April 13, 2009

The end of Lent - or is it?

I am not a practicing Christian so I don't exactly know what the spiritual component of Lent is. I have however recognized Lent in different ways over the past ten years or so. I take this 40 day period most years to give something up as a disciplinary gut-check. In the past, typical picks have been things like sweets and liquor, things that don't generally do a body good anyway. These periods of self-denial give me a feeling that I'm not in denial when I say I could give it up whenever I want to.

I didn't intentionally observe Lent this year, but I did give up drinking for about a month. This year along with the check to see who has power over what, there was the added motivation to save money. Everybody is tightening their belts, and we are no different.

We haven't operated on a budget for quite some time, and though I plug every receipt into Microsoft Money, I had only a general sense of where our money was going. We don't buy new things very often. Both of our cars are at least 10 years old and paid for. Much of our furniture is either a hand-me-down or we have owned it from before we were married. I am definitely not a clothes horse and I don't buy the latest gadgets. So I can't really point to something physical and say, "that is where my money goes".

Our money in the past has gone more toward experiences - travel to see friends, entry fees for bike rides and runs, vacations, etc. But that doesn't capture it all. The money that disappears out of the account without much notice is the day to day stuff like trips to Starbucks or lunch at a burger joint. $5 or $10 adds up quicker than I think.

Money has different meanings for everyone. In the end it is a reflection on priorities and it isn't always easy to understand how others spend money. I've spent $85 for a five hour experience of a marathon, but I have a hard time opening my wallet to spend the same amount on clothes. Everyone makes their choices and there is nothing right or wrong in that.

It is the things we spend money on that have no lasting value, or that we don't even notice, that we need to get a hold of. I get a few minutes of enjoyment in eating out for lunch, but the feeling is fleeting and if I stopped to think about it, it isn't where I want my money going.

The plan going forward for me is to cut the spending to the bone, kind of clear the decks as it were. Money will be spent almost solely on things we can't avoid - shelter, food, gas, insurance, etc. Even the essentials will be analyzed for fat that can be trimmed. As it is, 75% of everything that makes it into the shopping cart is on sale, but there are still things that can be trimmed back. By eliminating non-essential spending, we can see where we really stand. When we start adding things back in, we can decide if it really reflects our priorities or not.

On the Clutter Diet Blog, they have paper sleeves that you can slip your debit cards into. Printed on the sleeve are these five questions:

· Who owns this already and might share it with me?
· What do I already have that is like this?
· Where will this be stored?
· When will I have time to use it and maintain it?
· Why do I want to buy this?

The first four questions go to the mission of preventing extra clutter from entering into the house. Question number five is the one I will be focusing on for the forseeable future. It isn't important that your choices make sense to others, but especially when times are lean, it has to make sense to you. Decide what is most important and focus on that. Then the self-denial of the other stuff won't seem like much of a sacrifice.

1 comment:

tami said...

Why, why, why do you have to take all of the fun out of 'retail therapy'? You make too much sense and I don't like to admit it, but I need to think this way as well. Arrgghhhh. :-)