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Changing my relationship to money, and 5 of my guiltless purchases

Please note: Articles about spending money always come from a certain context, and often come from a certain place of privilege. Mine is no different. My privilege is that I’m a white male who grew up in a middle class home, with a parent who had a full-time, well-paying job. This absolutely shaped my views on spending, and further enabled my consequent actions and insights on spending as I grew up, and today. I acknowledge that not everyone will be financially able to share these views in practice, and that the world is totally fucked that some people have to fight to make ends meet while others can live so extravagantly and ignorantly. So, please read this post with that awareness. 🙂

This post is about how I’ve changed (and still am changing) my relationship to money. I’m a cautious spender by nature, and it comes at the cost of really enjoying life, or even really taking care of myself.

I wanted to share two insights that helped me re-evaluate my relationship with money, and five things I’m always going to spend money on guiltlessly because of it.

Money is WEIRD

Don’t you think?

Firstly, it’s literally a piece of paper or a little circle of metal that decides whether or not someone can eat, where someone can sleep, and the level of access they are given to various kinds of services. Like??? It’s paper, it has no value other than what we have decided. It’s not real beyond what we’ve agreed.

Secondly, what started as a way for us to be able to exchange value more easily with each other (an arguably brilliant invention), has become an almost central part of how we view our purpose on earth. Go to school, get a high-paying job, buy a house and a car, support a family, yada yada yada.

For many people, money has turned into more than simply a tool for living; it’s turned into a reason for living.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I simply wanted to point out how fucking strange money is, and to call into question how we treat it.

And although I acknowledge that money is a necessary part of life — we need it to buy groceries, pay for rent, travel, decorate our bodies, take care of ourselves, etc. — I’ve become really critical of my own relationship with money. And I’d like to challenge you to do the same. Just for a moment…

Saving only works if you eventually spend it

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been a cautious spender and an eager saver. It sounds good in theory, but it’s added lots of stress and mediocrity to my life. And, often unnecessarily so:

I’d go to three grocery stores to save a little on chickpeas here, and save a little on soy milk there; I’d buy most of my electronics second hand, with scratches or shorter life-spans; I’d opt to see friends at cheaper places when we’d hang out, with less exciting experiences; I’d wait months to buy clothes I wanted or needed, hoping they’d go on sale, only to find them in the wrong sizes later on, and then buying something mediocre at the original price anyway…

There are so many examples of this — and to what end? I never got to spend the money I saved, because I kept living for a future event. And, the thing about future events, you see, is that they never become the present.

I kept saving for a future “thing”, but ended up treating each future thing that came around as another opportunity to save. I was chasing a carrot, tied to a stick, tied to my back. Endlessly running after a moving target.

What scares me most about this is that I’ve probably missed out on really valuable, really worthwhile, or really exciting experiences. That time I took my friend for a coffee down the road, instead of treating the both of us to a Go-Kart session, is a lost chance to bond over a new experience. And the time I decided to get a free fitness app, as opposed to getting a subscription to a well-reviewed and professionally-tested one, I probably lost out on an opportunity to enjoy a really good workout, and build a habit because of it.

Realising that sparked me to change how I view money and cost, and it’s really improved my quality of life by a non-trivial amount.

Here’s how, as well as five things I’ll always spend money on guiltlessly.

Developing a different understanding of what things “cost”, and deciding what matters

The two things that have helped me shift my perspective on spending are how I understand the “cost” of something, and deciding what matters to me.

Understanding what something “costs”

The price of something is only a third of the equation. Time cost and cost-over-time are the other two thirds, and I think they’re far more important to consider.

Time cost is about figuring out the time I’m spending on buying this thing. In other words, how much time would it take me to find something cheaper. If I drive 45 minutes to buy something that’s 5% cheaper, have I really saved any money?

The way I try to think about this is how much I could have earned in those 45 minutes, if I didn’t spend it on driving. If I earn R550 an hour, then driving 45 minutes to save R100 is just not worth it.

I’d rather save time, which I can’t earn back, and spend money that I can, three times over.

Cost-over-time is a simple equation to figure out whether an upfront cost actually costs as much as I think. For example, a new laptop might cost R25000. That’s a lot of money, until I think about it over its estimated lifespan: If it lasts me 3 years, I’m actually only paying ±R700 per month. I earn more than that per month, so it’s actually pretty affordable. Plus, having it will likely mean I can make more money, which means it ends up paying for itself.

Deciding what matters to me

Another important thing, one which I took far too long to spend intentional time figuring out, is deciding what matters to me. What do I really care about, and what would I gladly spend money on to make me happier, and to have more fun?

For example, exercise is one of my pillars, so it goes without saying that spending money on a gym contract, gym equipment, entering races, etc., will all be immensely beneficial to my overall wellbeing. I could even argue that spending that money will give me more energy and motivation for everything else I do, enabling me to perform well at work and potentially get more clients…

But my point here is that investing into the cornerstones of what makes me happy is worth every cent. This is not to say that one should blow everything on parties and alcohol and shopping… Yes, if those things make you happy, by all means spend money on them. But the thing that sets frivolous spending apart from spending money on things that matter to you is intentionality. Be mindful, know why you’re spending, and know what you’re trading off.

These two insights together help me because they enable me to live for my present self a little more, and worry less about whether I’ll have enough money for a future event I don’t even know about yet.

Again, don’t blow your money on things that make you happy now, and not give a shit about tomorrow because # LiveForThePresentMoment. No. I’m not talking about nihilism.

Rather, by knowing what matters to me, and having a more complete idea of what something costs me, I can spend money on things knowing that I’m investing into myself now, into my future as well.

I’m not thinking about tomorrow at the expense of my present self; I’m thinking about today at the benefit of tomorrow. It’s a critically important difference.

So, here are five things I’ve learned to spend money on relatively guiltlessly. I’m obviously not completely reckless or stupid about spending money, but I worry less about whether or not I should spend that money, and I worry less about spending ages (excuse the pun) trying to find the cheapest option.

I’ve decided these things matter enough to me to find what I will enjoy the most, what works the best, and what will make me happiest.

5 things I’ll always spend money on, guiltlessly

Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation have been such powerful habits in my life. I bought a Headspace subscription because, for one thing, buying it makes me feel more compelled to actually use it. But it also is a way to signal to myself that this matters, and that I should take it seriously.

I also invest into meditation by setting up a meditation space, and making it comfortable by buying candles and incense and plants. I also want to get a zaful for myself, so I have a comfortable space to sit. These are worthwhile purchases for me, because they make me more excited to sit down and meditate.

For now, though, Headspace has already helped so much: I get access to really great courses, and the SleepCasts are literally witchcraft. If I’m struggling to fall asleep, I put one on and I’m out in a matter of minutes.

Speaking of sleep…

Things that help me sleep better

I can’t expect my body and my mind to do all the wonderful things I want them to do, if I don’t treat them well. And sleep is a key part of treating them well not so much because of how well I sleep, but because of how well I wake up.

Unless you’ve experienced it, I can’t actually explain the difference that good quality “sleep things” can make to your time awake. If you’ve ever spent a night with good quality sheets, on a good quality mattress, and with a good quality pillow (personally, I love the latex Tempur pillows — even though mine was a gift :P), you’ll know how different you feel when you wake up. It’s insane.

Those things are a little pricey upfront, but the cost-over-time — as well as how much better I sleep and wake up — makes them a no-brainer for me. Bedding splurge? Sign me up!

Good food stuff

Another key part of looking after my body and my mind is feeding it the right stuff.

Did you know that the brain uses up around25% of the body’s total energy expenditure? It’s a hefty machine we’ve got, and it needs high quality fuel to be able to do its thang.

Eating better has been a key focus for me, and part of that is upping my grocery budget and buying food that’s a) fresh, b) varied, and c) as unprocessed as possible. It also means spending money on cookware, like a steamer, or a microwave, or even a dishwasher, that makes cooking more fun, that enables me to cook things that actually do my body a favour, and that enables me to meal prep and not be “too busy” to cook.

(New) Experiences

I will always value an experience over a material thing. The latter often just gathers dust, while the former matures in memory.

Any experience is worth the money to me, be it going on a road trip, travelling somewhere, going to the movies, buying a new game, or eating at a nice restaurant. They enable me to get so much more out of life. I can meet new people, I can relax, I can learn new things, I can have fun. Those are all things that are worth the world to me.

Moreover, spending money on new experiences is even better. I love finding things I haven’t tried before, because neither I nor they will be around forever, and I’m not that keen on waiting for the regret I’ll feel when either of us ain’t there anymore, without having met.

The feeling, the lessons, the memories, the exposure, the insights in any experience — old or new — cannot be too expensive for me. I may need to wait a month to do some things (travelling, or sky-diving, for example), but I’m up for spending that money if there’s an experience I get to have.

Time spent with people that matter

I feel sad that I’ve lost out on cool experiences because I’ve tried to save money, but I’m even sadder when those experiences could have been with friends, family, or interesting strangers. That quality time with another human being is irreplaceable.

Nowadays, if someone matters to me, then money is not even a factor. I would hands-down rather spend a lot of money and get to go skiing with someone I care about, than save a little and go to the cheapest café we can find.

Now, I’m saying cheap experiences aren’t worth it. But it’s the motivation that matters: Am I going here because it’s cheap, or because I think it’s going to offer the most engaging, exciting, and valuable experience for me and this other person?

The same applies to paying for people. If someone can’t spend time with me because they don’t have the financial means to, then I will gladly pay for the both of us. Life is simply too short to count change on the relationships we value. I’ve decided it matters to me, and so I’m going to invest in those relationships by choosing what we do based on what we want, and not on what’s the most affordable.

So, my challenge to you is simple: Decide what matters to you, question your motivations behind your spending, and give yourself the permission to live a little.

Originally published at http://dothedailywork.com on May 27, 2021.

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