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.
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.
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.