paying out of pocket for AirBNBs in the four cities we are visiting: Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Throw in train tickets, food, bars, and attractions all in Western Europe, and it adds up to a fairly un-frugal trip.
 
This is always a bit of a conflict in our financial lives: trying to adhere to the life of frugality that initially set us on this path to financial independence and that makes us happier, too, if Mr. Money Mustache is to be believed, and, on the other hand, the genuine desire to do things that happen to be pretty damn expensive. Seeing other parts of the planet costs some coin, no matter how you do it. So do nice Christmas and birthday gifts. As do good restaurants and fancy nights out.
 
We could go the frugal route on all these things, of course. Hand made gifts and all our meals made at home with date nights at the park, and even more points chased down for extra-hacky vacations.
 
But I've become less and less enamored with the frugal approach, the longer we've used it. Frugality is just one tool, after all. It doesn't do everything well. And, if I am being a little too honest, I suppose I get tired of reading posts from frugality bloggers who only have that one saw in the bag, because, it seems, everything enjoyable in life is just one more thing that could be cut.
 
One of the big downsides of frugality is that these approaches, the DIY projects and insoucing of everything, while cheap, almost always cost you something else: time. And I am already time poor. Mrs. Done by Forty and I regularly put in long days: so we like an easy Chipotle dinner instead of spending 30 or 60 minutes to cook, and then more time spent cleaning afterwards. We generally don't want to tackle big home projects ourselves, since it's already so hard to squeeze in quality free time together.
 
So while the DIY approach saves us cash, it almost always costs us time.
 
And isn't it weird to trade our prime time for money at our jobs, only to turn around and choose options that cost us more time to save even more money?
 
These days, my take on frugality for its own sake is that it overestimates the value of money, and underestimates the value of time, or at least the net present value of time. Putting things off or eschewing them all together, like a trip to a new place or a concert or even something as ordinary as a fancy dinner out, seems short sighted when done in the name of hitting financial independence a year or three earlier.
 
We are in the last throes of our youth. Is it really that smart to trade this time today for time later or, worse, just for some more dollars?
 
At some point, it has to be about doing the things you want to do or (gasp) owning the sort of things you want to own. It sounds nice to have a big pile of money...but eventually you ought to convert that cash to something else.
 
I am being too harsh on frugality, of course. Spending less has largely set us up on a path to riches and freedom, so I should not complain. But the fervor of the newly initiated is wearing off, and these days I think there are a lot of limitations in living life thinking about ways to spend less, to cut things out, and to just make do with what we have.
 
On some level, it has to be about adding things to the list.
 
But enough of all that. We have pastries to eat and mimosas to drink. I promise to write about more cheerful things in the next post. Au revoir!

26 comments:

  1. Bravo! In my book the whole point of frugality isn't about building up a huge pile of money that you can never touch, and it's also not about sacrificing. There are no bonus points for becoming some sort of an ascetic - unless, of course, that's what you want, in which case bring on the hair shirts!

    Seriously, though, as far as I'm concerned it's all about making conscious choices. You don't spend money on things that don't bring you happiness so that you can have the money to spend on things that do. Same equation goes for time - of course, it gets a bit more complicated because you must often sacrifice one for the other.

    But it bothers me when people try to force everybody else into their own mold, because it ignores the very real fact that we're all different, and that which one person finds to be enjoyable, another finds to be horrible. I actually unsubscribed from MMM because I just got sick of the whole "everybody who's not exactly like me is doin' it wrong" attitude.

    I have similar gripes with folks in the minimalist and environmentalist movements - it's like people grab onto one idea and then need everyone else to follow suit in order to validate their own lifestyle. And in some ways, I don't see that it's much different than trying to "keep up with the Joneses" - it's just a different form of competition.

    And quite frankly, I'm just not interested in counting my belongings, or weighing my garbage, or trying to eliminate every piece of plastic from my life. And while I love my bicycle, I'm not gonna be giving up my car any time soon. So I do what works for me, and I don't worry about any of the labels.

    Anyhow, I hope you have a fabulously wonderful vacation without feeling the need to resort to further justification or self-flagellation. Personally, I'd rather be tarred and feathered than forced to get on an airplane, or eat at a bunch of restaurants, or sleep in hotels - so I'll just be here enjoying watching lots of football and movies on my new 4K television, and waiting for the snow to melt off the bike trails so I can waste hour upon hour on my ridiculously expensive carbon fiber road bike!

    To each his own! :-)

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    1. I have a lot of the same feelings about MMM these days, but have to credit him for waking us up from our consumerism.

      I know on some level the right approach with frugality is one of balance, but that doesn't make as interesting of a post.

      And watching football on a 4k tv always sounds amazing. I missed the Steelers hanging a loss on the Bengals...will have to settle for them beating your Broncos this week. :)

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    2. Ha! Well, given how my Broncos are playing, that won't be much of an accomplishment. My kingdom for a functional offensive line! :-)

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    3. ^^This. I'm with you on the sentiments, although sometimes I don't think frugality is the culprit. Sometimes I think it's straight ambition. We have to be so damn successful that we spend our life at it and forget to...live our lives.

      My take on frugality is much like EcoCatLady's. There are a lot of things we don't spend on. But for those few things we really do enjoy in life, we're not going to skip out or delay just because we can't get a discount. Life is way too short for that, and it's kind of the entire point of those sacrifices in the areas where we truly don't care.

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    4. Hey there Femme Frugality! I think that's the best kind of balance, ala' Afford Anything's mantra. Spend on the things that matter to you, and ruthlessly cut everything else.

      I do think there's an undercurrent of competition within, oddly, even the world of frugality. I'm just as guilty, but have tried to improve by getting rid of things like the monthly budget and net worth updates.

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    5. Thank you EcoCatLady and Done by Forty for voicing the thoughts that have been swirling in my head lately. I do like MMM's blog and find that it allows me to continue to question my consumerism. But I have also found that like in all things in life, balance is NEEDED, especially in budgets. My hubster and I LOVE to travel and do as often as time and budget allows and we take more than your average amount of trips. We also have all of the bells and whistles needed to navigate this modern life we live, but we are also mortgage and debt-free and save/invest more than anyone we know. Because of this, I have retired at age 47 this past year and the hubster will in 3 more years at age 48. Our friends and family marvel at all we do and to say that it doesn't cause much jealousy is a small understatement. What we both wrestle with is that you can be frugal on some things and then splurge where your lifestyle is lacking and you want to fill with experiences, not just materials. LOTS of folks have a hard time accepting this. We never look at frugality as a sacrifice, but our friends do. I always say it allows us to have the best of both worlds. But hey, what do I know??? I guess the no-debt-no-mortage should be enough to say it all. Thanks for letting me add my $0.02 in.

      Jorgygirl
      FB: "Nans Common Cents"

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  2. Bravo here too, DB40! Sometimes we get too caught up in the saving of the money and forget the reason behind the frugality. We took a very unfrugal vacation this year: our first as a family. Moneywise, most others would probably disagree with this decision, but as our oldest gets nearer to high school graduation, we just decided that we would no longer put off traveling with our family. We remain frugal in all other spending areas, and we are still working hard at paying off our debt, but I'll tell you, that trip is still talked about regularly by our family some 4 months after it ended. There is a fine line between being a good steward of your money and making it your god. This is a line that has to be balanced if frugality is to work as it's supposed to in life.

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    1. Hey Laurie. I love that you could travel with your family before the kids leave the nest. That's exactly the sort of thing I was trying to capture: that quality time today is way too precious to trade in most cases. As it is with money, time today is with more than time later.

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  3. I'm with you on this one DB40. Frugality is just a tool and is great to employ it but sometimes it's worth it to spend money on things that are important to you and that will save you time. Not gonna lie...I'm am about the least handy person you may know. I could try a DIY project and save some money but it would cause immense aggravation and cost a lot of time...and in the end, I might still have to outsource it. I know my skillset and being handy is not one of them. There's just a balance. No need for frugal people to feel bad or to judge when spending money on things that provide value.

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    1. I am not that handy either but I pretend to be, Andrew. I know that I could learn the skills, but would rather use my time differently and, like you, save myself the frustration.

      Like you said...got to know your skillset.

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  4. Sounds like a fantastic trip!

    I'm with you on most of your points here. I think there is a good balance to be had between horrendous wasteful consumerism and ultra frugality borderline deprived lifestyles.

    I guess the argument against your time now vs time later point is that you are doing exactly that, stealing away time from your future self by delaying FI. Of course you know that already but many people do not. I think anyone who has a handle on their finances as you guys do doesn't really need to justify your spending especially not to a bunch of internet strangers! So go nuts and have fun.

    On the DIY front I just saved a ton of money, estimated at least £3000 if not more, by tackling a bathroom remodel myself. The thing is I had the time to do it as had 2 weeks off work with my new shifts /parttime shenanigans. I would not want to have done that in evenings and weekends or used up any of my precious holiday days! So I am lucky to be in this position. But you know what put me in this position... Yep being (a bit) frugal. So it's hard to knock it as a tool, it's bloody great. Use it when it's most effective for your own use case!

    Back to the internet stranger comment, if it's not too late and you're in London over the next week or so and fancy meeting up for a quick beer, drop me a mail and I'll see what I can do! No worries if not of course, I wouldn't want to gate crash your vacation and I imagine time is short to fit all the sight seeing in!

    Cheers!

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    1. We missed you in London...I totally flaked on that. Sorry Firestarter.

      I was definitely too harsh on frugality, trying to make my point. I suppose I am starting to think it's not as powerful as increased income or income diversification, or that it it least can't be the only tool in the FI toolbox, and certainly shouldn't be taken too far.

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  5. Great post, wow I have been reading a lot of deep posts by fellow bloggers, I love it. I think it's about finding a balance that works for you and your family. Cooking yourself and spend 30-60 minutes can be great, if you take the time to talk to your significant other and enjoy the time together. However, if you're just in the kitchen, not having a good time, maybe eating out will provide more joy. Extremely frugality doesn't work, eventually you will burn out.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Tacwan. You said it well...extreme frugality will burn you out. Not sustainable, in my opinion.

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  6. One reason that I call my website Unplanned Finance is that any given plan that seems right at the time is subject to change as the surrounding circumstances or the people carrying out the plan change.

    I am not one who does well with moderation, so I tend to be feasting or fasting so to speak. Sometimes I crave the simplicity of a frugal lifestyle whereas other times I seek out indulgences. A baseline of frugal living actually serves to pique my appetites rather than dilute them, and I think that's perfectly fine.

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    1. I definitely hear you, Hannah. I also tend to vacillate between extremes, though I suspect that may not always be in my best interest. My post may well just be a reaction to frugality as I swing away from it, so to speak.

      Baseline frugality is a neat concept (maybe a cool post idea, too). There obviously has to be some sort of acceptable 'average' if we want to manage our money well and still enjoy the things in life that happen to cost money.

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    2. Hey DB40, Love your photo and your post, and seeing the word putz in your first paragraph! Mr. Groovy and I are also time poor and we don't have the patience or the temperament for some aspects of frugality. We just had wood flooring professionally installed. Could we have gone DIY with YouTube videos? Maybe. But it's highly unlikely they'd come out as beautiful as they did, or that we'd be done in a day (more like a month). We also budgeted and planned for over a year.

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    3. Hi Mrs. Groovy, thanks for stopping by and for the nice words. The wood flooring is a great example, where an amateur job can look amateurish forever, whereas the money saved is pretty quickly forgotten. Lots of opportunities to save, of course, and I don't begrudge anyone who wants to go the DIY route. But the time spent really ought to enter the equation.

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  7. Here here! Glad you are enjoying the fruits of your labor without guilt!

    I'm headed to Puerto Rico tomorrow on a last minute spontaneous solo adventure. Paid double what I could have for the airfare and booked the first bed and breakfast I found on the beach - because I don't have the time to hack at the moment and that's not gonna hold me back from living it up!

    Cheers!

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    1. Hey Emily! So glad to hear from you.

      Probably too late to get you this note, but have a fantastic time in Puerto Rico. Would love to hear all about it when you get back, and I completely agree with your take: don't let the money hold you back from living it up. That message too often gets lost in the drive towards financial riches.

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  8. It's all about what you want and how you want to spend your money. I don't have a problem dropping 6-8k on a vacation, but I do spending $5 for bad tea at Starbucks. It's all about your priorities, and it sounds like right about now, one of your priorities is time - enjoy it, use your money for what's important to you!
    We spend *significantly* more than most PF bloggers, but we spend it on things important to us. As long as you're spending within your means, does it really matter what you spend your money on? (And heck, even if you leverage debt to do what you want - as long as you know what you're doing, does it matter?)

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    1. I'm sure we spend more than most PF bloggers, too, Three is Plenty (at least when you take their mortgage/rent out of the figures). Things really changed for us once we paid off the mortgage...we didn't have the motivation to be quite so frugal, and it was a change for the better.

      Like you said, it's really about what you're spending on. I don't like spending $5 at Starbucks either...but my wife does. :)

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  9. I have to say I love this post. And I fully admit I am not that frgual. My spouse isn't that frugal. That doesn't mean I don't try to cut down our expenses, but as you say I don't mind getting a quick Chipotle meal or the like. Frugality or financial independence is about being able to do the kinds of trips you are doing. I think MMM is great for his discussions about anti-consumerism and time. That, for me, is his greatest gift. It has woken me up to the idea that I don't care about "stuff." I want experiences. I want memories. I don't care about stuff. And stuff can mean a nice vacation in a hotel or good dinners. I have no problem paying for those things because I get something out of them. I get nothing out of stuff. Hope you are having a fabulous time. Never been to Paris, but I hope to get there someday. And if you have the time take a little train ride to Bruges, Belgium. A fantastic Medieval city. I love that stuff.

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    1. We actually did get to take a day trip to Bruges, and it was great. We stumbled upon this new bar attached to the modern art museum, with 100 taps where you can pour as much or as little as you want into these little tasting glasses. It was pretty neat. Oh, and the rest of the city was beautiful, too. :)

      Totally agree on not needing more stuff, which makes Christmas so weird. Seems like mostly, we exchange stuff rather than experiences, which are way harder to give except for, I guess, tickets and restaurant gift cards and the like.

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  10. Great points.
    Cash is only a medium of exchange, and a means to provide a better life.
    If you aren’t utilizing your cash, then you are wasting your time.

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  11. the balance of time / money is really hard to find, but it's good that you pointed that DIY projects that take a lot of time too, and sometimes it's easier to spend more money to save more time, as time we can't spend twice.

    What I do normally is to save on my routine (supermarket food bills) and then spend on unusual stuff (travelling or buying some cool gadget). A pretty decent balance :)

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