In one of my recent popular posts, the Top 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Money, most people were in agreement with these 5 lies. In fact, frugal freelance writer Donna Freedman over at MSN Money was even inspired by my post and added her own 2 cents in an article, 10 Money Lies We Tell Ourselves. (Talk about exciting to get your ideas and thoughts noticed in big media!)
Seems everyone was in agreement about these money lies and that change is needed in order to better manage our money.
That is, except a reader who commented that he totally disagreed with Lie #2:
“I’ve been wanting it for so long, and it was a good deal, so I had to buy it.”
“I disagree very much with #2, “It’s such a good deal; I’ve wanted it so long.” I have lusted after an Airstream for decades – since I was in Kindergarten. If I found a used Airstream for $200, I would break the speed of sound to go buy it! It’s not in my monthly budget, but if I found something I “always wanted” on sale for less than 1% of it’s value, I would hate myself if I didn’t buy it! I would be happy to go hungry for a month!”
Now, I have no CLUE what the heck an AIRSTREAM is. Nor do I really need to know. (I’m sure it’s pretty cool, though! But let’s take this idea a little further, because it’s an interesting thought…..).
What’s important here is:
a. He’s always wanted it.
b. It would be a rare find and a good deal.
He’s willing to sell his soul. Oh, I mean, go hungry for a month, just to get it.
And as I mulled his comment around in my head while I was showering this morning (because you know that’s when you do you’re best thinking, right?), it made me realize that there really are all these “gray areas” of money management. And it made me question, when you’re trying to get your money straight, are there any splurge purchases that are ever truly OK?
Not Just Black and White
Think about the big financial gurus we all know and love, and their advice: stick to cash-only…..never use credit cards (heck, doesn’t Dave Ramsey say you don’t even need
credit?)…..never buy a new car……never borrow from your 401(k)……never, never, never…..always, always, always…..
And although it’s great advice, it’s very black and white.
We soooo want to do well with our money, so we try to follow their well-meaning advice, but the minute we break their rules, we feel like financial failures. Maybe that’s why some of us give up on New Year’s Resolutions so quickly because we’ve slipped into the “gray areas.” And because no one talks about the “gray areas” and gives us permission to fall into them occasionally, we feel like we’ll never be able to succeed.
Or, maybe it’s those “gray areas” that got us into a financial mess to begin with and that there’s a reason it’s so black and white.
Consider diet plans.
You’ve got diet plans that absolutely forbid you to eat certain foods (i.e. “bad” foods). Then you’ve got Weight Watchers that allows you to eat anything, so long as you stay within your daily points goals. Plans such as Weight Watchers allow people to easily slip in and out of the “gray areas” of healthy and poor eating, while not penalizing you.
Why can’t we have a budgeting strategies designed to allow us to slip into the “gray areas,” too?
The key is to manage those “gray areas” to ensure financial success.
Just like weight loss.
What Are “Gray Areas”?
The “gray areas” are simply life.
They’re the things we can’t plan, per se; things that come up that are rare, unexpectedly, maybe even once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. They’re exceptions to the rules. They’re deals….they’re experiences that may have more value than money. It could be that rare AIRSTREAM, like our guy above….it could be taking a last minute vacation to spend time with a dying uncle….. They’re moments with family and friends. They’re opportunities that, if we missed them, the cost of missing them would be greater than the cost of acquiring them.
How Do We Manage the “Gray Areas”?
Very carefully, that’s how.
Because there are so many “gray areas,” it’s easy to justify every splurge, when really, all you’re being is financially irresponsible.
For example, I was financially irresponsible the other day.
For any of you that know me, or read my other blog, Thrift Diving, you know that I LOVE me some thrift stores! It’s how I have been able to decorate my house on a shoestring budget, while at the same time, expressing my creativity and trying to build a business around my blog.
So when the thrift store lured me in on their 50% off day, which only happens on Federal holidays (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr Day), I felt that I had to go–not just for the great half-off deals, but because I consider it a “business trip.” My blog thrives on thrift stores and my experiences with them.
Did I plan to spend? Probably. But only about $20 or less on small trinkets for my craft room, which I am currently decorating.
Had I budgeted for it? No.
Did I have extra cash? Well, no.
I had $120 in my wallet, and that money was slated for food, personal, and any household things I would need until the next payday, nearly 2 weeks away (since I had just gotten paid).
Yes, I could have stayed home. But because of the rarity of the 50% off sales event, I felt I had to go.
I ended up buying this vintage Singer sewing machine for $40.
Buying this sewing machine consumed ONE THIRD of my cash, and I ended up strapped and couldn’t buy as much food later when I went grocery shopping.
In other words, I traded my weekly grocery allowance for an old, maybe-it-works-maybe-it-doesn’t-hope-I-can-make-some-money-off-of-it sewing machine, that I plan to restore and eventually sell on Craigslist or eBay. I kept monitoring my grocery cart, irritated that I had $40 less to spend on necessities.
It was not a good move financially. Not unless I can turn this machine around quickly and pull out my $40 along with a profit. But until that time, it wasn’t a good decision for my budget.
Ask Yourself These Questions Before Making a Splurge Purchase
I wish I would have had these questions at the time, before buying the sewing machine. Considering I hated having to curb my grocery list because of my purchase, it was very telling that I shouldn’t have boughtthe sewing machine. Next time, I’m going to ask myself the following questions before buying anything in the “gray areas” of spending.
- Is this item or opportunity so rare, or can I get it at any time? (If you can buy something at any time, regardless of its cost or sales price, then consider walking away; it’s not rare enough to risk blowing your budget and going hungry!)
- Will I regret walking away from this? (If not, then you weren’t meant to buy it or do it.)
- Is it going to improve the quality of my life or others’ lives? (If not, you may not need it.)
- When we the last time I splurged away from my budget? (If you’re splurging often, then you’re clearly just making bad financial decisions).
- Would I let my family go hungry if I get this? (I sure hope you wouldn’t truly let your family go hungry! But hypothetically speaking, if you would say no, then keep it movin’.)
In conclusion, there’s definitely a need for the “gray areas” of life to be defined so that we don’t always have to live by unrealistic black and white rules. Yes, we need to respect that the black and white rules exist because they are the meat and potatoes to any successful financial plan (or even weight loss plan). But managing the “gray areas” of life and not beating yourself up for the occasional splurge, is totally acceptable. And if you can find a rarity like an AIRSTREAM, then by all means, don’t let anyone stop you.
If you liked this post, consider leaving a comment and let me know what you think. I read all comments and love to hear what’s working and NOT working in your own life.
Photo courtesy Free Digital Photos