The rhythm of daily life routinely shifts from slow and easy to fast and furious. No matter how hard we try to rein in the crazy and slow our lives down, the crazy creeps back in when we aren’t looking. As a result, life as a minimalist – always in search of simplicity — is a never-ending journey. We are always on the path, never reaching the destination. This sort of journey suits me fine.
This same phenomenon occurs with money. We can be extra careful and thoughtful about our spending and then, BOOM! Here comes the crazy. Some unexpected large expense or a series of little, but poor spending decisions, all of which can cause us to steer ourselves straight off the financial wellness path.
“How meaningful is this purchase?”
For this reason, I’ve started thinking about spending in a new way, and my thought process is increasingly becoming a habit. The concept isn’t difficult. But it can be challenging to remember to ask myself, “How meaningful is this purchase?” Of course, I don’t do this for every bill that comes into the house. I’m referring to daily spending. Spending on convenience. Spending to reduce emotional pain or stress. Spending to keep up with the persona we have developed.
It’s easy to be judgmental about quite a bit of our spending. Who hasn’t succumbed to the fast food siren song when the workday has run just a bit too long, and the thought of going home to cook a nutritious meal makes you want to cry. Who hasn’t bought a sugary treat or other impulse purchase because our day was challenging and some inner voice whispers that “we deserve a treat.”
If we objectively evaluate this sort of spending, it would result in many budget cuts. On the surface, those adjustments might seem wise and right. But depending on the situation, it might be wrong to cut those “unnecessary” expenses. This is where it’s paramount that we focus on meaning.
Bad habit? Or important ritual?
Let me offer a personal example of this sort of behavior. My husband and I homeschool our daughter, Rowan, and I run a business. Once a week, she comes with me to the office to do a little bit of work and work on school assignments while I work in the office. Almost without exception, we leave the house early and hit Starbucks for breakfast.
By anyone’s measure, this is not the best choice as a parent. My daughter is not getting a very nutritious breakfast (nor am I!). What we get is enormously overpriced. Nonetheless, it has developed into a habit. On the surface, this seems like a habit that needs intervention. Clearly, I’m capable of having something fun, nutritious and interesting to eat at home on those mornings when we “working girls” are heading to the office. A practice like that would save oodles of money and probably save time, too.
But even as I am feeling all the parental guilt about this bad habit, I don’t berate myself. Instead, I smile. Because this ritual is an echo of one I had with my father when I was a kid. On Saturday mornings, he got up early to go to his office to get some extra work done. He would wake me up and ask if I wanted to go along. The answer was always an enthusiastic “yes!” because it meant stopping for breakfast at my dad’s favorite diner. I was, and still am, a huge fan of big breakfasts. This time with my dad became a happy ritual, and I’d also get the satisfaction of helping him out with some work when I accompanied him to his office.
So, now Rowan and I have developed a similar joyful ritual. In spite of the fact that I spend $14 each Thursday when we stop for breakfast, it is worth it because the experience MEANS something to us. It’s our thing. It began accidentally but, after a handful of times, our pitstop has become a habit. When she’s slow to get out of bed those mornings, a whispered reminder of “Starbucks for breakfast!” is all it takes to motivate that girl.
This ritual might fall into the category of the worst sort of spending. It’s convenient, but it’s not particularly healthy, and $14 per week does add up. Truth is, this splurge means something to my daughter and me, and therefore it has a sanctioned place in our budget.
Evaluate your spending in the context of meaning.
Using the lens of meaning is a way to filter your discretionary spending. What does this purchase mean to you? Does it have any meaning? When you are about to buy an unhealthy snack, or another pair of jeans you don’t need, ask yourself “why am I doing this?” What does that purchase mean to you? If the purchase will lift up your soul with happiness or nourish your body with goodness, you will have a positive feeling when you ask yourself the question. Instead, if the purchase is simply out of habit or is something you’re trying to quit buying, notice that, too.
So, pause. Evaluate what you are about to spend your hard-earned money. Practice taking a deep breath while you ponder the meaning of the purchase.
As we work to simplify our lives and cut out the unessential, we shouldn’t overlook how we spend our money. Just as our lives can easily slip back into an undesired hectic rhythm, so, too, can our spending slip back into meaninglessness. Choose to be thoughtful and adopt spending habits that are meaningful to you.