Monday, December 10, 2007


If you read personal finance blogs on a regular basis, you'll discover that there are a lot of people in the U.S. who're struggling to get out of debt. A few of these people found themselves in dire straits due to circumstances beyond their control, but it seems that many more simply lived beyond their means for a few years. Bloggers post about their travails and successes as they strive to pay off enormous consumer debts, and there's generally a good deal of celebration and congratulations when someone accomplishes his or her goals.

That's great, and I'm glad the internet has enabled folks to find a supportive and informative community of like minded people. These victories should be applauded. At the same time, I'm a little envious.

It isn't that I envy people the stresses, sacrifices, and hard work it takes to dig out from a mountain of debt, nor do I envy them the goods they bought in spending binges before they saw the light and started spending less than they earn. As crazy as it may sound, I'm a bit jealous of the sense of irresponsibility that enabled them to get into these messes in the first place. I envy their ability to be young and stupid and spend a portion of their lives following their whims without fretting much about the consequences.

By nature, I'm a worrier. I panic and over prepare for a lot of things in my life. I started planning for college admissions and scholarship applications as a tenth grader. I study too much for even the easy classes. I wonder whether, five or ten years from now, I ought to offer to buy long term care insurance for my parents. I save diligently, clip coupons, and try not to be seduced by the culture of consumerism. This mode of living pays off in many ways, but, frankly, it isn't much fun.

Thoughts about what life will be like when I finish my undergraduate degree and find a real job have been flitting through my head a lot lately. I thought about how fun and exciting it would be to be able to budget $100 a month for purely discretionary spending, for movie tickets, new clothes, books, music, and dinners out. Then it occurred to me, if I'd really wanted to do that, I could have done so this semester and still spent less than I brought in. There's a whole $1000 a semester that makes its way into savings before I have a chance to do anything else with it. It's the prudent thing to do, and I'm a prudent person.

It would be nice, just for a while, to be someone else. To be a little more impulsive and a little less goal oriented. To choose short term happiness over a long term goal without guilt. To live without worrying all the time. To be able to make a decision without trying to weigh the marginal costs and benefits. To throw caution to the wind.


plonkee said...

I think exactly the same thing sometimes. Coupled with disbelief.

I'm actually remarkably good at frittering away cash, but spending large sums is extremely difficult.

I think I only bought my house because the money for the deposit came into my possession shortly before I started looking.

FinanceAndFat said...

Interesting perspective. Of course, I wish I could go back and not be stupid with my money. It's not fun turning 30 and realizing it will probably be another decade before I am debt free.

Mrs. Micah said...

I feel the same sometimes. I graduated college with a healthy little savings account and no debt. I know that Micah's education is worth more than consumables. And I know it's good that I've had these qualities. But sometimes I wish I didn't think about it.

Ms. MiniDucky said...

Oddly enough, I've had the same feelings. Essentially, I've wished that I were at this point because of my own actions that were actually enjoyed, not regret because I've had to be responsible and paid out tens of thousands of dollars on my family's debt.

SFGal said...

There's a certain rush in living frivolously, but it's short-lived. That said, spending $100, or even $50 a month on "fun" helps you in the long run because you'll be a happier person if you can let go of the idea that all money must be saved and stored. Life is about living. Living isn't necessarily buying 5 new BCBG shirts a year, but it certainly is traveling the world, or trying a new hobby that isn't free.

When I was in college, I was "lucky" in the sense that I came from a well-off family that paid for everything. I'd go on my "I'm avoiding the world" shopping sprees, buy clothes I didn't need, live frivolously, and not really focus on school.

I wish that I could go back and have been more like you!

But we all are who we are. Now I'm older and money has changed drastically. My parents no longer pay for things, and that's great. But it also means that I've turned into a somewhat stingy spender.

I'd say, if you really want to know what it feels like to live in someone else's shoes, save up about $1000 over the course of a year, then go crazy and spend it all. Take a trip to Europe, get a massage, do something you'd never do because it just "costs too much" without going overboard (no need to put yourself in debt for this experiment).

Don't think about it too much, as that puts too much value on the money. Instead, the value here is on the experience. On being able to do something you really want to do. Since you're working and saving money anyway, you won't be at a loss. And you'll feel so healthy letting go!