Monday, January 21, 2013

The Answer Is Not Automatically 'Buy Less Stuff'

Do the money saving tips in personal finance articles drive anyone else around here nuts? Seriously. Work out at home... stop going out for lunch... make your own coffee... stop drinking soda... cut the cable... blah blah blah. That's total bush league nonsense. The soft sell for people who suddenly find themselves in a position of needing to save money without ever having done so before. I file all of it under the heading Stop With the Lattes, which should be read in a highly sarcastic tone of voice. 

As a former journalist, I know that reporters are often forced to write for the lowest common denominator. But still, come on. We need to move past the idea that everyone who is not living the life they want is in that situation because they can't stop splurging on statement handbags or the latest iPhone. More nonsense!

I should know, given that I am certainly not living my ideal life. Yours truly always figured she'd be a stay at home mom to a couple of kids for a few years before getting back into the working world. Obviously, things didn't work out quite like that. I was home with P. for her first two years, but I worked. Sometimes a lot. Then I lost some clients to the recession and we lost some investment income, and suddenly we found ourselves struggling. I hopped back into the W-2 economy because it was the right thing to do and we're better off for my having done so.

We still have a great life!

frugality tips

And unlike the nonsense referenced above, my job was not paying for a two-car lifestyle, twice-yearly vacations, or a horse. Even with my job, we:
  • Live in wee, tiny Cape house
  • Drive a paid-off car (the single car that we share, by the way)
  • Have always followed a totally square wait-before-you-buy policy
  • Ate the cats to save on pet care expenses
  • Use Freecycle and Craigslist to get what we want without getting spendy
  • Don't go out to eat or to the movies or anything like that
  • Largely ignore the social pressure to buy stuff for fun
Though one of the items on that list may be a lie - when was the last time you saw the cats, anyway? - the rest are just how we live. A lot of people would probably think our spending habits are awfully boring, but it meant that my job boosted us back up into the realm of security wicked fast. To the point where a lot of my salary was going into savings or being used for extras like P.'s dance classes.  

And speaking of points, here's mine:

When people are struggling financially, so many are quick to jump up and say they must have spent themselves into that hole. Conveniently forgetting that some people have jobs that are really only found in cities or on the coasts so they can't choose to move somewhere less expensive. Or that unexpected necessary expenses can drain a person's savings in no time flat. Worse yet, people are quick to make damning assumptions. Low on funds? Curb your lifestyle!

As if everyone out there hurting for money has a lifestyle.

Sometimes, for some people, the answer will be buy less stuff. Sometimes it's going to be make more money. And sometimes it's simply going to be wait for that ill wind to blow over so you can pick yourself up, brush off the dirt, and start over. You can't tell - can never tell - by looking at a person which it's going to be, though.

I guess I'm kicking this all around in my head because my three months of maternity leave are up in two weeks and I wish they weren't. My ideal life would not include trying to meet deadlines in between nursing H. It all comes down to the difference between WANT to and HAVE to. Chances are I'll never be a traditional stay at home mom - which is actually fine, since like the mister once said, I'm really good at putting myself to work. Might as well get paid!


  1. You ate the cats? HILARIOUS! You're right, not everyone spent their way into their current situation. Sometimes economical factors must be included. Life doesn't always work out the way you wanted. We have to make do with what we have, not what we want. Hubby and I live on one income. My being an author doesn't mean I automatically make buckets of money. Our splurge is going to the movies when we can afford it. Other times we do geocaching, which is basically wandering around in tall grass and bushes looking for little canisters people leave for other people to find and comment on. Maybe pick up a trinket or two and leave one behind. Fun, eh?

    1. Ooh, geocaching! I've always kind of wanted to try that :) It does sound fun!

  2. The sucky thing about the current economy is that we are ALL paying for the mistakes of a few. We've never had a boat-load of debt, always pay things off, blah blah blah. And sue me, I want the flippin' American dream. Just a little more space to call my own.

    Unfortunately, I think that we're (you guys too) in the minority. I DO NOT believe that these news stories are unfounded. I CONSTANTLY meet people who can't afford X and they have a smart-phone and all the latest EVERYTHING.

    I have a friend who is eaten alive by medical bills, yet her kids (3)all got new tablets for Christmas and one got a flat-screen TV. And she's in her mid 20s :) They eat out almost every day and they don't make that much money.

    I don't get it. People are really weird. But I honestly think that most people are clueless about money and live for self-gratification and they DO need to stop.

  3. Growing up in a household in constant financial distress has made me leery of articles about finance and budgeting. Most households fall in that "one-paycheck-away-from-disaster" category and they could be doing everything right. Most of us don't have a safety net or it's a small one if we do. So if a life-changing event happens, most families will sink. That's what money journalists should be writing about

  4. It was a fun read! You are right about all those shows where they talk about how to be wise with money and spend less and all that. But at the end of the day, its really about what kind of financial situation you are in and what is going to be working out for you in managing money may not work for some one else. Smartly pointed out. Thanks for visiting me and your valuable comment. Really appreciate it. Follow me if you would like :) Cheers!

  5. You made some great points here. I got laid off from my party time, work at home job last June and the first thing I did was freak out. I started thinking that we needed to cancel our cable and a bunch of other nonsense. It forced me to sit down and have a really good look at how we were spending money and with a few minor adjustments, we ended up just fine. No, we're not the Rockerfellar's, but we didn't need to cancel our cable, either.

  6. Absolutely true. I think most of the time when we make a judgment about others we are wrong, especially if we're only looking from the outside.

    Sorry about maternity leave ending. I hope you can find a happy balance that brings you and your family peace and joy.

    Stopping by from SITS.

  7. The articles drive me crazy, too. A latte or two isn't going to make up for the hundreds of dollars of medical insurance and copays we have every month. (Second biggest monthly line item in budget: NOT groceries. Medical.)

  8. This made some good points! Most importantly was not to judge others because we're not in their shoes and have no idea! When we went thru a rough patch we were not drinking fancy coffees, eating out, going to movies, or pretty much any of the things they recommend you quit doing to save money. We did learn the importance of having a savings account!

    1. Oh yeah, and a BUDGET! It became our best friend.


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