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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oversaving: Yet another annoying article on how we should spend

The title says it all: another annoying article. This one, from the New York Times, admonishes oversavers: spend a little on indulgences to be "happy." Ants look too much to the future and so oversave. Here's the admonishment.

During the current recession, hyperopic Ants are presumably having a harder time than ever parting with their own cash, no matter how often President Obama and his economists urge them to do some stimulative shopping. But would these Ants — and the economy — be better off if they relaxed a little? (You can provide an answer at TierneyLab, ) I asked Dr. Kivetz for his advice to shoppers.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he said. “Obviously you need to be responsible and conserve your savings. But it’s been a depressing winter, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging yourself a little. This is a chance to reassess the quality and the balance of your life and to think how you’ll feel in the future. As long as you can afford it, it’s not a bad thing to be enjoying yourself.”

The key word above is "presumably." Much of the essay is filled with "research" from "scientists." But the key assumption is based in the word "presumably." "Presumably" savers are spending even less (or saving more) during the recession.

Hey, no one asked me! I'm a hyperopic ant, I suppose, and, since my job is safe (knock on wood; I have tenure), I'm spending as usual this year. If my job were in danger, you can bet your booty I'd be saving more. But, as it is, we are planning two trips for the family, one to each coast. Mr. FS and I are renewing our just-expired passports in case an irresistible trip to Europe emerges. Frugal Son will likely be spending a semester in France (to the tune of about $10,000).

And, as for material things, there's not too much we want. Last year, we had our roof fixed ($2,000.00), did a wonderful kitchen remodel (only $8,000.00 because of good planning), got new brick steps ($2,500.00). Oh yeah, we needed a new air conditioning system ($6,500.00). The steps and the kitchen are giving me a lot of joy, each and every day. The other stuff had to be done.

This year, I'll be getting new slipcovers for some chairs and maybe Mr. FS will get his fancy bicycle.

There is NOTHING material that I regret not spending on. I do regret forgoing a few trips abroad because Mr. FS and I were very anxious about continuing employment in the dark days of graduate school and just after. But the security of money in the bank made up for those "lost" trips and we're making up for them now that our employment is secure.

Indeed, it was time rather than money that kept us home: we needed to publish so as not to perish. And it was kids too. As soon as our job situations were somewhat secure, we had children--just two, late, and in pretty rapid succession. So it turns out we were making choices, based on our values. What could be more frugal than that?

So, to me, this is another frugal-bashing article. It ends, tongue-in-cheek, with something about regretting the plasma tv on your deathbed. At least I hope it is tongue-in-cheek.

The article is ostensibly all about finding balance, but honestly, frugal people seem more in balance than non-frugal people, who are having to deal with years of deficit spending. Those of my acquaintance are in a constant state of anxiety.

The great Amy Dacyszyn of Tightwad Gazette fame once concluded that to ask if one could be too frugal was like asking if one could be too happy. If frugality is defined as making the best use of resources (time, money, talents, and so on), then Amy is right. Aristotle would agree too.

Enough ranting! Dear readers: Do you have any regrets for the material things that got away? Do you think you are in balance? Share!


The Fabric Bolt said...

I regret not being more frugal earlier! We discovered that we could live on one paycheck AND though some tight budgeting on groceries and household stuff I have been making additional mortgage payments each month. If I would have realized it earlier, our house would have almost been paid off. We have about four years to go, however we would be at the end right now had we done this while I was working full time.

My husband wanted to do improvements on the house. When new neighbors moved in across the street, they paid probably $300,000 or more for the house and before they moved in they gutted and remodeled the house which probably cost another several hundred thousand. That really ate at my husband and he asked me about taking out a line of credit and doing some work here. My response was; In eight years (it was a few years ago) those home improvements will have lost their shine and they will be "old." In the meantime we will have our house almost paid off - which we do - and then we will have $1800.00 free each month to save or to use for house projects.

I don't really regret NOT buying things, however I DO regret buying certain things which are not gone to craigslist, ebay or Goodwill. It was just stuff and I could have used the money spent to pay down the house! As you can see, that is my main goal at present.

Duchesse said...

Saw that article (we get the Times delivered, a luxury) and made the judgment that the writer was neither nuanced nor wise. It seemed to provide a rationale to keep up the"because I waaant it" kind of spending.

Not that I didn't do my share when I was young, with a good job, no dependents and a serious designer clothes habit!

Say It Loud said...

I am a frugalista, but I was happy to read the NYT article, since I'm about to drop $1k on my boyfriend's birthday weekend getaway. Honestly, I should view it as a $500 gift for him and a $500 trip for myself, and breaking it down further, it's a unique experience that provides memories that we'll have for the rest of our lives, not just "things" that gather dust. So while I'm balking a bit at the pricetag, I feel ok about peeling off 100 $100 dollar bills for the upcoming weekend.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Fabric--I felt a similar pressure to pay off my house. It feels so good! Report back on the big day.

@Duchesse--We seem to agree more than one would think.

@Say It Loud--Thanks for stopping by! I too have trouble spending big amounts sometimes...but I never regret it once I decide to do it. Sounds like you are in a good place with your plan. Have fun.

Vicky said...

Yah, I saw that article, too. It's so stupid I can't even read your post about it without craving a bourbon and water, which, darn it, is not at hand.

I'm with The Fabric Bolt. Ultimately, you don't miss JUNK you pass up because you have something better to do with your time and your money than to spend them on junk. Do I miss fancy vacations? Nope. Had plenty of those; don't ever want to "enjoy" another 10-hour plane ride again.

The fact of the matter is that when you live within your means, you find many perfectly satisfying adventures and entertainments that are within your means. Like spending three months in the back country of Alaska and Canada, traveling by ferry, shank's mare, and thumb. You find pleasing and beautiful ways to furnish your home and your life that are within your means. And you come to appreciate the things in life that are of real value.

Have I missed anything? No. But I sure have found a lot.

--vh, FaM

sallymandy said...

Hi! I really like your blog. It's so thoughtful. And thank you for visting mine.

Great question. I don't regret not buying things. But I do think one can be "too frugal."

Amy D used to be the heroine of my life, but eventually I felt I was living and looking like a bag lady because everything came from a yard sale.

I think it's all about balancing values. While I certainly value frugality, I also value aesthetics, and some things that money CAN buy.

Because of my personality, "frugality" can easily become a way to beat myself over the head with an attitude of "you don't deserve anything good in your life." I can become a harsh taskmaster.

Lately it's been helpful to "invest" small amounts on beauty to counteract the effect of the recession on our family (my husband's job was dependent on the stock market and is now gone completely). Three dollars on some flowers make me way happier doing the work I have to do for money. Things like that.

Loooong comment. Great post.

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

I'm so sick of seeing how wonderfully my tax dollars are working for me aren't you?????????
I'm so far behind on my comments. I started my Chemo today and was really sick this morning but feel much better this afternoon.
You take gooc care Frugal Scholar and......

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Frugal Scholar said...

@Vicky--Maybe a little wine instead? Now I want to go to Alaska--I discovered a long-lost friend lives there and raises sled dogs.

@sallymandy--thanks for the looonnggg comment. So thoughtful. I think I have too frugal tendencies and I fight against them every day. Your blog is fabulous. thanks for visiting mine.

@Reggie--I have always been impressed by your positive spirit, being the lugubrious type myself. Now I'm in awe. Take care of yourself.