I was talking to my…

I was talking to my friend Venu the other day about how one of the reasons we both have trouble living within our budgets is that on some level, we believe we deserve the best of everything. Which is, obviously, ridiculous. I mean, after all, there are always richer people than you who have better versions of stuff, whatever the stuff is that you want. But let me give you a few examples.

We were talking about blenders, and how while it's totally reasonable and within our budgets to buy a blender to make smoothies (healthy! good for us!) in the morning, we don't really want to buy the $25-$40 blender we can afford. We want the $400 Vitamix, because everyone (everyone!) seems to agree that that one is just the best. And it's easy to justify wanting it, because there are good reasons why it's better. Maybe it breaks down less often. Maybe it's faster (and we're busy people, aren't we?). Maybe it's quieter. There are reasons. But those reasons are not really sufficient to compensate for the fact that we (or at least I) can't actually afford a $400 blender.

Example two is on a much smaller scale. Tin foil. I was using tin foil this morning (to heat up some pakoras to take to my students for last class today), and noticed that Kevin had bought the drugstore generic brand, rather than Reynolds Wrap, and I was annoyed. The foil itself was actually fine, but the box had torn already, because it was flimsy, and that made it harder to tear the foil off, and I should go get some masking tape and patch up the box when I get a chance, but I'm busy, right? And why couldn't he spend the extra buck for the Reynolds Wrap, and then I wouldn't be dealing with this issue at five in the morning? It's just a dollar! We can afford a dollar! But of course, buying the brand name instead of the generic for every single drug store / grocery store purchase adds up to a lot of dollars very fast, and that does impact our budget, I must reluctantly admit. (And some of the generics really are just as good as the brand names. Ibuprofen instead of Advil, for instance -- all you're paying for is a candy coating. Take your medicine like a grown-up, I tell myself.)

So here's my rough guideline on dealing with this. It's a couple of steps:

a) Acknowledge that there will always be nicer things you can't afford. Somewhere, some rich guy has custom tin foil hand-crafted by artisans, which is then applied to his frozen pakoras by a fleet of carefully selected servants. I'm imagining someone Jeeves-like here, laying out the pakoras with tender, loving hands.

b) Given the truth of a, then we need to get rid of this weird idea that we somehow 'deserve' the best version. It's an impossible goal. Instead, we need to rationally consider the purchase options, and decide which is the best version that a) actually fills our needs, and b) that we can afford.

c) And given all of that, sometimes, what we can afford isn't enough to fill our need. Maybe it does cause an undue amount of irritation to deal with the mediocre tinfoil, just because I, personally, have an issue with mediocre tinfoil. (Many other people wouldn't even notice, one way or the other.) Let us not even talk of mediocre plastic wrap, and all the grief it can cause! In those cases (which shouldn't be EVERY case), it is reasonable to buy the more expensive version.

d) In the case of the Vitamix and other similarly pricy versions, deciding that in this instance, you really will be unhappy unless you get the best, may mean that you have to do without for a few months until you can save up and afford the best. That's okay, as long as you thoughtfully make that calculation and decide that yes, I'd rather do without a blender for six months (I will just eat a lot of cut up fruit and kale salads instead!) and set aside $50 / month until I can afford the Vitamix. (This is not meant to be an ad for Vitamix. I actually don't make morning smoothies myself, and have no interest in buying this product! Just an example.)

I know, some of this is just obvious to a lot of you. Some of you are naturally fiscally responsible, and understand on a deep level that of course you can't just buy things you can't afford, just because you want them and feel like you deserve them. (Maybe you deserve them because you were raised rich. Maybe your current life sucks and you are miserable and you feel that you ought to be able to console yourself with shopping at least. Maybe everyone deserves nice things. It doesn't really matter why you feel this way.)

Buying only what you can afford is an obvious lesson. But it's a hard one for me, personally (says the girl who once managed to run up $40,000 in credit card debt and lived for years in a quiet, miserable panic about it -- thankfully all paid off now, whew!). These are bad financial habits I need to be vigilant about. Ideally while also enjoying life and enjoying shopping and enjoying my consumer purchases. :-)

Anyway, hope this helps a bit. You can have nice things. Just not the nicest ones, not all the time, and not immediately.

Now I'm off to buy another book on my Kindle. Because instant gratification, it's a seductive thing. Thankfully, $5.50 is within my book-buying budget for the month!

3 thoughts on “I was talking to my…”

  1. Indeed. I have managed (in quiet desperation) for years without my own airplane. But I don’t even dream of having my own personal jet.

  2. The “deserve” thing is really interesting; that’s just not something I feel at all, at least not consciously in those terms.

    I think of myself as a gamer, so for me the issue is just what’s the best way to use your resources. If the $400 blender will make you $800 happier, that’s a great deal! You should totally do that! So that doesn’t always work out either, and is not the same as being financially responsible. :^) But it does often align well with it, e.g. maxing out your retirement account is such an incredibly good deal that it trumps anything that isn’t really, really important.

  3. would add to b, getting rid of the idea that we ‘deserve’ the best: acknowledging what privilege such may reflect…so not jsut getting rid of this idea because it isn’t possible, but because it’s really not healthy. I guess I disagree with what you say further down about it not mattering why one feels that way- I think it matters a lot, so that not only can we control the expression of these desires, but also the materialistic compulsions themselves. Just my thoughts

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