(Yet another ‘moderation in all things’ post from Grumpy Rumblings, but it’s been a while)
Recently it seems like a lot of mommy bloggers have been reading frugal living blogs, looking at their finances, realizing they’re not saving for the future to the extent they’d like to be. Often, in the comments section without knowing anything about the bloggers’ income, net worth, or fixed costs, commenters say, “Buy that latte, spend money on that vacation, buy those clothes, get that babysitter, spend spend spend. It’s worth it.”
And maybe that’s the right answer and the blogger is brainwashed unnecessarily by reading too many ultra-frugal-living blogs. Or maybe that’s a terrible answer and the commenter makes a lot more or has way smaller fixed expenses or is in terrible financial shape. Each person’s individual situation is different. Each person has a different budget constraint. Without knowing the actual situation, it is likely to be terrible advice that will make it more difficult for the blogger to get into good financial shape or will make the blogger feel bad for trying to get into good financial shape (or both!)
Something that seems to be missing from a lot of these posts, both mommy blogging and the bigger personal finance blogs is old fashioned “make a budget advice.” With GRS gone downhill, we just don’t see these posts anymore on a regular basis. You know, the ones that talk about how much to save when you’re not planning on early retirement, where you learn to make a budget, or discuss the pros and cons of taking directly out of your paycheck instead of having a budget etc. It seems like everyone is strapped onto the frugality at all costs bandwagon or is reacting against that and suggesting that the answer is always to throw money at things. Like there’s even more bifurcation in the PF blogosphere and less moderation than there used to be. Maybe we’re just not looking in the right places, but that’s what our little corner of the internet looks like these days.
In reality, the choice isn’t “spend all the things” vs. “spend none of the things.” Spending today means you’re making trade-offs for spending tomorrow. The more you spend today, the less you will have to spend tomorrow. That’s just a reality. Those manicures or vacations or nice cars or meals out will have different trade-offs depending on your overall income and current savings/debt level. It might mean less in your will, or retiring to Florida instead of California, or your kids taking out loans for school, or having to work a few more years, or not being able to change jobs when you have a terrible boss, or having to take out a loan to fix your a/c, or fighting with your spouse, or living in your parents’ basement in the event of a job loss (which might mean that your parents have to put off their own retirements because you didn’t save), or losing your house, or not being able to afford meat after you’re unable to find work. Some of these trade-offs may be worth it, some of them may not. Your income and savings determine the trade-offs being made. You get to pick which choice in each trade-off to make based on your preferences.
On top of the explicit trade-offs with tomorrow’s spending, being in good financial shape (having retirement savings, low required monthly outflows compared to your inflows, and a nice emergency fund) just gives so much peace of mind. I hated having to worry any time the check battery light would go on or we’d have a home repair, or a reimbursement would come slowly or someone would charge us incorrectly on a bill (or worse, screw up a paycheck!). Peace of mind that it’s just money and we can afford it is worth forgoing fancy vacations for a few years to me.
I think there’s need for some more fundamentals of money management posts out there that aren’t just “don’t spend anything.” “Don’t spend anything” is necessary for some people (and, given widening income gap in the US, for far too many people) and not spending is just the natural way of being for others, but by far the majority of people reading these blogs are in the situation where they have to think about at least some of our their spending. The money won’t just take care of itself. But there’s also no reason to cut spending to the bone.
Side note: To be honest, I feel a little out of place commenting on these discussions now because we’ve made a commitment to spending more than we earn this year (since I’m at half pay this year while our expenses have doubled or tripled). We’ve been at the “don’t spend anything” point and at the “don’t worry about money” point (though not completely– we haven’t yet been able to pull the trigger on a kitchen remodel– that may take another year or two). But by far the majority of our lives (adult and otherwise) have been in that murky “you can have anything but you can’t have everything” stage where we have to think about things and make choices. Of the three stages, “make way more than your fixed expenses so you don’t have to think about things” is by far the best place to be. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of luck to get there. And, being honest, “don’t spend anything” kind of sucks, though it doesn’t suck as much as it could– the trick being that it only sucks less when you know it is temporary and for a good cause and that the future will be brighter. I’m all for temporary Dave Ramsey style saving blitzes to get into the black and on the road to investment. Mostly I’m for having done that in the past! But that’s the point, that they’re temporary and the future is brighter the earlier you do them (and now is the best time to start).
Although it seems like our last ‘moderation in all things’ post was about 3 years ago, we’ve got a bunch of them:
Why I’m in no hurry to become a millionaire (this one was written before DH’s new job, so the numbers have changed, but the ideas are still the same)
Why we pre-paid our mortgage early on, but didn’t just pre-pay it (and now we’re no longer pre-paying it, partly because we’re in a better financial situation!)
Why it’s ok to buy a new car (or a used car, whichever)
In the near future, I will collect posts on different kinds of budgets and different ways of spending/budgeting (including couples’ finances!), and I’ll point out some classic Get Rich Slowly posts that are well worth reading. If there are gaps in that list that I see, then I will try to find some time to come up with some new posts to fill in those gaps. I’ve resisted doing a 30 days to better finances series because people are so different and different things work for different people at different stages of their lives, but maybe I should dig that out and try again.
Do you have a handle on your finances? Do you balance fun spending and future spending? Are you happy with your balance? Do you feel like you need to cut back or loosen up?