Over at DailyWorth, Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto is blogging about her “Unnecessary Spending Guilt.” For her 50th birthday, she decided to get her kitchen remodeled. Which is great, except that as a regular blogger on frugal issues, she feels like a fraud for spending money on something that does not technically have to happen. Her kitchen still works. She asks “does being careful with cash mean that I can’t spend it from time to time?”
As I’ve been finishing up the manuscript of All The Money In The World, I’ve been struggling with this issue myself. There are many things I have an incredibly hard time spending money on. I walk my 4-year-old to preschool most mornings, and every morning, I pass a corner deli which sells bunches of flowers from its stoop line (a wonderful phrase I now know means the shelves outside on the sidewalk that many New York stores sport). Every morning I think “oh, those are pretty, I’d love to have a bunch on my desk.” Do I buy them? Never. Why not? I suppose it’s because spending money on flowers seems wasteful.
So here’s the twist on all this. I’m about to move to a house that turns out to have a gorgeously landscaped yard. I don’t know who designed it, but this landscaper had a great sense of the eastern Pennsylvania rainfall and seasons, because with no upkeep whatsoever, a series of flowers has bloomed in that yard from March until June. One sequence of flowers comes up, then when it dies, another takes its place. We made our offer on the house the first week of March, before anything was sprouting. We had no idea that this all came as a package deal. Sitting in that yard the few times we have been there this spring has made me quite happy, seeing all those flowers that I know I will see sprouting again and again over the next few years.
This I know: my frugal self would never have paid for a landscape architect to design such a yard. Again, that little voice that tells me spending money on flowers is wasteful would have turned into a roar. Of course, I bought the house. So I did pay for it. A house has utility. Flowers do not. But why do I feel that way, that spending on something that is purely for pleasure is a problem?
I’ve been reading Your Money Or Your Life, given that it touches on similar issues to All The Money In The World. It’s not really my kind of book, but I do like that the authors try to reclaim the word “frugal.”
“Frugality,” they write, “is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of… Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them. Your success at being frugal is measured not by your penny-punching but by your degree of enjoyment of the material world.”
This is something I am trying to get my head around: if you have a few extra pennies, there is no point pinching them on small things that will give you pleasure. Keep your big expenses well within your means and you can enjoy life a little. Scrimping is not a virtue in and of itself. Generosity with others is a virtue. And sometimes it is with yourself too.
(photo courtesy flickr user Peter John Hill)