Libraries, Lotion, and Lunch

February 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm (February Challenge, Money & Spending) (, , )

It’s been about three weeks since February’s challenge began. The plan was simple: to spend money only on the necessities. No going to the movies, no shopping for new outfits, no eating out… and the list goes on.

One thing I’ve realized so far is that I’ve got it pretty good. Even without spending money, the things I needed were often available. Here are some examples.

Example #1: I’ve been dying to read Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin. But what to do when I can’t whip out my Visa and order it on Amazon? I sulked for a few days, thinking about the book I’d have to wait a whole month to read, until a strange and novel thought arose: Why don’t I just go to the library?

It suddenly occurred to me how many things are available to us free of charge- the local park can replace our backyard swingsets just as libraries can provide us with access to books, DVDs, newspapers, magazines… even computers. Hell, there’s even a category on Craigslist for “free stuff.” Don’t believe me? Go look for yourself.

Example #2: I have this obsession with body lotion. I know, weird– but I can’t go a day without it or my skin feels really… well, dry. Plus the stuff just smells so good! So imagine my horror one night when my big bottle of lotion ran out. This was during the FIRST WEEK of February. How on earth was I supposed to live without lotion until MARCH??  After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided that I’d be  fine. I could live without it. After all, that was my plan for the month: to go without.

Soon after, I remembered that I had various mini-bottles of lotion in my cabinet, and that was the end of that. How can I have so much stuff?, I thought. Even when I run out of things, it turns out I still have more.

Example #3: I forgot to bring my lunch to work one day, and just as I was wondering how I could keep myself from going hungry without breaking the vows of my challenge, I heard my coworker’s voice through the cubicle wall: “Therese, are you coming to the IIA Luncheon today?” (For all you outsiders, “IIA” stands for “The Institute of Internal Auditors.” Only the coolest of cool may be considered members.) Of course, I had no idea that there was a luncheon that day, but I did end up eating for free– PLUS I learned all about the “fraud triangle.”

I know… those are really stupid examples, which only makes me realize how good most of us have it. If “going without” means not having a book, or some lotion, or lunch for a day, then we’re pretty lucky.  We’re even luckier if we live in a country with public resources like libraries, or if we have an employer who pays for our IIA luncheons (Just sayin’).

That being said, I never claimed to be perfect. Here are a few sidenotes:

1. There were a few times when I felt it was okay (and even necessary) to break the rules. For example: (a) Birthdays and a baby shower for friends of mine. I was going to try to make meaningful handmade gifts, but I ran out of time and ended up buying gifts instead. (March challenge: effective time management?) (b) I had a few informal business meetings at coffee shops, at which time I felt it was only appropriate for me to buy a beverage. (c) I bought breakfast for my boyfriend and me. My only excuse is that I didn’t want this month’s challenge to become my excuse for him to pay all the time. I guess I probably shouldn’t have agreed to go out to eat in the first place, but… oh well. In my opinion, none of these were serious misdeeds because they all involved spending for the sake of another person.

2. Choosing the month of my birthday for this challenge= a stupid idea. I received several gift cards for my birthday. If I had any self-control, I would’ve saved them for next month, but given my self-admitted tendencies to buy “stuff”, do you really think that’s gonna happen? As it turns out, I found myself at the mall… and at my local Starbucks… redeeming the cards for shoes, articles of clothing, and a grande mocha (no whip). I told myself this was justified because I wasn’t actually spending money… but in the end, I think it was against the spirit of my challenge. (Note to self: you suck.)

Here’s the good news, though: Despite the blunders mentioned above, the month’s challenge has not been in vain! The lessons I’ve learned may have been diluted by the gift card extravaganza, but during the weeks that I did practice true spending abstinence (i.e., non-birthday weeks), my view of the world was altered, if only in some small way. Today I only wrote about one of the things I’ve noticed. I still have a week left, so you can bet I’ll check back soon to tell you about the other stuff.

Until then, smile 🙂 🙂

Therese

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Thoughts on Spending

February 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm (February Challenge, Money & Spending) (, , )

I’m not gonna lie- I like to spend money. If I really like something, I’ll usually buy it. Two-hundred dollar jeans? Sure. A four-dollar latte (almost every day)? Why not? Last month I actually bought an $88 tank top. While I don’t usually flinch at my spending, THAT scared me.

But while the financial implications of this spending are obvious, that’s not  what truly scares me. Despite these somewhat ridiculous purchases, my finances are fine- I save and invest a portion of my income every month and I don’t generally spend more than I have (thanks, Ramit!).

Here’s what scares me more: The possibility that in seeking satisfaction from the things I buy, I’m missing out on a much deeper satisfaction. The thought that when I’m in “spending mode,” I’m focusing far too much on the “materiality” of things — at the expense of what really matters.

At least once a year, I clean out my closet and get rid of all the clothes I haven’t worn for awhile. Without fail, I always end up getting rid of something that, just months or years earlier, I absolutely, no-questions-asked, *had* to have. This always makes me think- how can something go so quickly from something I couldn’t live without to something I’m throwing out? The point is, the satisfaction I get from these things doesn’t last long. The feeling I get from a new purchase quickly fades, until months later I finally realize that I never really needed it at all. What value did these shoes, or this purse, or this car truly bring to my life? More importantly, is this happening at the expense of something that truly does matter?

It’s not that material things are bad; it’s just that, at least for me, they’re overshadowing more important things. So although this month’s challenge will certainly have a financial impact, that’s not really what it’s about. It’s not about being cheap or being frugal or about not enjoying life. Instead, it’s about taking away the distractions and seeing what happens, seeing what’s under there. It’s about seeing if I can enjoy life on a different level. Call it a month long  fast if you’d like. I think that I’ll learn a lot about myself.

What about you? What do you have in your life that might be distracting you from what’s real?

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