Learning Not to Spend for Dummies

learning-not-to-spendA guest post by the First Lady giving some interesting insight into what it is like to be pressured by someone into learning not to spend the way you might want to, or be used to spending. Perhaps a good read for anyone who is just getting started down fiscal lane!

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What are some easy, practical, relatively painless ways to spend less and save more? These are questions that come up in conversation with friends over and over, especially when the Noble Anarchist is around. It helps when we talk because I get ideas, and it keeps it front of mind. Plus it makes me feel better knowing I’m not the only one struggling with this, and that if it was easy we’d all be doing it.

I’ve learned a lot from the Noble Anarchist over the years, not all of the lessons were pleasant. Actually, a lot of them weren’t and some ended in tears. Mine, not his. We have such different spending and saving habits, each having learned them from a very early age. It’s hard to change a life time of habits. What’s easy and obvious for him is a struggle for me, and it usually takes me at least six months or a year to come around to his way of thinking, or at least start to grasp it.

I’ve been trying to think of ways that I can spend less, and eventually save some money in ways that work for me, are sustainable, and aren’t based on following a strict permanent budget. I could read endless books or articles telling me how to do this, or I could follow the Noble Anarchists model, but so far none of that feels quite right to me. After all, we aren’t all starting from the same place, and don’t all have the same resources or goals. I have a decent amount in a pension plan, but know I can’t count on it (pension plans do fail from time to time), and know it’s not going to be enough. Besides, I can’t touch it until I’m 55, so it doesn’t do me any good right now. For added fun and excitement (ie. stress), I recently quit my job (the one with a good pension plan and good pay), and at least in the short term anticipate making a living with a part time job, and selling my homemade candied nuts. Solid plan.

Once in recent memory I was able to save money for a few months, and I didn’t even feel deprived. I did this by figuring out my fixed expenses vs. income, how much I wanted to save each paycheque, and then what was left over I was allowed to spend, but only in cash. No credit cards allowed. With a small weekly spending allowance, I had to make choices. For example, I would still go out for food and drinks with my girlfriends, but instead of ordering a full dinner, I’d have a snack before and just order an appetizer, which wasn’t really a hardship because the point was to be out with friends. Or if I wanted to buy a new sweater, I’d have to say no to a few nights out. Obviously, this was simply a budget, but I’d never followed one before so it was new to me. I think the reason it worked is I was really clear about why I needed to do it, it was short term, it felt good to meet my weekly target, and I wasn’t able to use credit cards.

Happily, more and more often I find that when I spend less, I not only feel better about myself and more responsible, but I’m learning to truly be ok with the lesser hotel, or the not as nice bottle of wine.

I’ve realized that I try to justify most of my spending, but anything that has to be justified should probably be given a second thought. Here’s some fun examples:

  • I like to encourage people (especially the Noble Anarchist!!) to go shopping and buy stuff so I can live vicariously through them. I always find a way to help them justify their purchases.
  • Even though I didn’t need it and it just made my backpack heavier, why wouldn’t I buy a 680 ml bottle of Mandalay Rum for the equivalent of $1.50? Yes, that’s right, a bottle of rum in Burma only costs as much as a pack of gum at home.
  • Why wouldn’t I buy a bottle of delicious local wine for $10 when it would cost $20 back home, even though I could have bought a lower quality one for $5? I get excited when we cross the border to the US and wine is half price. And then I buy two bottles instead of one because I’d spend the same amount at home anyway. It’s practically saving money to spend money sometimes!
  • I’d rather spend another $5 a night when travelling to get a private bathroom instead of a shared one, or to not end up in a fleabag hotel. After all, if I didn’t spend the extra $ on the room, I’d only end up spending it on nicer food, or alcohol to console myself for the hotel situation.

There’s also the emotional and experiential benefit I get from buying things. Actually, if I think about it, that’s usually why I buy things. I mean, let’s be honest, how often do I buy a new pair of jeans only when my old ones are falling apart? I buy a new pair of jeans when I think my less new ones are a little out of “style”, or when they’ve lost their shape after a few washes.

I recently saw a billboard in Myanmar that really struck a chord. It said “Reduce Reuse Reject”. I’m not sure if they meant to write recycle instead of reject, but I kind of like reject better. It fits for where I’m at now, trying to spend and consume less. I also find it sometimes helps me buy less if I consider the environmental and ethical impact my purchases have. I know I’m just one person, and buying one less pair of jeans won’t make a difference in the big picture, but at least it’s something. But of course I can also be a hypocrite and the next day will find a way to justify another cheap pair of rubber flip flops from Old Navy because they’re in a colour I don’t have and really, really want.

I wrote this post with the intention of giving others like me hope that with time, effort and more conversations it’s possible to get better at learning not to spend so much money, and if anyone has any other inspiring words on how to do this, I’d love to hear it. Of course, it helps to have the Noble Anarchist close at hand with daily reminders, so if anyone wants to borrow him, let me know!!

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One Response to Learning Not to Spend for Dummies

  1. Penny says:

    Great post First Lady! Very practice for those of us who find ourselves financially challenged from time to time. Mi once froze my credit cards in a large container of water until I got over the habit of having one. It worked!

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