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.