Budgeting Means You Don’t Like Nice Stuff


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When Johnny and I were out and about this weekend, a couple with their two young children caught our (okay, my) attention. It was mid-afternoon, but both parents were walking around in their pajamas. Flannel pants, baggy T-shirts — both of them. In a public place, with lots of other people around. The two kiddos were dressed in typical toddler day wear, so obviously some effort had been put into getting the family ready for the day. I kind of thought to myself, Welp, they literally couldn’t care less about how they look. Caring less would be impossible. 

How judgmental of me, right? Maybe those two unkempt parents did care how they looked. But the kids were being little demons that morning, and they looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to get out of this house. NOW.” And they were like, “Screw getting ready. Let’s just go in what we’re wearing right now.” And on an ideal day, they’d both be dressed in jeans, but that day other priorities took precedent. Sounds like a reasonable possibility, right? Not right? You were those parents on Saturday and you happen to just love flannel? I don’t believe you.

But how does this relate to finances? Well, I’m getting there. I think sometimes we budgeters get a bad rap. I think we oftentimes fall victim to the assumptions of others. Our car is practical and a few years old so we must not like nice cars. We wear the same jeans twice in one week, so we must not care about buying clothes. Our home is inexpensively furnished, so we must not like nice things. Our purse is from H&M, so we must be clueless about designer handbags. Actually, that last one would be spot on.

But you get the idea. Just because we’re not oozing of the best of the best of every item, we must not care about such things. But this is a lie.

Here’s the truth:

  • We enjoy spending money.
  • We like nice things.
  • We don’t think spending is bad.
  • We save because it’s the right thing to do (not, contrary to popular belief, because it’s the funnest thing we’ve ever done, like ever).

I had a conversation with a friend about this not too long ago. “Sure, I’d like to dress more fashionably,” she said. “But I don’t want to spend the kind of money it takes to do so.”

I think sometimes non-budgeting folks assume it’s just the opposite.

Oh, the Wilsons don’t spend much, but it’s because they’re oblivious to [designer clothes/luxury cars/$3,000 couches]. I’m assuming, of course, that we all know the Wilsons — if not, they’re very money-conscious.

And maybe that’s how big spenders justify their continual spending and lack of saving. “What can I do? I’m a fashionista!” “I might as well be an interior decorator — I live and breathe Crate&Barrel.” “I’m a latte diva.” “We’re foodies.” “It’s just who I am!”

It’s great to be all of those things. But it shouldn’t be the reason we don’t budget. And it shouldn’t be assumed that those of us who budget don’t care about nice stuff. We do care, but we just care about saving our pennies a little bit more.  Or maybe some of us just love flannel pajama pants.

What assumptions do you think people make about you because of your budget? I’m fairly certain people are making assumptions about my hair or “that wild creature on her head” because I haven’t wanted to fork over the cash to get it did.

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36 Comments

  • Reply Sarah @ Pretty Providence October 2, 2013 at 8:28 am

    This is the reason I started my blog! I am totally a spender by nature. I love nice things. I love to decorate my house and buy new clothes and especially go out to eat. That’s WHY I budget though, because if I didn’t keep track, I’d be in a hole of debt so big I’d never get out. I definitely pinch pennies over groceries and avoid Target like the plague unless I have a really good excuse, so I can make room for my twice a week restaurant habit. It’s totally worth it!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 1:45 am

      Target… worst impulse buying store in the world. We’ve also learned to keep our distance.

  • Reply J.Mill October 2, 2013 at 9:31 am

    So true!

    I was in a fancy mall on Michigan Avenue the other day and felt like an idiot with the sales people.

    “Oh you’re looking for that? That came out last year… we no longer carry that.”
    (I haven’t been shopping in a year, but you make it sound like I just crawled out from under a rock!)

    I left feeling discouraged and painfully aware that everything I was wearing (except for underwear) was at least 5 years old. I went to TJ Maxx the next day and bought Kenneth Cole booties for 80% off. Take that, fancy!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 1:48 am

      One of the benefits to thrift store shopping (which, admittedly, I enjoy far more than Joanna) is that there aren’t salespeople. Just me and my loot.

      Nice 80% off snag!

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone October 2, 2013 at 9:33 am

    To be honest, I don’t think that people really notice or care about how fancy the things I own are. I’d say the things that are most striking are my car (I plan to drive it until it dies. And it keeps just creaaaaaking along, not dead yet, but so tragic), our furniture (all free and ugly), and our dishes (they’re UGLY, white with a blue print of a dutch village on them, but they were free). But like I said, I don’t think people probably really notice or care. People are too self-absorbed to notice these things.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:38 am

      I think we had those plates growing up! I can’t comment on their ugliness, but many a casserole were eaten on them, so they naturally have a special place in my heart/stomach.

  • Reply Emory October 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I think people often mistake our choice to live well below our means for poverty. My husband and I are comfortable in our current rental location even though it is in a rundown and poorer neighborhood. We are both driving vehicles which are at least 8 years old, but both still running well. We don’t have cable or internet. And frankly, we like it that way. It keeps things simple. But we often get what feels like “pitty offers” from people to take us to dinner or find us a new place to rent, etc. etc. And that is frustrating because we are constantly having to politely explain to people that we have the money to live elsewhere and do more, but we are choosing to put a big chunk into our savings so that one day we can have opportunities to do things when our family is bigger. Personally, I think we are doing great because we didn’t move back in with our parents after we finished college. :)

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 1:52 am

      You are doing great! I usually take “pity offers” as a sign that you’re doing things right. :) Many millionaires are millionaires because they made similar choices that saved money. And many still choose to live that way even after they’ve “made it.”

      No cable or internet?! That’s awesome. Actually, it’s terrifying me just thinking about it, but man, I’d love to be able to drop them cold turkey. Good for you guys.

  • Reply Jake @ Ca$h Funny October 2, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I totally agree with you here. People often call me cheap just because we’re on a tight budget. That may be true, but cheap isn’t always a bad thing like some people make it out to be. My wife and I have a lot of nice things, we just choose to spend our money differently than other people.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:41 am

      I’m alright with cheap, too. I don’t know how I’d feel about my future kids calling me that, but I’ll train/brainwash them to think it’s a good thing. :)

  • Reply Kali @CommonSenseMillennial October 2, 2013 at 11:29 am

    This is so relatable! Some of my friends think I’m crazy for saving rather than spending – and a few of them just think I’m cheap, just because I don’t enjoy spending over $100 for a night out despite the fact my income would allow for that every once in a while. And I think some of our family members just think we’re poor! They act like they feel really sorry for us that we don’t have brand-new cars, fancy clothes and jewelry, and our house isn’t full of designer furniture. It’s a bit funny to me, because they completely miss that our priorities are in a very different place than their own and they can’t understand how we can be happy without massive amounts of stuff. They always remind me of a quote I read once – “some people are so poor, all they have is money.” That definitely applies to some members of my family.. they spend every dime they make on stuff, and they’re still unhappy.

  • Reply Cait October 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I think people assume I’m either cheap (definitely not cheap) or that I don’t care how I look. I honestly rotate through the same few outfits until… well, I don’t know. But it’s probably too long. I just don’t find value in clothes or shoes. Do I want to look ok? Yes. Do I want to look amazing? Nah. I have better things to do. Great post, Jo!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:02 am

      I’d put the average life of my clothing at 5 years. And that’s using purchase date as the barometer, not actual age of the piece of clothing. If I calculated it that way, my thrift store finds would easily put that number in the double digits.

      Hope your move went well!

  • Reply Brian October 2, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    People probably assume I am broke because I dress like a newly homeless man (terrible neck beard and all). Some of my friends think we are rich because we travel a lot. For instance we just got back from a week in Ireland on a kind of a whim trip (booked it only a month prior) The truth is somewhere in the middle. We save a bunch of money to spend it on what we enjoy, so depending on who you talk to would be how you see us.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:06 am

      “People probably assume I am broke because I dress like a newly homeless man (terrible neck beard and all).” Hahaha. Hey, if you can pull off a neck beard, then all power to ya.

      All your Ireland talk has got me and Joanna itching to make a trip to Scotland to discover our roots. Probably won’t happen soon, but it’s on our list of someday destinations.

  • Reply Julie October 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I hate to admit it, but I was guilty of this once. A friend would say that she couldn’t afford to go out to dinner with the girls or didn’t want to do X because of the cost. And then she would go on a vacation. My initial thoughts were, “She can’t come out to dinner with us but she can go on vacation?!” and then I realized it was more likely, “She didn’t go out to dinner with us so she COULD go on vacation.” I was younger then, and stupider.

    In more current times, I feel like we were judged for still having old, prepaid cell phones. I think people thought we were either poor, or unwilling to embrace smartphone technology. In reality, I just didn’t want to pay for the darn things. The hubs finally pushed hard to upgrade us to smartphones, which of course I love but would still be willing to forgo to save the dough each month. But he made a hard sale and I gave in.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:12 am

      Great comment. It’s funny how we just assume others should spend/save on the same things we do. Like how Joanna and I saved up and made budget cuts to other categories so that we COULD buy smartphones. :) Sometimes I miss the simplicity (and cost) of my old Nokia dumbphone, but we’re pretty content with our smartphones.

  • Reply Rob October 2, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    I strongly doubt that anyone (well almost anyone anyway) makes assumptions about me because of my budget for the following reasons:
    1 – except for my wife, no one knows what budget I use (it’s really none of their business, agree?)
    2 – I agree with reader Becky’s comment above – most peeps are too self absorbed to give a flying whoop about widdle ole moi and my budget! :-) To prove the point – do you ever give a thought about how those whom you know follow their budgets? I rather doubt that you do.
    3 – And for those (few) who do have judgement about about my hair or “that wild creature on my head”, I just shrug, re-adjust my Donald Trump hairpiece, and stick out my tongue at them !!! (just kidding) :-)

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:16 am

      Good points. Joanna and I are way too preoccupied with our own budget to speculate about a friends’. And even if we did, what we’d find is what many others have already commented: that they spend their money differently than us. Which is just fine.

  • Reply jennifer p October 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    i couldnt agree more about what you have said.alot of people have the wrong idea about people who are being frugal ,budgeting,not liking nice things.its great that there are so many blogs and vlogs , and people talking about these issues.
    unless your house is on fire, there is no reason to go out in your pajamas.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:17 am

      Haha. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they escaped a small electrical fire that morning.

  • Reply Renee s October 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I have a slightly different take on this..I am not too open with acquaintances about FI goals, but I am to my parents and my family. My parents are supportive, but sometimes my siblings make comments about how I can afford expensive things (hotel stays, vacations, big tvs, a new bed, etc). They make comments about how they think I am cheap because they KNOW that I have the money, but that I choose to invest it instead. I know they are (mostly) kidding, but I wish they would be more interested in my goals instead of making fun of me. Oh well!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:29 am

      “Oh well!” is the best attitude to have in a situation like this. You can’t control what they think, so what’s the point in worrying about it.

  • Reply Tarynkay October 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I agree with Becky and Rob- I really doubt anyone notices what I spend money on. Most people have enough of their own stuff to worry about.

    I do think that this is probably different if you are say, young and single and trying to impress people at your fancy law firm or something. Or if you have a personal finance blog! Cause then everyone is seeing what you spend all of the time. And since it is impossible to please everyone, you are probably are either too frugal for half the people and too extravagant for the other half.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:34 am

      You think no one notices, but I’ve been watching. Just kidding. That would be really creepy. And totally not within my abilities — I don’t even know what I spent on myself last week, let alone someone else.

      We recognize that some of our own purchases/budgeting choices probably come under scrutiny since we voluntarily put stuff up here on our blog, but we try to steer away from including a lot of info that might cause someone to think that way. But regardless, it is what it is. You can never please everyone. And the great thing is, we don’t have to. :)

  • Reply Tara @ Streets Ahead Living October 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Just because you know what the latest trends are doesn’t mean you necessarily wear them. I agree that people can be really judgemental of folks who choose not to spend $600 on a pair of designer leather boots but honestly, most folks can’t, even those who buy them!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:36 am

      Joanna’s favorite pastime is pinning hip, stylish things that she knows she can’t afford/won’t buy, and then finding much much cheaper alternatives. Trendy doesn’t have to mean expensive.

  • Reply Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life October 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    So so so so true! Me and the bf enjoy going to eat out and trying new places. It’s a great way of spending some of our few evenings together and trying new food. But, we don’t spend a whole lot on clothing. We both have quite a few nice pieces that we wear throughout the year, and that’s fine with us. Having our priorities straight allows us to appreciate what the world has to offer in the ways we enjoy it.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:44 am

      And how’s this priorities: Joanna and I aren’t huge foodies (burger and fries, please) and we’d rather spend it on clothing. Not to say that we spend a lot on clothes, but it’s interesting to see how we all view priorities/wants/needs differently.

  • Reply Michelle October 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Assumptions make an [email protected]@ out of you…but I AM going to judge that couple because if they were too lazy to bathe and change into clothing appropriate for wearing outside they should have stayed at home. That being said I agree that people think that if you bring lunches you’re cheap, or if you take the bus you’ve got issues, and the list goes on.

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:46 am

      I’ve always been “the brown lunch bag” guy. I’m cool with that. Better than the “doesn’t showers and wears PJs” guy. :)

  • Reply Patricia October 4, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Love your post. An honest take on how so many people think about money. We could all be much happier in our lives if we spent more time and money on things that really matter to us and less time worrying about what others will think!

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:47 am

      Thanks, Patricia. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that — which is why this post exists. :)

  • Reply Ashly October 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    We have an old car, we live in a basement suite paying the cost of rent most of my colleagues and friends pay for their fancy one bedroom downtown, and we eat in most nights of the week. Which is funny because I hate to cook. My hubby and I have made a conscious decision to cut back so we can save more. My office is moving downtown today, and I worry the pressure to dress nice, carry a designer handbag and wear nice shoes will be constant… so my new goal is to look the party without paying the full price! Because you’re right, people do judge- I know I do, even when I don’t want to

    • Reply Johnny October 7, 2013 at 2:50 am

      Thanks for sharing! Joanna and I felt that constant pressure when we lived in NYC. It was really hard for the first few months to not cave and buy brand new wardrobes. But we knew our financial goals were more important than being part of the hip club, so we should stopped worrying about it.

      Best of luck with the move downtown! Stay strong.

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