Let me set the scene: it’s another usual Wednesday night in my apartment, and my housemates want to go out to dinner again. Gulp. As a professional saver, you’d think I would get used to these situations, but they can be just as annoying as ever. “It’s just a little meal out,” they say, and the sentiment is echoed by my own internal monologue. “Just go,” the little devil on my shoulder says—“what’s $20 here and there?”
This time I gave that ugly little spending devil the finger, something I’m getting better and better at, as I become more able to enjoy my growing nest egg. There’s a real satisfaction to getting a handle on your spending, and making a conscious decision to do it smartly. After all, $20 here and there can easily add up to $100-200 a month, a sum that can cut a huge chunk out of your intended savings. If you’re like me, your paycheck doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room, and getting just a little off track can be devastating to that long-term nest egg.
This careful spending might seem tightwad-ish and stressful, but in reality, smart spending can be more of a comfort than any impulse buys. Over the long-term this careful spending will create a nice little cushion for those big, unexpected costs that will happen, whether you’re prepared or not. A personal example: this year was my first year as a self-employed person, making money solely off my writing endeavors. Being young-ish and not especially tax-savvy, I wasn’t aware of the 15% self-employment tax that was waiting to eat me alive at the end of the year. Instead of having to use credit cards or beg for money from a relative, however, I had my long-term savings there to cushion me from my lack of foresight. My tax payment of nearly $1000 isn’t chump change, but I could have easily wiled away that money by eating out just a few more times a month throughout the year of 2010. Trust me, being able to breath easy about this unexpected expense is way more satisfying than that extra roll of sushi or burger here and there.
Smart spending isn’t just about having a fund for what I affectionately term “oh crap” expenses. It’s also about learning to spend wisely, and to get value out of what you pay for—something that can be incredibly satisfying. Before I began exercising careful spending, anytime I got bored or antsy I would’ve looked for ways to spend money to entertain myself. Now, instead, I look at things I’ve already invested money into, and try to get more use out of them. For example, a weekend camping trip with a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag that I’ve already paid for is way cheaper than another weekend vacation, like touring wine country or hitting up the spa. I’m learning how to really enjoy what I’ve used my hard earned cash for, rather than just looking for the initial buzz that comes with spending money.
And finally, besides the pragmatic reasons or the healthy shifts in perspective that can come with saving, there’s the genuine fun involved in finally spending your nest egg on the things you’ve been waiting for. Finally saved enough to update that aging kitchen with a new gas range and granite countertops? Go for it! Ready to spend your retirement cruising in an RV across the country? Bon voyage! And you’ll be able to actually enjoy these things, because you won’t be going into debt to get them—your money will give you more freedom as you age, and help you build a life you love. And, I can guarantee that this freedom will bring you way more satisfaction and enjoyment than anything you’re considering spending your should-be savings on right now.
Sarah Johnson is an established educational enthusiast and is known for writing on christian counseling degree programs as well as earning a college degree online.