Money Mindsets: Spending

My default money mindset, as you all know, is to save. I’ve always been good at saving and at controlling my spending, but I’ve always sucked at spending. I have always had the opposite unhealthy relationship with spending in comparison to most personal finance bloggers.

While I was in college, I was ridiculously cheap. As you know, I graduated from college with a net worth of $32,000. I did this partially by saving a lot of my income from internships and my parents paying for my expenses on academic terms. But I also did this by being ridiculously cheap:

I hardly ever drank alcohol.

I never really went out with my friends more than once a month and sometimes, once an academic term.

I would only go home if my parents would pay for it.

I didn’t let myself buy clothes (basically, I just stayed away from the malls) and hated paying the $7-10 to get my jeans altered to be the right length. Since bras were expensive, I bought as few as possible, though then I had to replace them more often.

I ate a TON of pasta with cheap tomato sauce, cheap soups, and other cheap food like pancake mix. (I was too cheap to buy eggs and the pancake mix was way easier.)

I didn’t really go on any trips, except when my parents paid.

I refused to pay for cabs when I could just wait in the cold for a bit for the bus or trudge through snow to get to the grocery store.

I thought that paying $30 for yoga classes for the academic term was expensive, so I didn’t do it. In my current city, that would probably only buy me two yoga classes.

I didn’t drink coffee. (I still don’t.)

I stopped getting my eyebrows waxed.

Some of the above might not sound that crazy. Maybe I picked the wrong examples. But I would chastise myself in my head if I spent money. I never cut myself or anything, but I would get really mad at myself. I made myself feel like I had no money, even though my only calendar year with a loss in my net worth was the year I started college, by about $8. Every other year saw an increase in my net worth. One year in college, my net worth even went up almost $15,000 thanks to a high-paying internship, more than doubling.

Now, a few years post-college, I have a much healthier relationship with spending.

I am so glad my parents forced me to spend my entire relocation bonus on brand-new furniture. I have a really awesome bedroom set, mattress, and really awesome sheets. Who knew that buying a $200 comforter and 500 thread count sheets would make you sleep better than buying only a $10 fitted sheet from Wal-Mart that starts to fall apart after a few months?

Some people say that budgets are terrible and constricting. Not for me. My spending plan is freeing. It allows me to spend $20 including a small tip to get my eyebrows waxed every month because $20 of my paycheck was allocated to that. It allows me to buy only designer jeans and to travel.

I am also glad that I bought a brand-new car. I didn’t buy a luxury car. I spent about $20,000 on my car. But I’m glad I bought it instead of sticking with a car sharing program. It makes me far happier.

Paying myself first, the saving method I used up until I started my first full-time job, was unhealthy for me. Now I pay myself first by allowing myself to spend whatever I want, within the confines of my spending plan. And then the rest goes to savings. Direct depositing money into my checking account instead of transferring it from savings makes it far easier for me to spend it.

Now, I let myself spend in a way that makes me happier. I try to save money on the things that don’t make me happier to spend on, like getting my hair cut more than 2-3 times a year. But honestly? I just go to someone at the salon where my eyebrow lady works. That’s easier. And I don’t really notice the extra $20-40 that that costs a few times a year.

Having a high income makes it easier to not guilt trip myself about spending money. I think that that is one of the many reasons in which I’m glad I took the job offer I had instead of applying to grad schools. I don’t know how my relationship with spending money would be now if I had scrimped for no good reason for another few years as a student.

Readers, how do you spend to make yourself happy? Did you ever have an unhealthy relationship with spending like I did?


18 thoughts on “Money Mindsets: Spending

  1. I wouldn’t say that I have had an unhealthy relationship with spending. My stress and focus on money is directly related to how much I have in the bank. The more money I have as back-up the less I worry about money. So I’ve been crazy with money, but only when our net worth was negative. Now instead of beating myself up for money things, I can say, “It’s only money”. As we got rid of DH’s high interest student loans and got a nice-sized emergency fund, and then a house downpayment, and then a large income and even bigger savings… I love being able to get what I want when I want. DH has an allowance so he can’t go crazy. We still don’t spend as much as most people at our income levels, because my default is not to spend, but it’s nice being able to do things. I love going to the grocery store and buying whatever I want.

    With DH probably losing his income in a couple of years some of that uncertainty has crept back in and I don’t like having to make decisions about whether or not to see people based on the cost of plane tickets. (I bought my own plane tickets in college, btw. But my parents paid room and board.)

    (You waxed your eyebrows in high school?)

    • My sister was crazy… and my eyebrows are super thick and unibrow-like. It was only $6! Oh, how cheap things are in the suburbs. I have no idea why I did it. It hurt like crazy and it sucked.

      My parents paid for a lot of my plane tickets with miles, actually. That made them not nearly as expensive. Then sometimes my internship company paid for my flights, which was a nice perk.

      I don’t really think about how much things cost at the grocery store either and it’s awesome. I just buy what I need.

      I definitely think that my income has freed me a LOT from worrying about money. I worry really easy, so not worrying much by default is amazing. For example, a condo $40,000 more than ideal is really still affordable and monthly actually turned out to be cheaper because of lower HOA dues. So it’s not so bad that the price is $40,000 more.

      I’m thinking that I might want to have a larger emergency fund after buying a place since that’s taking a lot of cash out of the bank, but I guess we’ll see.

  2. Once again we had similar spending habits, but you considered it unhealthy and I considered it normal life! I often think back to how little I spent in college. We simply did not have a culture of spending at my school – that is, once you’ve paid the enormous tuition and room and board bills. All events were on-campus and since I didn’t have a car I only was able to leave campus if I got a ride. My friends very rarely ate out and I literally never went shopping for anything other than groceries. I just took care of all that stuff when I was home for vacations and my parents were buying. Of course, I didn’t make anywhere near the same amount of money you did – just my workstudy income during the year and research income for the summer, which was meager. It would just not cross my mind to spend any money except on food, which was pretty infrequent because I had a decent meal plan.

    Now, my budget does the same thing for me as it does for you – frees me up to spend money on myself. I like it.

    • It could be normal life, but it was my mindset about it that made it unhealthy. Also, the people I hung out with liked going out to dinner a lot. We didn’t have meal plans after first year, so it made more sense to live off campus in houses and apartments, which is what we did, but we spent a lot of our time on campus doing schoolwork late, so we would grab dinner. I finally gave into that in my last couple of terms and put it into my budget and that made life way better.

      Yay for freeing budgets! :)

  3. haha oh god you were so frugal.. You say it doesn’t sound crazy but those are not what most college students do! I know it’s not what I did =\

    The car I want is about $20,000-$25,000 too.. I’m trying to find a way to get the money for it but I just like going on vacation too much ;)

    • Haha yeah most of my friends spent FAR more at bars. And one of my friends after college told me that it’s totally normal to drop $200 on a night at the bar :/ I don’t think I’ve spent more than $40 on a night at bar(s) *including* dinner even now. It helps that I’m a lightweight ;)

      I didn’t put very much money into my 401(k) in my first year working (only the minimum to get the match), which really helped to afford the car.

  4. I was pretty frugal in college, but not quite as frugal as you were. I always had roommates and ate cheap food, I stuck with mostly free entertainment, and only went home if my parents were paying for gas. I loved eating out though; the city I live in has a great food scene, but I tried to limit going to nice restaurants to once a month and made sure I had a groupon on hand.

    • Hah. Food scene. My college town so did not have one of those. I hadn’t even heard that phrase until I moved to my current city.

  5. In college there were lots of weeks I spent money on nothing other than bagels for lunch while I was on campus.

    I didn’t own a car, and while the first year I was in the dorms (with the cheapest meal plan possible) after that I started a vegetarian eco-friendly co-op. So my rent (for a room in a 14 room house) was like $260, my food bill $100-110, and my utility bill $50. I spent a relatively high amount on phone cards to keep in touch with friends (I didn’t have a cell).
    I went home a good bit, but I was only 100 miles away so I could take the greyhound, train or megabus (the competition of options tended to keep costs reasonable). I didn’t buy many clothes new, as I discovered the YMCA’s annual used clothing sale. I wouldn’t even buy a bike new, because there were so many rideable used ones after the annual purge of on-campus unregistered/abandoned bikes.
    I eschewed cabs for the cost aspect (also, for the unpredictability of expense- I really didn’t take them enough to be able to estimate costs, and I don’t like tipping there [even though I don’t mind it in restaurants at all]; I hated keeping cash around, ect.). Actually, come to think of it, I still despise cabs.

    At the same time, I never felt worried about operating expenses. I spent some on extra food that the co-op wouldn’t cover (e.g. premium ice cream) and some on alcohol, but not much since I couldn’t buy it myself and I never went out to bars. We did go out to steak-n-shake in the middle of the night a lot, and being able to cover friends was important to me. I nearly always had money for that. Now, I’m a million times more worried about money, even though I have a lot more. But I’ve got a kid, and I would really rather him not have to take out loans for college…

    • DH can one-up you on the bagels– he got them free day-old from a local bakery. (I am so glad I was on a meal plan with a good salad bar all 4 years of college.)

    • I like that you always found the money to cover friends. I was really bad at that and my friends who had less were far better at it. That’s something I’m working on now when it’s less relevant, oops.

      I mostly hate cabs because the drivers almost always creep me out.

  6. Nicoleandmaggie- In fairness, the second year in the co-op we had someone who got us ‘dumpster bagels’ somewhat regularly. SO MANY BAGELS (we ended up eating them in casseroles and bread pudding deserts…). By that point, I was working and so I’d upgraded to egg/cheese on a croissant from the food cart. SO GOOD, even if they were $2 and change (instead of $1 and change for a bagel w/cream cheese).
    Leigh- Yes! the creepiness factor of cab drivers *does not help*.

  7. 1. Who goes to the bar to drink? (1) pre-drinking and (2) keggers. Maybe that’s my small town Ontario upbringing that’s coming out.

    2. Have a trustworthy friend pluck your eyebrows. Preferably after #1.

    3. Bit torrent or Youtube any fitness program you want

    4. Buy a used car. I’m glad you ended up with a good new car, but honestly if you do your homework and learn a bit about maintenance, a used car is so freaking cheap in comparison. I have a 2003 Malibu that runs great and costs next to nothing to keep on the road. $30 to do my own (synthetic) oil change. $5 for a part here or there. And because nobody wants a 9-year-old Chevy, you can buy one for like a grand. It’s frigging ridiculous.

    5. Brew your own coffee. Caffeine is, I’ve heard, an appetite suppressant, thus saving money on your food budget!

    • 1. Ridiculous people who have money to drop or think they do? I tend to drink at the bar, but I only have one drink a night, so pre-drinking wouldn’t save me that much money at happy hour prices anyway. And ew, keggers :P

      2. I don’t have any female friends who remotely know anything about plucking eyebrows. I would do it myself, but they’re way too bushy and my eyes start watering, haha.

      3. Bit torrent and Youtube don’t work for gyms or sports :) Are you not an advocate of being outside?!

      4. Car cost is a moot point now – mine is pretty cheap to run too. Insurance + the occasional tank of gas + $40 oil changes twice a year, though I have yet to pay for an oil change because my dealership keeps giving them to me for free! Oh yeah, and parking it in my apartment building. Stupid cities. That will “go away” when I buy a condo, lol.

      5. I still don’t drink coffee, so no worries there.

    • I had this break-up in college that resulted in me drinking a LOT of double chocolatey chip frappuccinos from Starbucks and eating a LOT of white cheddar popcorn. After that experience, I don’t eat those items very much anymore, lol.

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