How to decrease your spending

I just got waxed. Everything off. Here’s a picture of Stephanie in action:

getting a brazillian

I love Stephanie because she is fun to talk to if I feel like talking and she leaves me alone if I feel like sending emails on my iPhone while she waxes. Or taking pictures.

I love the feeling of being neat and tidy after waxing. Because I feel like if my body is neat and tidy then my life is neat and tidy. Which is, of course, not true. I’m not sure anyone’s life is neat and tidy. But I like the idea that I can buy the illusion that I have things pulled together.

The problem is that waxing is expensive, and it’s a recurring expense. And I’m working on keeping my expenses very low so that I can start another company. Because a startup is really difficult to keep funded, and if you are supporting a family on a startup salary, it’s very scary.

But I keep feeling I’ve already cut as much as spending as I can. Does everyone feel that way?

But look, I moved from NYC to a farm. There are no stores here so I have to go to eBay at 2am for something to qualify as an impulse buy. There are no avenues for splurging on spoiled children beyond buying an extra dog or donkey. But still I find avenues to extravagances that I hate giving up.

It’s hard to be a grown up. It’s hard to give up stuff I really like buying. I feel like all budgeting advice is like all career advice: Be a grown up and make hard choices. If you want to have a stable income then you can’t launch your own exciting new company every five years. If you want to live in NYC then you have to do a job that earns a lot of money. I accept these tradeoffs very well for careers, and then I bitch to people who don’t do as well as I do in the making-choices department.

But when it comes to buying things, I’m not that good. I bought my son a two-thousand-dollar violin even when I didn’t really have enough money. I wanted him to have a good violin because he works so hard during practice.

In my head the violin is like the waxing. I get fixated on needing it.

Some of you will judge the violin as extravagant. Others of you will say the violin is fine but the $200 knife was absurd. I felt like I had to buy it, though, because I cook meat every day and we don’t have a good knife for slicing.

It’s easy to judge other peoples’ spending because if you don’t have an emotional connection to someone else’s purchase, it looks like a lame obsession. For example, I rarely go out to dinner. Maybe once every three months. So your dinners look extravagant to me.

I’m a girl of action, though. And I like a list of goals. So here are five ideas that have helped me to cut down on my spending:

1. Buying luxury items makes us mean.
When we are thinking about luxury items, we are less likely to be considerate of other peoples’ feelings, according to Roy Chua, from Harvard Business School. He says this research gives companies reason to decrease spending on Jets and high-end client entertainment. I think this research also shows why I actually make my life worse by even considering the $10,000 oven that I’ve coveting. (And to make you a better person, I am not providing a link or a photo of it because it will adversely affect your empathy.)

2. Creating money problems leads to divorce.
A couples therapist told me the top three causes of divorce are money, sex, and in-laws. This makes sense to me. If nothing else, entrepreneurs have a very high rate of divorce, and entrepreneurs have routine money problems, and I know you know that I am not above using a syllogism to prove a point. But there is backstory to those causes of divorce: Really, the cause of divorce, every time, is lack of self-knowledge and self-regulation. The money, sex, in-law stuff are just visible symptoms of the invisible emotional problems. What this tells me is that if I don’t get a handle on the emotions that drive my spending then I will not have a handle on the emotions that keep a marriage together.

3. Catalogs are evil.
When I moved from NYC to Madison, WI, I was shocked that the only billboard ads were for Budweiser. I knew that moving the farm would make me totally out of touch with advertising messages, and, therefore, with American culture. So I spent a day subscribing to all the catalogs I could find. Flash forward to me receiving five catalogs every day: I didn’t know there were cute little lamb butter molds until I saw them in a catalog. Pictured on a dinner table filled with love and good cheer and people who were not fat even though they ate butter. I wanted those butter molds. And everything else in the catalogs. So I throw out catalogs immediately. When I am feeling strong.

4. Spending less is better than earning more.
One reason I fail to curb my spending is that I’m great at earning money. I seem to have an endless ability to dream up one more way to get $10K really fast. But I never have a lot of money. My first tip-off that this is normal is the research from Richard Easterlin that everyone feels like they need to earn 15% more in order to feel financially secure, regardless of how much money they make. But here is more research to quell my earning habits: Sonia Lyubirmisky, psychologist at University of California, writes that the more money we earn the less we are able to enjoy small pleasures of life.

5. Having a lot of stuff is not cool.
The first thing about it not being cool is that we are in an economic meltdown, and even William and Kate are skimping on their honeymoon. Also, the more stuff you have, the more you reveal that you have a problem feeling loved, according to research from Margaret Clark, psychologist at Yale. (Which makes me feel emotionally superior to everyone that I have so few things in my house.)

But also, we know that buying experiences is more meaningful to us than buying things. Which is why I come back to Stephanie, time and again. Because I leave with no physical object, just that feeling that I can conquer the world.



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  1. Dale
    Dale says:

    Rewarding one’s self for working hard is overrated. Nothing lasts and the frustration of not accomplishing enough returns all too soon. Something must be missing inside:)

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  4. MWN
    MWN says:

    Wow, great post, great comments. I’m worried about taming my luxury lifestyle while trying to be financially independent for the first time. I’m going to use your cabinet filing system, Penelope.

  5. CairoGirl
    CairoGirl says:

    Three words that changed my life: Laser Hair Removal
    Best thing I ever did for myself :)

    And somethings have the priority of groceries, like getting my eyebrows and UL threaded.

    The rest I can budget/bargain/do without.

  6. Grace
    Grace says:

    We are going to get our needs/wants met no matter what, so let’s not think that we can just cut something out of our lives. (This can be done over time but usually isn’t by our own choice.) Beyond looking at our position, we have to look at our interests. Not just what we want but why we want it. After we know ourselves, then we can ask, “Can I find a cheaper but still-effective alternative?”
    I often find that I spend more in the end when I purchase a variety of cheaper items to compensate for the more expensive item that I’m trying not to purchase. In spending, accurate assessment of more than just price is key.

    I gave up this blog for Lent. I’m so glad that all is still well in Penelope’s world.

  7. 10th Degree
    10th Degree says:

    My biggest weakness when it comes to spending is clothes, makeup (Sephora in particular) and bags. The biggest enabler for me is the internet; I would spend a lot of time on the Purse Forum looking at pictures of women with their bags (the are called “reveals” when one reveals a new purchase) etc. It’s very enabling. As for makeup I would go to MakeupAlley and read the forums about the latest MAC collections or some other collection. The only time when I realize how much junk I have accumulated is when it’s time to move to a new place and I’m packing. Then I think to myself “What was I thinking buying all this junk. Now I have to pack it all up!”

  8. Rust
    Rust says:

    Stuff – no matter what it is, carries with it a small obligation of time.
    Anything you purchase, you have to display, use, dust, store, or simply avoid when walking through the house.  The costs don’t end when you’ve paid for an item.My ex wife was a ‘collector’ – like a hoarder, but not quite as severe.  She had collections of things that she really felt she needed, catalogs of stuff that she wanted to buy but hadn’t yet (a decade worth) and just plain crap – Fully half my day was occupied in some way or another because my house was jammed to the gills with junk.  There was a continuous battle to find places for it, and things would find their way back out – we never had enough places to put things.
    It would also cost me the enjoyment of my house – we’d moved to a larger place, ostensibly for the children, but really it was because we had outgrown our previous house.  Of course, this means working more to cover the additional costs.  It also meant that I couldn’t go into the garage, exercise in the living room or start a project on the kitchen table – they were already occupied.Eventually, I figured out that I was still effectively paying for things I already owned – in time and money.  Once I realized that it became easier to analyze what I had and whether or not I derived enough enjoyment from it to continue investing in those items.  Getting rid of things was difficult at first, it represented a ‘sunk cost’, and just like in business, people are loathe to take the loss and move on.
    I’ve been looking at relationships in the same manner, as well.  Maintaining friends is a time-consuming process, and I really had to look at the time I invest versus the enjoyment their friendship brings me.  I’m trying to make my time more productive in the end.

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