My Spendthrift Wants to Come Out and Play

by Kevin on September 5, 2008

My wife and I like to walk in our neighborhood with our puppy, Maggie. It gives us more time to spend together and we get some mostly quiet time to talk.

As we walked together earlier this week the discussion came back to money. I try to avoid over-talking money, budgets, spreadsheets, and whatnot with her, but sometimes I can’t help it. (I have a very loving, very patient bride).

“I’m frustrated right now,” I said as the dog continued to lead us. “My spendthrift is annoyed with me.”

With an excellent explanation like that, it’s no wonder she needed additional details. “What do you mean?”

Let me point out here that I seem to have a poor grasp of English sometimes. My head moves faster than my mouth. Writing helps me get things out clearly because I can read, re-read, and re-read again to make sure I haven’t missed a word or misspelled things. And even then, I can still slip up.

“Well, it’s hard to explain,” I continued. “It’s like I have the little devil that sits on my shoulder, whispering things he shouldn’t be whispering into my ear.”

“Such as?” she added, still unclear.

“I guess I just get frustrated because when we have extra money at the end of the month, it is already ‘spent’ by the budget. It already has a name or a savings goal to be associated with.”

“I thought that was the idea.” She noted.

I sighed. “It is the point, but I still struggle with it. There’s a piece of me that wants to travel here or go buy a TV or any of a bunch of different ideas. I know that we shouldn’t, and we won’t. But the little guy still sits on my shoulder and talks to me sometimes. It’s annoying.”

The Budget vs. The Spendthrift

This has been on my mind a lot lately. We are moving forward with our savings plan. We’re generating extra free cash flow each month on top of what we’re expecting. That extra money goes straight into the savings plan — toward a new car, toward possible future moving expenses — to push toward those goals.

It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. But the little spendthrift inside me — inside all of us — wants to convince me that it’s okay to go blow money on things I don’t need.

It’s the battle of stuff. It’s the battle of today versus sometime in the future. I could get a 46″ LCD TV and upgrade our satelite feed to high definition. Or I can save the money for something else that we need in the future.

It’s not an easy battle. You’ve got to keep up your defenses all of the time. Self-control is required. Don’t put it on the credit card if you don’t plan to pay it off. Don’t spend money you don’t have.

Staying the Course

That’s the beautiful thing about having a budget. Income – expenses = free cash flow. Free cash flow = savings, investing, and debt repayment. When additional unexpected income comes in, that increases free cash flow automatically. That extra free cash flow is then applied to those savings, investing, and debt repayment goals. It eliminates a lot of thinking behind “Oooo, an extra $300 this month. Time for a steak dinner!”

We already give ourselves a set percentage of income each month. We have spending money. We save up for weekend trips and vacations separately. Technically, most of our needs are covered through our savings already. I shouldn’t need to go spend money. Yet the tug remains — pulling on my wallet every so often.

I’d love to hear some comments on how people have struggled and hopefully overcome this. Leave a comment and share with everyone.

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LivingAlmostLarge September 5, 2008 at 11:41 am

I don’t overcome it. I spend it. I have a budget, and above and beyond money is for fun. Sure I could spend my life saving but for what? What is the point of saving and saving and saving?

Life needs to be lived along the way. If you are paying off debt, then YES pay off debt. But if you are living a modest lifestyle, saving for retirement, paying your reasonable mortgage, saving already for a car, then it’s fine.

Now if you want a luxury car or a much nicer car or home than you are currently saving for DO IT! Example you are saving $10k for a car but to be really happy you need $20k. Then there is your spending the extra $10k for the car.

But if you are happy with your $10k car, that $10k could go to buying newer furniture, making your house more appealing to you, upgrading your satellite, or eating out.

By my reckoning we’re saving about 50% of our income and living on about 25% or less. Between retirement and my DH’s tuition most of our money is gone before we see it. Then we have our fixed bills.

But we have our luxuries. We have cable, eating out and vacationing. We could cut all three and be living super sparsely, but my DH would nto be happy. Maybe your wife is, but I am not going to make him live like that when he makes a 6 figure income.

Life is about choices. There is nothing wrong with spending money. I’m sick and tired of PF bloggers always trying to pinch pennies. I am frugal, but I spend money wisely.

So choose where the money goes? To today’s spending, not a wrong decision, or to tomorrows saving?

Deb September 6, 2008 at 12:14 am

I am going to try to say it differently from the above commenter. Choosing to live on a budget is just as much about having money and being able to live today as it is about having money and being able to live tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. The PF seminar leader nearly 20 years ago made a point over and over that the individuals who did not allow themselves a discretionary expense kitty of at least a few dollars a week were most at risk for failing at their budget and/or blowing it catastrophically.

Life is not about drudgery. The tone of this post (intended or not) came across as “if it’s fun, or exciting, or it gives me pleasure then I have to beat it out of my system because it can’t be good for me or my goals or my system.” Something seems out of balance.

Scott @ The Passive Dad September 6, 2008 at 11:26 pm

When I read that you have a new puppy, I had a flashback of life when my wife and I were dinks. We were both making great money and saving 30% and we also enjoyed spending time with our puppy. We spoiled our puppy with toys almost weekly. He was like our first child and I’d stop by the store every Friday evening and pick him out a treat or fun item for $10. This $10 turned into $40 or more a month on our puppy, just for toys. Bottom line, we loved having fun and since I met our goal of 30% savings we enjoyed spending money on him. Could we have saved 31%, sure, but we had set aside money for these expenses.
If you’ve met your savings goals for the year, you should have some fun and enjoy your hard work. Don’t go out and buy a new car, but a few treat for the dog shouldn’t break your budget:)

Kevin September 7, 2008 at 9:24 pm

@LAL and Deb: I may have not made my point clear, I guess.

We do have a discretionary fund. We each get a cut of our total monthly income to spend as we see fit. I can do whatever I want with it, she can do whatever she wants with hers. She can buy purses and shoes, I can buy car and computer parts.

We definitely aren’t beating all the fun out of our system. But if we’ve got extra money on top of that and we don’t really see a need to spend it, then we save it.

I am a firm believer in “live today like no one else will, so tomorrow you can live like no one else can.”

@Scott: Believe me, I think we spend more than enough on dog toys… 😀

Also, I should point out that my income is about half salary, half commission… so saving the extra money can help me if I have a bad month or two.

LivingAlmostLarge September 7, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Heck no, you can’t take it with you! I won’t live like no one else will.

I hope you read my post about trading up. My DH and I lived far too long like poor, broke students, enough. We’re not quite ready to trade up for everything, but heck we don’t need to use inherited pots and pans anymore. We CAN buy new stuff. We CAN buy a new tv, couch, etc. We don’t need free stuff we picked up off the side of the road.

Damn it we deserve it. I’m not saying that it’s all the time. And we traded up slowly. We got a tv one year, then a couch the next year, and this year a new mattress.

So yes we didn’t need it but we deserved it. And it was a huge leap to go from free crap to brand new stuff. Stuff that was 1000% improvement. How do you trade in a $100 mattress/boxspring set to a $750? Free couch to $1000 couch? free pots and pans to $300 set? $300 tv to $1000 tv?

Geez that’s true luxury. Yes we drive our crummy cars, but I can’t complain. I have so much stuff that I dreamed about when we were broke! I slept without a bed for 2 years.

I have cable for 3 years after almost 10 years without. I have HD for 1 year after 9 years without. Geez. My life is good.

Kevin September 14, 2008 at 10:09 pm

@LAL: Different life views, I suppose. There is a fine line between spending it now and spending it later. There is risk you don’t make it to “later”, I’ll admit that.

Then again we all assume everything is going to be okay tomorrow. What if you are in wreck, but aren’t killed? Medical bills piling up. Income down severely. I’d rather have the extra money than the new couch.

Balance is key, definitely.

Slinky September 15, 2008 at 9:51 am

My fiancee uses a percentage for any windfalls. X% for spending, Y% for savings, and Z% for paying down debt.

I don’t really have a set system. Sometimes the extra in one category covers the deficit in another, sometimes it goes towards a goal and sometimes it goes towards an item that I’ve wanted for a while but never quite found the money for.

I was just looking at my budget this morning, and I have an extra $50. I’m debating if I should put it towards one of my goals or save it towards the file cabinet that I want or a new pair of jeans (for work). I often look at these choices by debating which would improve my quality of life more. Considering the options from that perspective, I’m leaning towards the file cabinet. The giant pile of papers on my desk makes me seriously unhappy.

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