Thursday, July 15, 2010

Budgeting Happiness

Now that I'm making more of an effort to get my finances under control (brown bagging it to lunch instead of eating out, downgrading my cable, etc.), I've found myself in quandary after quandary when it comes to pinching pennies. There are just some things I feel I DESERVE! Sure, I could polish my own stubby fingernails and skip the $30 full set offered at the shop sitting so teasingly close to my office but the fact of the matter is, I LIKE manicured nails. And not only that, I like the experience of getting them manicured; everything from carving out the time in my generally hectic life to actually make it in, sitting in a comfy chair for an hour while mind numbing TV plays on a flat screen overhead, having my nails fussed over and groomed by someone who has been trained in the art of doing so and of course, the finished product. When my nails are freshly done, I seem to walk taller, feel more confident, actually behave more like a woman wielding her share of power in the world. So, while the budget takes a hit, the value of the service far exceeds the price, in my mind anyway. Some things are just not worth doing without in the name of saving a few bucks.

Imagine my delight when I flipped open this month's issue of O Magazine (another purchase that I could probably do without but refuse to) and discovered an article on exactly this subject. In The Joy Dividend, Martha Beck waxes poetic about her love for ridiculously priced coffee beverages from a little international company that will remain nameless. In an effort to save, she invested in one of those at-home numbers and now watches it collect dust as she heads out for a "mochaspressomacchiatoccino." She'd rather fork over the cash in the coffee shop than fuss with a machine at home. The psychic value of an item (or experience) can far exceed the actual value and its up to the individual to make that determination. Here's a simple matrix to go by:

  1. Top Dollar Items: "I really NEED it and I really LOVE it."
  2. Bottom Dollar Items: "I really NEED it but I don't really LOVE it."
  3. Remaining Dollar Items: "I don't really NEED it but I really LOVE it."
  4. No Dollar Items: "I don't really NEED it and I don't really LOVE it."
Basically, categories one and two are needed items so they must be budgeting for accordingly. Spend top dollar only on things you both need AND love and by love, Martha means that soul stroking, mind easing, heart racing kind of love that adds value to your well-being. I need a cell phone and having one with web capabilities and all the bells and whistles is important to me so I spent top dollar to be sure I had a phone that met my needs and that I absolutely love.

Spend bottom dollar on the things you must have but don't really care about one way or another. Buy generic, clip coupons, seek out sale and clearance items, whatever you need to do to spend as little as possible on necessities. That frees up cash for category three.

Once those things are out of the way, then you're free to go after the things you don't necessarily need but absolutely love, my bi-weekly manicures for example. And category four is important primarily as a reminder. If you don't need it and you don't love it enough to marry it, put it down and back away. Purchases like this--mindless, heat of the moment grabs--are what cause us to have packed closets full of clothes we never wear, shoes still in boxes, trinkets collecting dust somewhere. Hoarders have to start somewhere you know!

Its not just about stuff either. Concert tickets to that once in a lifetime show. A dream vacation after a particularly rough year. Experiences up the joy quotient as well. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of one of my favorite books, Eat Pray Love, talks fervently about her love for travel as one might describe their love for a child. Liz didn't mind taking odd jobs, waiting tables, etc. just to be able to save money to take months long jaunts around the globe. What she made from those odd jobs was far greater than any salary a corporate career could offer. Those funds bought freedom, exploration, adventure. See, there's that psychic value thing again.

Once you get to a point where you realize what you must have, what you absolutely love and what you can definitely live without, a whole new type of financial game plan takes shape. Its not just about saving a few dollars here or there or making random purchases and dealing with the guilt afterward. When you strike that delicate balance, you can turn those hard earned dollars into to real, soul nurturing purchases while keeping the lights on at the same time!

(Ok, before I go, let me invite you to laugh until you cry at this hilarious email exchange.)


SociologistTina said...

Gee, I'm so poor that I simply don't have these problems-- nor have I in the past. I guess should consider myself lucky.... Gee, why can't I throw my entire into my feeling of good fortune?!?

citygal said...

Girl, I'm attempting (once again) to follow a budget. I read Catey Hill's book, "Shoo, Jimmy Choo" and I've found it so helpful. When I'm teaching, I must get a manicure once a makes me feel professional and my students actually notice if my nails aren't neatly painted. I guess it comes down to whaty you NEED that makes you happy (within reason) and what you WANT that makes you happy. I'd definitely forego a Friday night happy hour if it meant getting a manicure instead. I mean, I can easily buy a bottle of wine for $5 and have girlfriends over for dinner versus spending $25at an overpriced bar while cheesey Wall Street types hit on me ;)

Mrs Soup said...

It's so important to realize what you find important in your life. What makes you feel a healthier person and enjoy life. What's the point of saving if you can't enjoy? The balance is so important.

Chrissi Jenkins said...

I read the new issue of "O" too! LOVED IT and love your blog! :)

J-Diggety said...

I LOVE this post! In fact, I'm sending a couple friends the link to it, and tweeting about it because I think it is so right on the money... pun intended ;)

Marketing Gurl said...

I really need to do this to which is why this is such and amazing post. I totally would agree...thanks for sharing the tips.

Sara said...

it is all about priorities... i adore the finer things in life like manicures, designer shoes, and lattes. on the flip side- i do not have the latest i-gadget, i learned how to cook delicious food at home, and i have a savings account that would cushion me to be jobless for 6-9 months if i was laid off. i honestly think that very few people can have *everything*... it's just about figuring out what your "thing" is. if manicures is one of the things you work *for* than go for it!

E said...

Very true. I to have been trying to brown bag for lunch and cut down on spending. I like the idea of a few splurges though :) Think we all need to those to remain sane!

TIERAsta said...

Ever since the newspaper I worked for closed down, I've been trying to be a better budgeter... I'm just thankful that I had another job.

I've been grocery shopping more, rather than eating out... I cancelled my gym membership and choose outdoor workouts... And I've given up on manis/pedis too!