The Wonderful Rewards of Not Spending

3 06 2010

Sarah and I have a lot of similar ideas when it comes to personal finance.

We both believe in saving for the future.

We both believe in spending far less than we earn.

Here’s a tricky one, though. We don’t mind spending on the things we value, but we both cut down hard on the things that don’t matter.

What’s tricky about it? What happens when we differ in opinion on the things that matter?

I’ll give you an example. Sarah loves chocolate. She is passionate about high-quality dark chocolate. She has a few brands that she buys regularly and when she does, she’ll slowly eat pieces off of a bar of it, savoring each bite and making it last for several days.

I know how much she loves it and I don’t mind a bit if she occasionally buys a bar of the good stuff.

On the other hand, she completely sees it as a splurge and often makes herself feel guilty about spending the money on a bar of high-end chocolate (think $5-10 in price).

So the strangest thing happens when we happen to be near a chocolatier. She’ll go in, inspect the wares on offer, and convince herself not to buy (though she really wants a bar). At the same time, I completely don’t mind if she gets a bar of it – and I do see how much she enjoys it.

So we’ll end up having a polite disagreement, each of us arguing the opposite of what we would naturally want. I’ll encourage her to get a bar of chocolate and she’ll state the opposite viewpoint, arguing that $9 is too much to spend for just chocolate.

We tend to do the same thing but in the opposite way in bookstores. I’ll see a title that I want to read, but I’ll talk myself out of it due to the price. If I haven’t picked up a book in a while, Sarah will actually encourage me to pick it up.

Our usual resolution to these “conflicts” is not to buy. Instead, it winds up just being someting of an affirmation that we care about each other when I argue that she should get chocolate or she argues that I should get a book.

What’s the lesson here? You can find a lot of value in not buying things. So many times, people see not buying something as simply having nothing.

The truth is that not buying is often something in itself. It’s a bit of self-esteem from your willpower. It’s the promise of using that money for something strongly life-affirming in the future. It’s packaged with a bit of good feeling that your partner wants you to be happy.

And it increases the sweetness of the splurge later on. Sometimes, I will buy that book, and because I’m not buying a book every week (or even every month), my enjoyment of that book is much higher. Sometimes, Sarah will go ahead and get that piece of chocolate, and the delicate bitterness of the deep dark cacao spreads across her tongue with the glory of the return of a long-absent but much loved queen.



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