Monday, December 29, 2014

Getting Off the Treadmill

No, this post isn't about exercise. It's about hedonic adaptation, otherwise known as lifestyle inflation. Like the sucker I never thought I'd become, I've let it creep up on me. I am spending way more money on certain things today than I would have even 5 years ago simply because I've gotten used to it. And because, of course, "I can". That last phrase is in quotes because its not completely true. No I'm not in any kind of debt. We are putting the recommended amount into our retirement accounts, and have a pretty hefty emergency fund. But we could be saving a lot more, donating a lot more to charity or even spending that money on something really meaningful for our family.

One thing I've been working on in therapy is identifying and trying to change some of my less healthy coping mechanisms. Wasting time on the internet, indulgent food and drinks, playing games on the phone---all of these I was well aware of, and I've written before about working on modifying those habits. What only recently occurred to me (in part, thanks to N sharing her struggles) was how I used on-line shopping as a way to cheer myself up when I'm feeling sad, anxious, or simply bored. This is what goes on in my head:

I've had a crappy day, ugh, and I'm on call this weekend, and G and I had a fight and...OOH sparkly shoes! Do they have my size? YES! Ooh, that's a bit steep. But its OK, I work hard and I haven't bought anything in so long. Do I need sparkly heels? Where will I wear them? Oh, I'll wear them to holiday parties! You don't have  any holiday parties, Ana. Whatever, maybe next year!

Its a not-so-cheap thrill to browse the sites, fill my cart, and hit "purchase". But the thrill isn't over yet! I can track my package, get excited when its delivered, and then look forward to opening it and trying things on and planning when and where I will wear them. And that's it. That's pretty much where the thrill ends. Then the dress joins the closet with all the other dresses to make its way into the rotation. The shoes get jammed in with all the other shoes, and in honesty may not be worn until I predict a pretty slow day given my fear of tearing up my feet in new, untested shoes.

In retrospect, I've given in to the idea of "retail therapy" for many years. But where it used to be a $3 bottle of nail polish or a $5 purse at Target that cheered me up, now the stakes are much higher.  I kept a budget in 2014 of how much I was spending on myself. I'm sure its a lot more than some people spend, and a lot less than others. But for me it seemed excessive. To say I am embarrassed at the total is an understatement. I am mortified. Yes, I needed some new things that actually fit my body, but no one needs that much. Yes, I like fashion and creating outfits and choosing something confidence-boosting to wear in the morning. But "fashion" is not a priority in my life. It is not a core value. It is not something I should be spending that much money on.

Recently I've gotten sucked into the world of personal finance blogs (I blame nicoleandmaggie). The blogs I really enjoy and find inspiring are not about tips on how to save money or get the highest yield on your investments (though those things are important and I'd like to learn about and start investing this year). What inspires me is the mindset, the focus on the true sources of happiness and the single-minded drive to achieve a life filled with those things. The maturity and self-knowledge that lead people to put all their money and energy towards creating their ideal life, without the distractions of "ooh pretty shiny!" getting in the way.

I am putting a stop to this right now. I was thinking of an all-out shopping ban, but decided instead to give myself an allowance. If I want anything non-essential for myself, it comes out of the allowance. This includes everything: clothes, lunch out at work, pedicures, a new phone case (mine is broken), books.  I've limited this exercise to myself only*---G can handle himself, and I don't actually overspend on the kids. I buy only the essential clothes for them to avoid doing laundry for up to a week, and we have already declared that NO toys or activities will be bought for the next 6 months as we work our way through the Christmas/birthday excess (our closets are STILL stuffed with things that we decided not to give them right away).

I haven't decided yet on the amount of the allowance. I honestly don't know what a reasonable amount should be---$100/month? Thoughts?

*The one other area I wanted to address was restaurant meals---again, we are spending more and more and it is taking more and more to get the same feeling of indulgence and luxury from a dinner out. I will write more about this in a separate post about date nights.


  1. My DH works very well with an adult allowance. I think he gets more joy out of figuring out how to spend it than he does actually getting the things he spends it on. I'm pretty sure that his allowance is $35/week and $350 at each of his birthday and Christmas. (I think it was lower back when we weren't both working, but I'm not 100% sure.)

    The rules on it are that he can buy anything he wants out of it without any discussion. He has to use it if he wants a meal out without me or the kids, but not for meals out as a family. He has to use it for coffee out at Starbucks, but not for ground coffee from the grocery store. He does use it for fancy coffee subscriptions like Tonx when he does it (though I actually wouldn't mind if that came out of the regular budget) and he uses it for his Audible subscription. He doesn't have to use it for gifts for anybody other than me-- family gifts come out of the regular budget.

    Here's our post on the adult allowance: He's been doing it since the first year we were married and keeps a running balance in his day-planner. Also he spends on presents for me out of it so I don't feel like he's using our money to buy stuff for me that I could have bought for myself (which is one of my hang-ups about money).

    From me-- I strongly recommend using your Amazon wishlist for things that you want. Then before Christmas and your birthday you can take stuff off that you don't want anymore, and you can buy some of the things that people didn't get you after your birthday with Christmas/birthday money. (Hence the 10x weekly allowance for those two occasions.)

    You may also enjoy doing a month-long challenge. Those can be really enlightening when you're trying to break a specific spending habit. You probably don't want to try too many different challenges at once though-- focus on one (eating out or keeping all spending below a certain number etc.). I think for Feb I'm going to try the 7 min workout as my feb challenge. They're fun to blog about. (The challenge tag on our blog has both of our blogged challenges.)

    1. Thanks for sharing about your husband's method. Its really helpful. re: amazon wishlist, I do use it quite a bit, but the things I tend to spend on (clothes, shoes, etc..) don't necessarily stay around until my birthday rolls around! I guess its a way to "put it on a list" so I stop thinking about it (I do that with my kids, if they ask for something, I put it on a list on my phone as something they can get for their birthday/christmas (though poor B, those are at the same time)

    2. From what you've said, it sounds like you can absolutely stop buying shoes for a lengthy time period, at least until you've broken in the ones you already have.

      Re: clothing, this isn't something I do (clothing is not a gazingus pin of mine), but one of the things pf bloggers recommend is to "shop your closet" during a buying hiatus. There's a bunch of different methods, like turning your hangers backwards and turning them forward again to see what you've actually used. Apparently most people don't wear a good portion of their stuff. After the "shop your closet" experiment, IIRC, bloggers often have a better idea of what items they need, what items they actually use, etc. so that when they do buy they make more meaningful purchases. And, if they don't have enough space to see everything, they uncover things they bought and love but forgot about, so they sometimes get that shopping high during the process. (Again, not something I have practice with-- I blitz-shop once every two years.) You can probably find people's posts and their challenges by searching for "shop your closet." I vaguely recall maybe save spend splurge having an interesting series of posts, but I might be mixing her up with addvodka or blonde on a budget etc.

    3. Oh yes, I'm definitely not buying ANY clothes or shoes for the entire year except for absolute necessities (i.e. I have no fitting bras right now---too big bras look and feel ridiculous. I also lost my earmuffs and its going to be cold next week). I know about "shop your closet" but honestly for me it doesn't get to whatever it is that makes online shopping so addictive for me. I need to figure out what that is and see how to replace it with something healthier.

    4. I wish I were one of those people who could replace my bad habits with marathon training, but I seriously am not.

      If you discover that it's a need for novelty driving your clothe purchases, we get that from cooking (and restaurants when we travel, but there aren't enough restaurants in town for this to endanger our budget): (well, my family does... #2 doesn't have small children and is thus much more able to experiment in other aspects of her life...) Since you live someplace more interesting than we do, you might also be able to get it via weekend day-trips. I'm looking forward to those next year.

  2. ooh, two posts, exciting! I personally think you sound VERY responsible and frugal from your other post, so it makes me inclined to say you probably don't have that much to worry about.

    HOWEVER. We recently (like, November recently!) started using YNAB (You Need A Budget) app to track spending in categories. It's the first time I've ever given myself an 'allowance' (because it's basically a virtual cash-envelope system) and I love it. It takes away the guilt and makes me somehow much more choosy and appreciative when I spend $. (or at least it has had that effect so far).

    Everyone's budget is so different that I don't know if asking others for a $ amount is going to help, but I'll email you our allowances.

  3. Well, as you know you are doing WAY better than I am on all of this. I will use you as inspiration and hopefully I can be where you are now, by the end of 2015. Of course by then you'll be leagues ahead of me...

    I really like this "But "fashion" is not a priority in my life. It is not a core value." I am going to remember that and repeat it to myself when I'm feeling the urge to buy things. I should also probably figure out what my core values are...