“How much is it? Actually, wait, you know what, just put it in the cart.”
After the words came out of my mouth, my sister looked at me like I had grown another head. We both come from a family of famed frugality, so she wondered what had gotten into me.
May was my anti-frugal, treat yo’self, lavish spending month. In a previous post, I wrote about how I have hit CoastFI– the net worth it takes to retire comfortably at a normal retirement age. All I need to do now is to cover my cost of living and leave my portfolio alone, and my retirement is set.
This means I can spend all of my salary if I wanted to and still have a reasonable safety net. So I decided to experiment last month: don’t worry about the price of anything. I bought things that struck my fancy in the window, I picked up bouquets of flowers to bring home, and I put groceries in the cart without checking the price tag.
This is extremely different to how I usually operate (and obviously not a privilege everyone can afford). Over the years I have written about frugal adventures in other countries, my low grocery spending, and how I furnished my apartment with secondhand goods. I usually save 75-85% of my paycheck after tax. This is the first time I’ve ever not saved a penny.
Treat Yourself and Date Yourself
At the end of every episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race, Rupaul declares: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” While I think the sentiment is nice, even though I think you can love others without totally accepting yourself, I have my own version. “When you love yourself, you set a standard for how you want to be loved.”
Whether you are single or in a relationship, I think it’s important for everyone to date themselves. For me, that starts with figuring out how to treat myself well. I want to ‘date myself’ and have higher standards for how to be treated. If I buy myself flowers every week, I’m less likely to be impressed when someone hands me a weed they picked off of the street. Also, I can be less dependent on others for my own happiness.
After deciding I would treat myself better this month, I went for a walk along the main street. I passed one store window 3 times and admired the same pair of socks. Each time, I thought to myself, “Those would make a great gift for someone.” Dark blue with the classic Dutch oma fiets in yellow caught my eyes every time. It wasn’t until the third time that I realized I was the one admiring the socks and I could get them as a gift for myself! The funny thing is that the €8 price tag seemed fine to spend on someone else, but I still felt like it was a lot to spend on just me.
I made it my mission to buy myself things simply because I like them. I live in a city famous for its tulips, so I purchased myself flowers every week. I also bought nice blankets for my sofa, a salt lamp for ambiance, and a cute ceramic Amsterdam house tealight. Granted, these are all little things with relatively low price tags (except for the €200 Sonos One SL speaker for my living room). However, one of the big lessons of personal finance is that all of these little things add up, and in the future the value of your money will be much greater than the fleeting pleasure of the “thing” you just bought. Yet I’m at a different point in my financial journey where saving is not as critical.
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Over the years I’ve gotten good at saying no. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to think to myself: you don’t need that. Each little purchase I’ve made last month was another vote to say you are worthy of this. I can take a little longer and wonder, am I saying ‘no’ for a good reason (the environment, I don’t need it, etc.) or just because ‘no’ is my default? Last month was an intentional effort to treat myself how I treat others, and say ‘yes’ more often.
Here are some examples of ways I treated myself guilt-free:
- I ordered delivered food several times, from Surinamese to sushi
- Bought jewellery at a Maker’s Market
- Signed up for a gym membership
- Picked up flowers every week
- Stopped for treats at the bakery around the corner, at the train station, and at street markets
- Purchased supplies to foster a cat
- Bought books that struck my fancy
- Ordered groceries delivered
- Travelled on the weekends without spending a lot of time finding the best price on tickets
- Got myself a keyholder shaped like a birdhouse with a bird keychain
- Bought other random knick knacks for the house, including a tissue box that looks like a house.
Lesson Learned: Convenience is Expensive
I have learned a few lessons while on my spending spree.
Most of the things I bought could have been purchased used. A week after I ordered my Bialetti stovetop espresso maker, a brand new one popped up on Facebook Marketplace for half the price. I ordered an electric toothbrush and a few days later one popped up on my local Buy Nothing group, “just buy your own toothbrush head and you’re good to go.”
Amused, I sent screenshots to my sister who said, “What I’m learning here is that convenience is expensive.” Yes, yes it is. From buying without comparing costs, to not planning ahead on a long train journey by bringing snacks, to rushing to pick up miscellaneous utensils for the apartment, I realized that it’s easy to spend a lot more if you’re motivated by convenience.
There’s definitely something to be said for being patient for better deals. Doing things like checking thrift stores, local secondhand groups, and waiting for sales can be enough to bring down the price significantly. Also, because I just moved to a new country, I am not quite as familiar with all of the stores in order to do price comparisons. I bought picture frames from my local HEMA store for €20, but later found nice frames at a store around the corner for €5. Similarly, I’ve started using a grocery delivery service for the first time (yes, I know, I am a very late adopter of almost every trend) and without much knowledge of how groceries are priced in other shops, I risk overpaying.
This is quite the change from my childhood, when I would accompany my dad to three different grocery stores because meat was cheaper at King Soopers, milk and bread cheaper at Safeway, and produce on sale at Sprouts. Last month I just put whatever I wanted in the cart without looking at the price– a clear indication that I’ve gone from scarcity to abundance.
The Point of Money
In order to be uber-frugal, I often denied myself small pleasures. I don’t regret those choices, because ultimately I traded tiny trinkets for my time. Those sacrifices mean that I could retire today if I wanted to, and that I have a large enough cushion to take big risks like moving abroad. However, that pattern of denial is not helpful when money is no longer scarce. The point of money is not to have more– but to put it to good use. The best way to do this is to take care of yourself, others, and the planet.
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I don’t think I will continue buying things just because the whim strikes. Every new purchase doesn’t just cost me money– it costs the environment. And while I enjoyed treating myself, studies show that materialism isn’t going to be what makes me happy in the long run. However, I don’t regret my month of splurging, and I will likely continue to spend more on non-material goods, like picking up the bill when going out with friends, signing up for classes, and ordering from companies that focus on sustainability even if the cost is higher.
The point isn’t to revert to a mindless consumer, but to figure out a natural balance of frugality and abundance.
Shifting My Money Mindset
Have you ever played a board game with someone who was so competitive they ruin it for everyone? They take the game too seriously, and forget to enjoy the company of the people around them. For some people, including me, saving money can be a bit like that. This exercise allowed me to detach, enjoying all the periphery benefits around money without having it be the sole focus.
As a self-confessed scrooge, loosening my purse strings was a true act of self-care. My apartment feels like a home now that I’ve lived here for two months and bought all kinds of flowers, knick-knacks and ornaments. I can go out to eat without mentally tallying up the bill, instead waving down the waitress to pay for the table with no stress. Personal finance is a journey with different stages, and it can be easy to get stuck in one money extreme or another– either saving or spending to your own detriment. It can be healthy to take a step back and see where you are in your journey and reassess if your money strategies are still serving you.
If you find yourself wondering if you’re also a bit of a scrooge, practice treating yourself well. Sometimes all it takes is a €8 pair of socks.