Growing up, we had a pair of special couches in our living room. They were the no-touching-no-sitting-no-breathing-on-couches. It provoked many a question in a five-year-old’s brain: Are those couches as soft as clouds? Will we get eaten by them? Are there fruit roll-ups hidden between the cushions? It was like the forbidden fruit — and we did eat. After a few years of disobeying, my parents gave up, and their couches became our couches.
I was reminded of these couches a few years ago while we were living in NYC. It was Thanksgiving day and a group of friends decided to play a game of football at Central Park. When we arrived, we discovered newly erected fences surrounding every grass surface. Hastily posted signs read, “Grass closed until Spring.” Excuse me? You can close grass?!! We resorted to finding a dirt patch to play our game, but us tax-gouged Manhattan-ites were ticked.
What good is grass if it’s closed? Last I checked, it’s not an endangered specie. I’m sure there’s some horticulturist out there shaking his/her head at my utter ignorance of the danger posed to grass by us barbaric human pedestrians during the winter. Fine, whatever, I’m sure they have their reasons. But the point remains: what good is grass, or a couch, if it’s not used and enjoyed?
Cool stories, Johnny. So what gives? I don’t think what I’m about to say will be popular, but I drank a lot of Diet Coke today so I’m not going to stop myself.
Money is meant to be spent.
That wasn’t easy to type, but I think it needed to be said — for my sake. We, and most personal finance bloggers, write in circles about saving and resisting spending. Some take it to extremes. Others turn it into a game. And while us bloggers sometimes admit a splurge or spontaneous purchase, it’s typically done apologetically.
Don’t worry — I haven’t jumped off the deep end. I still believe the Debt Monster should be avoided like the plague, that an emergency fund is a must, and that we should invest/save for our family’s future. But if saving money is our only pursuit, we’re not living. We’re merely collecting and obsessing over pieces of paper.
Joanna and I sometimes get so caught up in numerical benchmarks and shaving budget margins that we forget why we’re saving. And no matter the explicit purpose or goal, it boils down to one thing: we are saving to spend. In other words, we’re putting money away now that we can spend later. Later for some might be after retirement. Later for others might mean a Caribbean cruise this spring. Only you can know when later should be. And “spending” shouldn’t have negative connotations of reckless, selfish purchases. Spending might mean buying a home, putting money into a 529 (toward future education), or making a charitable contribution. It can also mean buying a stegosaurus pet costume — and not feeling guilty about it.
I realize that many don’t have a problem with the “money is meant to be spent” philosophy. In fact, your problem might be that you’re too ambitious with it. We’ve been there, too. But as we all work at being smarter managers of money, let’s not forget the big picture. Money is a means to an end. I hope Baby Girl never knows how much money we have (or don’t have). Rather, I hope she sees us exercise financial discipline and understands the happiness that stems from living within one’s means. It’s a tall order, but worth working toward.
Couches are meant to be sat on. Grass is meant to be walked on. Money is meant to be spent. Life’s too short — let’s carpe the diem out of it.