When More is Less
"Less is more" seems to be today's new mantra. With the economy in a downturn and everything from 401Ks to jobs less secure than they were a year ago, it's a rare person in our society who is not trying to save money. And when it comes down to it, it's pretty easy to make cuts in a lot of areas. When it comes to food, we can eat out less, buy generic, and shop the sales. We can stop buying new clothes or shop at discount stores and sales. We can hold on to our old furniture for one more year, clean the carpets by hand instead of hiring a service, and save costly-but-unnecessary repairs for later.
If you're like me, though, constantly thinking up ways to save money and weighing out the consequences between saving and spending can be exhausting. Sometimes I wonder, is saving really worth all the hassle, and if it's not, how can I know whe to spend and when to save? Below is a set of guidelines I made for myself. I hope you find it useful.
Go ahead and spend when:
It will save you money. Ok, this sounds counterintuitive up the wazoo, so let me offer an example: I found a yummy almond mix at Trader Joe's. Is it expensive for what I get? Yes. But it saves me money in the long run because having this healthier salty snack at my desk means I don't buy chips at the vending machine to feed those afternoon cravings. Because, let me tell you, vending machines are a terrible rip-off. Sometimes, spending more than we normally would in one area allows us to save overall. If you find this to be true in any area, go ahead and spend.
This principle often holds true when it comes to shopping for clothing, too. I've come to realize that spending a little more on basics mean they actually last more than one season. Sure, it's great to get a T-Shirt for $10, but is it something you'd like to wear for longer than a few months? If so, spend more for a better quality product and you won't have to buy three more $10 T-Shirts this year.
It will save you (enough) time. How much is your time worth? That's something only you can answer. If you frequently find yourself frustrated that you're spending your free time doing tasks that you used to pay someone else to do (or buy a product that would do it for you), re-evaluate. If it helps, assign a dollar amount to your free time. If the more expensive solution costs less than the time you spend making up for it, then consider spending the money. It may not make intuitive sense, but a happy, healthy you is worth quite a lot!
It will save your sanity. When we're cutting back, sometimes we forget to take our own mental health into account. Is there something you hate to do, or something that you hate having broken? Then think twice about any frugal decisions that impact those areas. Case in point: If packing lunch every morning makes your push to get out the door impossibly insane, consider buying lunch or purchasing items that are easy to grab, like TV Dinners, burritos, or frozen pot-pies. You can't put a price on peace of mind!
Don't spend when:
You don't care. If you don't mind putting some extra time and effort into things so you can save money, or don't care when you purchase something as long as it gets done eventually, save your money right now. You can always re-think things when the financial outlook is brighter.
You have the time. If you have extra time that you don't know what to do with, take on some cooking, cleaning, or repair work that you would otherwise pay for. It will give you something to do, which can brighten your attitude significantly. This can be particularly true for people who have lost jobs--sometimes, taking on household tasks you can no longer pay for gives you enough meaning, purpose, and stuff to fill your days to get you through the tough times.
You're extremely tight on money. Sometimes there's just not enough cash in the bank and, no matter how much you want your time and your sanity, you can't spend. Since going into debt won't give you more time and will only give you something else to worry about, don't spend if you just can't. It doesn't make sense, on any level.
Enjoy, and spend wisely!