By: Revanche

Of the spending/saving dynamic: “Do you want to go to Italy&Greece next year?”

May 3, 2007

What a silly question. Yes, yes, yes, I want to! It’s not just that I’ve been itching to ditch work and home and all the attendant concerns. It’s trekking carefree across the plains (er, metaphorically, of course), eating my way through the gastronomical delights that are suppli, potato pizza, boundless pasta (carbs, carbs and more carbs), the orzo, the lamb, the calamari …. Yes, I want to go!

But that just awakens my ever-lurking conscience: When is it justifiable to spend money for pleasure, when (as evidenced by the yawning goal meters to the left) every penny is spoken for? Where is the line drawn between respecting the greater goals, and refusing to live life?

Everyday, we make these choices as we navigate our consumer-driven society. Every possible need and want that you can imagine, and a few that you couldn’t, are marketed based on the ad agency’s ability to convince you that you need their product. Not based on your needs and definitely not on your budget, remember, but based on what they can get you to spend. As consumer-captains of our personal finances, we have to make spending decisions based on our priorities, and our actual budgets.

I thought I had this figured out, but this isn’t a static decision. If it were, I wouldn’t need to reevaluate my budget every six to twelve months. I wouldn’t bother to adjust my goals, nor would I waver from the prescribed course: Eat your fruits and veggies, contribute 15% to your retirement plan, save 10% of your budget, etc., etc., etc. What I’m trying to say is that Life tends to get in the way of these things.

It’s pretty easy, at first, to cut out the fat. After all, I know how to tell the difference between a “need” and “want” at the most basic level (for America, anyway. Most bets are off once you leave the country). Food: Need. Roof over head: Need. Running water, electricity: Need. And so on.

Occasionally, one needs (or wants) clothing, a meal out with friends who are in town but once or twice a year. (See the results of No-Spend Month, April). Yes, the odd movie out, when the movie ticket is quite cheap, is permissible. And yes, much has been made of the Latte Factor; the small purchases do indeed add up very quickly. Especially on a small budget: $3 here and there doesn’t sound much until you realize that your spending allowance was only $25 to begin with!

But again, there’re the easy decisions like idle spending because you’re online and bored? Bad. Spending because you’re bored and near a mall? No! Vacation travel? Going somewhere fun that costs money to get there, to stay there and to eat there? Just for fun? That’s not a need. That is most assuredly a want. How quickly a pleasurable and educational activity that can be done on a budget gets demonized!

Inevitably, I’ll remember those MSN Money-type surveys that “analyze” your spending habits, and it always asks some variation of the “If your friend asked you to go on a trip of a lifetime but it’ll cost $2000 that you don’t have right now, what would you say?” Of course, I always answer “C: tell your friend you would love to go, but don’t have the money right now. Then start saving for the next trip of a lifetime.” I’m such a liar. I always pass on the trips, but never can find the gumption to divert funds from the more realistic needs like funds for car maintenance or insurance or other expenses.

See, here’s the thing: most times I think, “it’s not going to kill me to give up this movie or that outing.” But that’s not the point, is it? It’s not that it’s going to kill me. It’s that I’m not experiencing life, just the view from my bedroom window. Which is basically the lackluster little sister version of “it’ll kill you.”

By placing what I see as realities of life, such as emergencies that require readily available cash (within a few days or weeks) and the demands of the future like planning and funding my retirement, ahead of immediate gratification, protecting the tomorrows at the expense of the todays, am I defeating the purpose of all these efforts? Am I failing to live life?

Conversely, deciding the priorities of a thoroughly-lived life is all very well in theory, but when does that start becoming reality? And is now, at 24, far too soon to expect to really live life? Is this the hallmark “me me me, now now now” instant gratification expectation that seems to exemplify Generation Y?

3 Responses to “Of the spending/saving dynamic: “Do you want to go to Italy&Greece next year?””

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m in my 20’s as well and can understand the whole mentality to keep saving for retirement and the value of time for investing but at some point you have to find your passion and pursue it.

    For me that would be traveling. I would absolutely go to Europe, especially when you are younger. These are once in a lifetime types of adventures. Because soon or later you will settle down and then have kids and your chance to really travel goes downhill as other priorities take effect.

    So I would say go on the trip if you can, it will be well worth it. Plus, you can then tell your kids about your trips when you are older because those memories last a lifetime!

  2. mOOm says:

    I’m 42 and didn’t even try to save for “retirement” or whatever till I was 30…. I rarely had a job that paid much mostly I was a student or grad student. OTOH you have family responsibilities that I didn’t have. But I travelled etc. very frugally. Later you will likely have other responsibilities…

  3. ~Anon~ Welcome Anon! Unfortunately I can’t tell if you’ve been here before since you’re Anonymous. How about we call you Anon A?

    Your point about settling down and kids limiting future travel options is well taken, but for the fact that I’m already supporting a family. Sure I don’t have to feed and bathe them (yet), but I do have to financially and responsibly support them each and every day.

    How ironic is it that I think I’ll be MORE free to travel when I settle down and have 2 incomes to support the family??

    And, I still want to go 😉

    ~Moom~ You know, it seems to me like frugal traveling is more fulfilling, somehow. You get to see and feel more of the country if you’re not protected by the bubble of money which tends to come with odd, obligatory detachment from the masses. Or is that just the difference between personal and business travel? Two utterly different worlds, really.

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