A simple luxury.

As is so often the case, this month’s Salon question about the luxuries we can’t do without, posed so thoughtfully by our own Lemon Tart, has thoroughly inspired me.  It’s an interesting question, and my knee-jerk reaction was to rattle off a list of my favorite things, things I could live without (biologically, at least), things I probably spend too much money on, things I could avoid in order to contribute more robustly to the bottom line of my retirement account.  Baguettes, for example.  Fresh flowers.  A well-made cocktail.  Good sheets.  An occasional trip.  A visit to the hairstylist.  Books.

Epi baguette from the local bakery.

Epi baguette from the local bakery.

The truth is, I used to be very (very) conservative with my money.  When my husband and I bought our first house, there was money in that down payment from my high school paychecks.  While my sister spent her allowance on Raven’s Revenge and Chupa Chups at the Texaco station, I deposited mine into a ‘Menehune’ bank account for kids.  In the two years following my college graduation, I had myself on a strict budget of $20 every two weeks for everything besides rent, bills, gas and groceries.  If I needed to get my eyebrows waxed, that meant I had $6 for a light lunch or two lattes before the next pay period.

Some of my fiscal cautiousness was necessary and productive.  There’s no denying that those horded high school paychecks allowed us, at least in part, to buy our house.  But now that we have our feet under us a bit more, now that I can get my eyebrows waxed without rationing my lattes for the next two weeks, I find myself allowing ‘luxury’ purchases that my younger self would balk at.  When we moved into our apartment in New York, I spent an embarrassingly obscene amount on 20 yards of pale green gossamer, which I sewed into floor-to-ceiling curtain panels, because I fell in love with the color and didn’t know if I’d ever again live somewhere with such high ceilings.  Though those curtains were not a horse, they might have seemed just as superfluous and irresponsible as Lemon Tart’s relative’s purchase.

But.

I appreciated those pale green gossamer curtains every day for two whole years of my life.  I used to think that money should be saved to be spent on long-term investments, on things like houses and cars and health savings accounts.  And I still believe those things, of course.  I’ve simply given myself a bit more leeway, a bit more permission to prepare for the long-term without totally sacrificing the present moment.  Ultimately, if my habit of baguettes and fancy cocktails puts me back a year or two on some longer-term financial goals but makes me happy in my daily life, I’ll take the baguettes.

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6 thoughts on “A simple luxury.

  1. I come from a long line of extremely — and I mean extremely — frugal people. My aunt and grandmother, who lived together all of their lives, would not turn on the air conditioning in 97 degree summer swelter because it was too expensive; they stopped sending birthday cards when postage went up to $0.25; they waited a year for the books they wanted to read because they would only use the library. Did I mention they had over $1 million in the bank? My oldest sister buys stale food just to save money. She has about $1 million in the bank, as well. My mother used to buy each of us one Christmas present (a sweater) because she felt the need to “tighten the belt”. When she died (10 years after my father) she left each of us $300,000. Okay. So you see the pattern, right? I read about your sacrifices and your scrimping and I could feel my skin crawling. Thank GOD you’ve been able to find a way to enjoy life and spend a bit more. I am not suggesting that we instantly start spending like drunken sailors. But a healthy relationship with pleasure and with spending is a really, really good thing! For my part, I allow myself an unlimited supply of books and at least 10 downloads per month (music). Those give me a real feeling of pleasure and of life well lived. Plus travel, organic food and a very, very nice camera 🙂

    • I love it! Thanks for your thoughts. There have been times when I’ve had house guests offer to write me a check so that I would turn up the heat in my house during their stay. So yes, I agree: a healthy relationship with pleasure (and also a guiltless perspective of spending money as a means to a pleasurable end) is a very, very good thing.

  2. Lovely post. Like you, I spent a lot of my youth being extremely careful with money. I have since relaxed. Yes, I am stil fairly conservative. I put away high set percentages toward retirement savings and aggressive mortgage repayment every month. It makes me feel secure to know I’m doing that.

    But I work hard for my money and I think it should buy me more than future security. This is the life I have now and I could die tomorrow. So I also put money aside for vacations, and I take those vacations. If I want fresh flowers (and I often do), then I buy them – not orchids or anything, but just pretty fresh seasonal flowers. I go to the movies instead of paying for cable. These things make me happy, and I think it is an important thing to have a happiness line on your budget.

  3. I love this! My approach was more on the opposite end of the spectrum. I rarely saved in my twenties and wasn’t terribly good at managing money. That said; I didn’t make a lot of money, so even though I didn’t save much, I didn’t have much to spend on luxuries either. It’s only now that I get to spend money on eyebrow threading or buying organic. And I do enjoy it. I’m so glad you’ve found a way to enjoy some luxuries too!

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