While many of the tips are perfectly fine, the whole package reminded me of my beef with much personal finance literature. In particular, I’ve been pondering Day 9’s tip: “spend nothing today.” On this day, we’re supposed to “start being more mindful about your purchases with a one-day money ‘fast.’ No eating out or ordering in. No quickie trips to Walgreens — and bring your coffee from home. You’ll see just how much you could be banking after you detox from all that unconscious spending. (Cash saved: $30-50).”
Wow — $30-50 in unconscious spending per day? I guess I live a different life than Redbook’s perception of its readers. By this definition of a one-day money fast, I had a no-spend day yesterday. I’m headed for a no-spend day today as well. Looking back, I’m quite sure Friday was also no-spend, at least for me. I work out of a home office, and given that I really, you know, work, there aren’t a whole lot of quickie trips to Walgreens. Plenty of days feature no trips to retail establishments whatsoever.
But I don’t view this as a sign that I’m morally superior to anyone out there buying a latte. Because if you think about it, none of these days were truly no-spend days. If you amortize my monthly spending, each of those days involved 1/30th of a mortgage payment. I didn’t buy gas on those days, but I own a car and so I’m out the cost of ownership, pro-rated over the life of the car, even if no physical money left my hands. I’m still paying income and property taxes. I ate groceries that cost money. One of my kids went to preschool today — with the tuition associated with each day leaving my bank account, even if not on this day — and the other went to art class, a recurring monthly fee on my credit card. My nanny is getting paid weekly by direct deposit. The lights are still on and my computer is still humming.
Add all these up and you get, oh, let’s just say a lot more than $30-50. So what if they’re set or recurring expenses? Money is still money. Perhaps some folks spending $3 a day at Starbucks are spending $100 less per month in rent than people who aren’t in line. So why do personal finance articles always talk about bringing your coffee from home, as if they’ve hit upon some brilliant idea?
Perhaps for some people, daily discretionary expenses are the big cause of financial woes, or are preventing them from reaching their financial goals. But my decision to buy or not buy coffee on the past three days has no real effect on my larger financial life.