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.
I’ll defend the grass. Parks have to close grassy areas occasionally if they have been reseeded or just need a chance to regrow and thicken up. Otherwise grass pretty much will get destroyed and won’t be able to grow back. We have a park here in Indy (Broadripple park) that is a mess because they grass has been so trampled and they don’t ever give it a chance to grow back. Other parks are much nicer because they close parts of them down and the grass gets a chance to grow.
I also agree with your money points.
The grass thanks you for your well-formed defense. And you’re totally right. Central Park, though… I mean, who even goes there? Why would they ever need to reseed? 😉
Great reminder that life should be all about balance! Yes, it’s important to save and plan ahead – but it’s not okay to be so focused on saving and avoiding spending that you completely deprive yourself in the here and now. I agree money is meant to be spent.. sometimes 🙂 And I do think some purchases are better investments than others, and that makes a difference, too.
Very true, Kali! I think it’s good to be reminded every now and then that it’s okay to spend money!
Do not go to England. “Keep off the grass” signs are everywhere! All the time! The only person who gets to step on it is the landscaper. (It was totally a pet peeve of mine when I lived there.)
As for spending/saving, I think there’s a balance and for us it comes down to knowing what you’re saving for. Are you saving for a true zombie apocalypse? Since that’s REALLY unlikely, and heck who’s going to be around to take your gold coins then anyhow? It’s probably best to loosen the purse strings. But if you’ve got a goal in mind and are saving to reach that goal without preventing you from living a fulfilling life in the meantime, then I say save to your heart’s content.
I never knew you lived in England!
And, oh yes! Don’t get us wrong… we’re all about saving. That will never change. But saving just for the sake of hoarding money is rather pointless. And our savings goals usually involve spending at the end of it all — saving to *buy* a house, saving to *spend* time (and money) retiring, etc.
“Money is meant to be spent.” I couldn’t agree with you more, dude. I would just add the words “with discipline and within moderation”.
As I’ve previously commented either here or elsewhere, this especially applies to us old fart retired folk. Too often you see someone who is so insecure, saving every penny throughout their entire life, doing without when they could easily afford to spend a bit on either themselves or others and thus have a life. And for what? They just end up with a big dusty bank account of untouched savings, which after they kick the bucket, goes to their heirs or (more likely) mostly to taxes to the gov’t. Money is a tool to be used and not an end in itself. So I hope that you let Baby Girl play on your couch as we did with our kiddos when they were her age! 🙂
Good revision. And don’t you worry — Baby Girl has already turned our couches into her personal play gym.
I like this post. I think most Americans think, “Money is meant to be spent” far too much, but the frugalites out there can use the reminder that, ultimately, their goal is to spend the money eventually!
I also have the philosophy that things are meant to be used. So many people buy things to look good rather than to be used, and then they can’t even enjoy the things they have (like your parents with the couches). I don’t ever want to be worried so much about taking care of my things that kids (and adults) cant feel free to move around my house without me stressing.
With our little one, it’s been a good transition to helping me let go of “untouchable” things. It’s still a work in progress, but I try to remember that it’s just stuff — even if it happens to be stuff that I really, really would rather not have to wipe dirty, sticky fingers off. 🙂
This is a very important point that is useful to come back to periodically. As personal finance bloggers, we often just keep shooting for the stars, and the sky is the limit on what you could shoot for. However, saving for the sake of saving to accumulate more isn’t a satisfying means to an end, and it’s how we spend our money (and more broadly our time) that helps define what’s meaningful in our lives so we allocate those scarce resources as best we can!
It’s good to periodically do a gut check to see why you’re saving (or spending) and see if you’re where you want to be now and on the path you want to be for your future. It’s a delicate balance between the “here and now” versus the uncertain future!
Saving for the sake of saving sounds really boring anyway. Hopefully we’ll learn to strike the right balance and spend when the time is right, and save when the time is right.
Money is definitely meant to be spent, but like you I was a bit (okay, a lot) ambitious with that before. Now, I realize there is a balance where both spending and saving can co-exist in a happy place 🙂
As I work on paying off my debt, my spending money is limited more than it was before, but I spend it on the things that bring me the most joy — food and alcohol — and I just recently decided to not feel bad about it. I am no longer a hardcore saver or spender, I do both!
Glad to hear it, Erin! There is a time and a place for saving every nickel and dime, but you’ve got to live, too! Keep on keepin’ on with striking that balance!
[…] Johnny from Our Freaking Budget emphasizes that even while we are focused on increasing our net worths, we can’t forget that money is ultimately meant to be spent. […]
I think that psychologically.. You have to “reward” yourself for all of your hard work in order to keep motivated. Buying things that you want, even on a small scale, can help to keep you motivated.
Even allowing myself to buy a coffee or something at work every once in a while can do wonders for my mental state..
Totally agree, Jefferson. It’s crazy how little purchases can go a long way in making you feel not so bound down by budgeting!
I agree with Brian’s defense of the grass, but I think it just makes your argument stronger. Just as we have to give the grass a chance to grow and replenish itself so that we can enjoy it more in the future, we also have to give our savings a chance to grow so that we can enjoy it later on. The park management team has a plan for the grass, and we need to have plans for our money.
LeVar Burton is pretty amazing, by the way. Did you know that in addition to all of the Hollywood stuff (acting, producing and directing) he is also a well respected science fiction author? But you don’t have to take my word for it- check him out at your local library.
Johnny read the second part of your comment to me the other day and said it was the comment of the year, so congratulations!
And way to bring it all full circle with the grass! Maybe Johnny will hate on the park management team a little less now :).
I really enjoyed this post. It was a great reminder. We are living on a VERY tight budget right now to avoid debt, but it hasn’t always been and it won’t always be this way. For now, I am loving that we don’t buy nice things b/c we are in a serious scratch and dent phase of life. With a preschooler, a dog and a toddler that I babysit around regularly things are getting beaten up and dirty! But I also want them to have access to pretty much everything and not worry about the outcome. I never understood the whole – have nice things but don’t touch/use them. Too stressful. I don’t have the brain capacity to worry about things. We focus on affordable, durable, quality for now and look forward to saving for other fun things in the future!
Way to keep a big-picture perspective, Emily! Each stage of life is just a phase, and some of those phases are more geared toward saving, while other are more geared toward spending. And in the moments when we’re saving our hardest, it’s nice to know that it will pay off in the future. And way to live and let live with your stuff right now — life is much more fun that way!
Yes, yes, YES! My parents must have bought the same couches as yours! I vowed that when I was a grown up I would have couches I could sit on. I love our comfy couches
Those stupid couches. I’ve seen myself get tense with our little girl around our couches, and I have to remind myself that it’s just a thing. And moreover, it’s a thing that’s meant to used. But I’ll definitely draw the line at chocolate hands/face.