Thursday, October 23, 2008

Confession Time: What We Save For

I've mentioned before that paying off the remaining principle on our home mortgage is my primary financial goal. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you've probably also gotten the sense that I'm a foodie. Good food is a huge part of what makes life enjoyable for me. And as many personal finance bloggers will tell you, you have to live life too, as well as do the right thing with your money. Sometimes that means spending some money on what you love.

Frugality is often seen as penny-pinching misery and an endless parade of joyless deprivation by those who don't practice it. I would argue that frugality is all about clearly identifying your priorities in life, and then arranging your finances to best serve those priorities. In our case, we want the mortgage gone so that we have more assurance we'll be able to go on eating good food in peace well into old age. I'm not kidding. My golden visions of the future revolve around meals cooked in a home we own outright with lots of home grown, top-quality produce, and a few luxury ingredients we can't produce ourselves.

This week we made our annual daytrip into Manhattan, taking a two-hour bus ride each way. We made our gourmet rounds to Zabar's, Neuhaus Chocolates, Murray's Cheese shop, Kalustyan's spice bazaar, and visited a little pub where my husband enjoys draft beers. We also dropped a wad for an epic meal at an astonishingly good and expensive sushi restaurant. We tried to get into the Morgan Library for a dose of book fetishism, but we got there too late, so it was an all foodie day. We didn't set a price cap to this excursion. I was afraid to look at the total damage on our credit card statement, but inevitably I had to. It came to more than $450 including transportation costs (no taxi rides though). Ouch.

For that money we got many foods that we know and love well, and which are not available to us in our immediate area. The cheeses we bought were all new discoveries made in a shop that allows us to taste everything before buying. We brought home seven different varieties, and rejected as many others. From Kalustyan's we brought home cooking and baking ingredients we'll use for many months. We did pick up a few things that we'll use as stocking stuffers for family members, but mostly we shopped for ourselves.

I wanted to include an honest accounting of our trip, in the interest of self-disclosure. Frugality is important to me, and I take a lot of measures to save small amounts of money here and there every single day. If I figured out how many loads of laundry I'd have to hang to dry to save the amount we blew in one day in Manhattan, it would probably depress me. But gourmet goodies truly make us happy. This is an authentic and self-motivated pleasure for us, not something we're goaded into by marketing. And we'll appreciate our purchases as we savor them over the next several weeks and months. In my book, this was a justifiable occasional expenditure. I wouldn't do it every month, but once a year seems reasonable.

So if there's something you truly love that costs a good deal of money, don't let anyone tell you that occasionally indulging in it is incompatible with a frugal lifestyle. The key is in evaluating whether spending your money on that ephemeral indulgence balances out with a net increase in your long term happiness. A lifestyle of week-in, week-out frugality is what allows us this very occasional splurge without jeopardizing our overall major goal, which is eliminating our debt. So we are very mindful that we earned this splurge, rather than simply telling ourselves that "we deserve it" without thinking through the implications. That money might have gone to our extra principle payment next month, but our day-to-day happiness on our way to our happy golden future is important to us too. We pay our credit card balance off in full each month, so this treat will not contribute to revolving debt or cost us anything extra in interest payments.

What do you scrimp and save for?


Claire said...

I think that's great that you do that. Right now, though we do scrimp and save, it mostly just goes into savings. (We're kind of at a financial turning point, so we're not paying off debt yet, or investing, or anything like that - just keeping it.) But I can see, someday, doing something like this. I wouldn't do it for food though...I might do it for clothes!

BTW, I LOVE your tutorial on fingerless gloves. I am absolutely making my husband a pair of those for Christmas, and maybe on for myself. Great idea!

Nicole H. said...

I just landed on your blog from your comments at The Simple Dollar. I'm enjoying it very much.

I don't make much money, but I'm saving for vacations to visit my family all over the U.S. I went to a family reunion this past summer and I don't know if I can wait another 5-10 years to see everyone again :)

Kate said...

Claire, I'm so pleased to hear that you're trying out the fingerless gloves. I hope it works out well for you. Please let me know.

Nicole, thanks for stopping by and letting me know you like my blog. Saving to visit family is a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe you could encourage them to visit you too sometimes, so as to share the expenses around.