Thursday, November 3, 2011

to spend or not to spend

I took a holiday from spending money for the beginning of this week. My wife and I, both sensible shoppers (though she is much more sensible than me), went to Wegmans for groceries this past Sunday and, for the first time, spent over $200 for the week. This disturbed me as had the trend of going over $2000 on our credit card each month. I have long known that there are things we spend on that aren't necessary and I know too that there are things we buy that are just silly, but I have never gotten down to what those things are and gone instead with a vague notion of trimming my budget. That's like trying to lose weight by "watching what I eat." It doesn't work.

A couple days ago, I wrote about how goal setting doesn't work and I just said that being vague doesn't work either. Instead, I decided to see how long I could go this week without spending money. Turns out I made it about three days. Here's what happened.

That trip to Wegmans happened Sunday morning. Monday morning I made coffee at home for work. I did not stop at Starbucks. I packed my lunch (which is usual) and did not go grab a bite to eat or get a cookie in the afternoon. That got me through Monday and things were similar on Tuesday. I saw that my car was running low on gas and that got me back to something called hypermiling (search for it on Google) so that I could go an extra day or two without spending on gas. But then, last night, our dinner planning collapsed between my wife being sick, our daughter having both dance and Hebrew school, and the clock only having twenty-four hours. My wife also needed her prescriptions picked up.

I went to Wegmans.

There I dropped about twenty bucks on the prescriptions, a roasted chicken, and these gluten-free peanut butter cups that my wife can actually have on her restricted diet. The chicken was a luxury that I bought because I felt like I couldn't get the cooking done. Looking back, I see that there was chicken in our freezer that I could have defrosted, grilled, and served to everyone. Damn, there's $6 I could have avoided. The prescriptions were necessary for her health, so I'm writing off that $7. And the peanut butter cups were a way to say that I love her, that her health is going to get better, and to help her out of the touch of depression she is having over all this. I'll take the $6 I spent on those (I bought a bunch to keep her going over several weeks).

Then this morning I picked up cash because I'm meeting a friend for coffee. That $20 won't all be spent today and buys us privacy and a chance to catch up after a couple years. If I spend less than $10 it will be a good investment. And I had to get gas for the car which ran just over $30. I'd like to find a way to tame that.

I bring up all this accounting because there is a certain amount of money that I have to spend, but I'm concerned that in the course of half a week I have already spent over $250. That puts me on track to spend $2000 in a month or more and that's just crazy.

I hear a lot about the economy on NPR and I want to talk about that in another day's blog, but my simple thought here is that I want to spend less, consume less, support the economy a lot less. George W. Bush advised me to eat out more and go shopping. Anything George W. Bush advised tended to be contrary to good sense to I want to eat in much more and not shop. The holidays, my children's birthdays, and my wife's birthday are approaching and I'm trying to think of ways to celebrate without making Jeff Bezos that much richer and all of us that much poorer.

I've been reading and found a lot to learn there. I think about how our family has a lot of stuff going on that we don't really examine. I hope that trying to spend nothing each day helps me think carefully about what I spend when I get out the credit card or pass some dollars over the counter. I want to be sure that what we buy are the things we need and not simply the things we think we want. I also want to be sure that we have money for the things that we need and one way to insure that is to want less.

What do you do to save money? How are you wasting money? Let me know in the comments below or over on Google+.

Write on.