In my quest to become less stupid about money, I familiarized myself with a whole new corner of the internet---personal finance blogs. I was particularly drawn to the super-frugal, early retire in your 30s type of blogs. Not that I want to retire early (ha! I didn't even start a real job until my 30s, no interest compounding through my 20s for me) but the idea of financial independence and the freedom that it brings is enticing.
I could do the things being espoused on these blogs! Get cheap cell phone plans, shop at Aldi's, clean my own house, eat rice & beans every day, DYI home repairs, never eat out, go camping for our only vacations, keep it cold in the winter and warm in the summer, skip kid's activities, shop thrift stores, forgo pedicures and cut my own hair. Take that money and put it straight into our retirement funds and then...
And then what? Retire 2 years earlier? Revel in my account statements? what would be the purpose of cutting out every item of discretionary spending? Its not like I could retire in 5 years or even 10 even with the most extreme stinginess.
When you delve further into it becoming financially independent at a very young age requires either a really high salary or a really really high savings rate (actually, probably a combination of the two). Living way way below your means. To the point where it actually hurts. I'm Ok with a little hurt---for a limited amount of time. I can make sacrifices and tough it out to get to a goal achievable in the near future. But not indefinitely. Certainly not for the entirety of my kids' childhood.
It was really important and eye-opening for me to see how little others spend; I always thought we were frugal, but we really aren't anymore. I'm glad I read those blogs, because I needed that mindset switch to realize that a lot of what we used to think of us "necessities" are nowhere near. That our life is chock full of luxuries that we didn't even notice. That we could sacrifice a lot of things to meet a savings goal. That "retail therapy" is easy to fall into and frankly, doesn't help. We questioned our spending, cut some things that weren't increasing our quality of life, and are more mindful about where our money goes these days.
Obviously, I like saving money where it doesn't hurt. Like when we refinanced our house---I certainly don't hate paying less to the bank every month! I like bringing my own lunch to work, its yummier & healthier (and saves time!) in addition to the cost savings. We cut cable years ago and never missed it. There are lots of things I do not spend money on. But I also love paying to have our house cleaned every two weeks, and the one time we paid a guy to paint our house was amazing, eating at restaurants occasionally is a true joy in my life, and I want to go on more real (i.e. not staying with relative) vacations.
When to save and when to spend---its a line we all have to draw for ourselves and one that it makes sense to rethink every couple of years, as our lives & priorities change. And because its so individual, I really don't see the place for the type of judgement I saw often on those blogs*. Its called PERSONAL finance for a reason, right?
*Assuming not in credit card debt, saving reasonable amounts, not doing truly stupid things like gambling or getting ripped off, etc...