Day 24 | $24,666 paid | $66,051 till freedom
A lot of my recent posts have been about the second part of my debt-reduction framework, increasing revenue. This one is dedicated to the first and most fundamental part of the framework: cutting costs.
I was at Lowe’s the other day buying a caster for my chair–by the way, I think this whole not-spending-any-money thing is going to have a remarkable impact on my handyman skills. I broke one of the wheels on my office chair (crappy Staples crap), and instead of paying $120 for a new one, which the old me definitely would have done, I went to the hardware store to see if they sell casters. They do! And they cost only $5. I saved $115!
Anyway, I was at Lowe’s getting the caster for my broken chair, and I saw some of of those huge inflatable plug-in yard decorations for Halloween, and I realized that it was the buying season for all things Halloween–decorations, costumes, and candy. I looked down at my watch to check the date and see how many days I had left before everything was sold out and it was too late to do my Halloween shopping. To say I panicked would be an overstatement, but there was definitely some anxiety.
Last year, I spent over $200 and several hours prepping for Halloween, and that was with some restraint–I really wanted a huge decoration for my yard, maybe a dude in a coffin that leaps out at kids coming up the sidewalk for candy, but I didn’t want to go spend too much money. The $200 and time was spent running around town to piece together a Mike “The Situation” Jersey Shore costume which I wore downtown, a scary costume with which to hand out candy, a voice modulator for the scary costume, a scary music CD to play while handing out candy, and the candy itself. I have a statue of a knight in my foyer, so I also spent some time and cash putting red LED lights in the eye sockets. My goal was to scare the crap out of kids.
I terrified about 90% of all the kids who came to my door and even managed to make a few cry! It was frighteningly fantastic. I wore a black floor-length cloak and a super-scary mask, and during parts of the night, I stood in the open front door and watched kids trick-or-treating, the scary music blasting out of some huge speakers I had put in the windows and the red LEDs glowing in the knight’s eye sockets, staring over my shoulder at the trick-or-treaters. A lot of kids looked at me and refused to walk up the driveway–they passed on by, casting cautious glances in my direction. Others had their parents go get the candy while they waited in the street.
At one point, I stepped away for a second, and when I came back, I walked up behind my then-girlfriend who was holding out a bowl of candy for a little guy who was reaching into it to get a treat. I stood behind my girlfriend and peered over her shoulder, and the mom noticed me before her kid did, so she threw both of her hands over his face and turned him away from me so he wouldn’t get freaked out.
(Well, not exactly–it cost about $130, but you know what I’m trying to say.)
Downtown was also a good time. Dressing up like a Jersey Shore buffoon does, in fact, give one the right to be a douchebag, so I really took advantage of it–Joy-zee accent and all–and had a complete riot.
- Downtown costume (multiple hair products, bronzer, headband, fake tattoos, bling bling watch, bling bling chain, bling bling sunglasses): $100
- Scary costume + modulator: $60
- Candy: $50
- Scary music: $15
- Red leds + battery: $5
- Total: $230
Throw in the cab ride to and from downtown as well as the drinks for my girlfriend and me, and Halloween 2010 was easily over $300.
So, to get back to the original story, there I was, standing in Lowe’s, thinking through a plan to outdo myself and building a schedule and financial budget to get all of the stuff together. My anxiety was growing a bit because I knew it would take a lot more time and money to make more kids cry this year than last, and to get more attention downtown this year than last.
But then I realized that it was all moot because I can’t afford Halloween!
There’s obviously some hyperbole in that statement, but most of it still rings true. I can’t really afford to go big–I have $0 in my budget allocated to Halloween, and I’m over $5k from my goal in the budget I have, so it’s not like there’s any wiggle room.
I basically get a pass on Halloween, and surprisingly enough, that’s actually a stress reliever. I don’t have to try to outdo myself or keep up with the Joneses on my block because I’m on a debt-paydown mission, and–at least in my mind–I’m allowed to bah-humbug Halloween this year.
Want vs. Need
That whole transformation was surreal–one minute I’m in a cold sweat trying to plan the perfect Halloween, and the next minute I’m completely mellow because I’m nixing Halloween. The surrealism got me thinking–where else in my life am I causing myself unnecessary stress by placing pressure on myself to outdo myself, get attention, or keep up with the Joneses? By going out as many nights in a single week as possible? Two cars and a motorcycle? A house at the age of 27? Traveling? Clothes?
Are there areas in my life where I can simplify?
Every since I started this mission three weeks ago, I’ve majorly slowed down my spending, and in fact, I’ve started a list of things I want or need but won’t buy until after my loans are paid off.
As of 9-20, I’d really, really like to buy the following things:
- Black dress shoes for work. I buy my shoes from Aldo and replace them every six months–my current ones should have been replaced about 9 months ago, and they look it. Yikes. | $125
- Rear tires for the S2000 | $400
- 8GB SD card for my camera. The old one broke. | $60?
- Motorcycle repair, so I don’t have to run-start it every time I get gas or run a short errand | $200-$300
- Soap dispensers for my master bathroom. I got a couple of really sharp, brushed aluminum soap dispensers from BB&B a year ago, but they aren’t working very well anymore. | $40
- Replacement subwoofer and speakers for my office computer. Six years later, I’ve finally blown the original set-up. | $150
I could easily spend a grand tomorrow, or 1.5% of what I owe on my loans (about $65k). But this is my “deferred shopping list,” and if I can get it away with it, it’s stuff I’m not going to buy until I’m student loan-free.
Per a comment that Mike made in an earlier post, one should always purchase preventative maintenance or repairs that will prevent a more expensive repair down the road. I completely agree. That’s why I’m having an exterminator come out to my house on Saturday for the $100 quarterly treatment–carpenter ants and termites will destroy a home and cause thousands of dollars in damage. And I’ll still be getting regular oil changes on my cars and my own oil change on the bike. Maybe I’ll invest in a jack and some stands to do the car oil changes myself.
But to get back to my earlier point, are any of the things from my deferred shopping list complicating my life unnecessarily? I would argue that scuffed up shoes can lead to a negative perception at the office which could lead to my termination, and bald tires can lead to an accident, so I don’t know if I’ll go another nine months without replacing the rubber for my feet or my car. I’ll definitely try to hold out for as long as possible, but I don’t know how long it will be before my better judgment wins out.
I can delay the purchase of an 8GB SD card for my 12MP camera since my phone takes decent pics with its 8MP camera. I can also delay the repair of my motorcycle–run-starting a motorcycle, while annoying, surely builds character.
The subwoofer and speakers for my computer? I already have a killer surround sound system in my living room, so this would be a luxury. Brushed aluminum soap dispensers? Maybe I’ll put those on the wedding registry ten years from now. I’ve since replaced them with $2 Dial soap dispensers.
There’s a difference between want and need, but the line is so often blurred between the two. I need new shoes so I don’t get fired. I need new tires so I don’t hydroplane and crash my car if it ever rains again in Austin. I need a 8GB SD card for my camera so I can lock in memories.
Or is my 8MP camera phone good enough? Do I need two subwoofers in the house when one is sufficient? Does my soap need to come out of a flashy container? Maybe that’s where the simplification kicks in–things that are nice or luxurious to have, but aren’t critical for everyday living, get the axe.
To take things to an extreme, you could ask to define what is “critical to living.” I need warmth, shelter, and food to live. I don’t need new tires if I don’t need a car to live. So am I supposed to learn how to hunt and build a shelter, sell everything I own, and live in the forest? Clearly, there are unclear shades of gray here that will not get answered tonight.
For now, I’ll continue to update my deferred shopping list.
Materialism & Self-Esteem
An article came out awhile ago that stated the obvious: “Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self esteem increases materialism…” Thanks, Captain Obvious. You mean that the dude flying around in the super-bright yellow Ferrari, with name-brands emblazoned all over his clothes, feels an incredible amount of self-worth, and he’s happy just being himself, as he is, flaws and all? He’s not compensating for a small…amount of self-esteem?
But then the article, in the very same sentence as the one above, goes on to completely blow my mind: “…and materialism can also create low self-esteem.”
I graduated from grad school in 2009 and I bought a black-on-black 2004 BMW M3. I thought it was awesome, and I thought I was awesome. Upgrading from a lowly Honda S2000, I was sure that I had arrived.
Driving that car was stressful, though. Everybody was always trying to race me at stoplights and even on the highway. Car enthusiasts would look at me wherever I went. I could never fly under the radar. And because it was black, and I like my things to look clean, I had to constantly wash it to keep it clean, and that was a huge time-suck. Owning that car was a lot of work, mentally and physically.
And then my friends started upgrading their rides. One of my friends got a brand-new 2010 BMW 335. And then my other friend got one. And then a friend got a new Lexus is350, and another one got a new Lexus GS400, a new Benz C300, a Porsche Cayenne. Suddenly, my old Bimmer was just looking old, but somehow still attracting enough attention at streetlights that I was constantly being forced put lesser cars in their place.
I bought a motorcycle a few months after getting the car since 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds wasn’t cutting it anymore. I had to get something that did it in less than 3 and could get to 100 in about 7. The motorcycle, due to the enormous smile it put on my face every time I drove it, became my daily driver, and I didn’t see the point in making $500 payments on something I left behind in the garage every day on my way to work. It just seemed like such a waste of money. I decided I wanted something in the garage that I wasn’t making any payments on. And since I had recently bought a house, I wanted something a little more appropriate for a homeowner. I was on a auto debt-paydown mission then, similar to now, but on a much smaller scale.
I sold the BMW and got a 2003 Nissan Murano with 126,000 miles on. And something really, really bizarre happened when I drove it home. I fell in love with it. Nobody looked twice at me. Ever. At stoplights, I didn’t exist. I flew completely under the radar. And because I hadn’t spent a lot of money on it and it wasn’t black, I didn’t care if it got dirty. And I didn’t feel a need to park it away from other cars like I did the M3. Bring on the door dings! To top it off, the Bose sound system was actually better than the Harmon Kardon system in the M3.
Like Halloween of 2011, I get a pass by driving the Murano. I’m telling people, “Look, I’m not here to compete. I know my car sucks. I know it’s a slow, utilitarian vehicle. I know your car is faster than mine and costs more than mine and looks better than mine. Bravo.” Nobody wants to race me, nobody cares. And it’s actually kind of empowering. It’s almost equivalent to the hubris of a counterculture that knows it will never fit in and meet society’s expectations and mores, so it flaunts its rebellious nature and amps up its irregularity to an almost excessive level. By driving the Murano, I disqualify myself from the start, and don’t have to go through the stress of being on top and then falling, or clawing for the top and never making it. I willingly and gladly cede the top.
The fight for the top–when it comes to material goods–is not worth it. It’s way too stressful.
Hell, I should put a child seat in the backseat of the Murano just to let people know I’m in on the joke.
The M3, and the materialism that drove me to purchase it, really was bad for my self-esteem. I would constantly compare the car and performance to other vehicles, and my comparison never included a Dodge Neon or Ford Focus, it included my friends’ Lexus/Benz/BMW/Porsche/etc, and as they kept upgrading their wheels, my M3 continued to lose its shine. When friends asked what car I drove, I would tell them the year/make/model, and some would say apologetically, “Oh, the older generation.” Apparently, an M3 is not an M3 is not an M3.
Even if my self-esteem were resistant to my internal comparisons and their judgment, which I think it was, it didn’t exactly make me feel awesome.
(If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I also have an S2000, so please let me get on the pre-emptive defensive here: One could argue that because it has two doors, two seats, a convertible top, and looks decent, that it’s my attempt to seek status with a car and fly at radar-level. But it’s a 10-year-old car and cost $11k, so that argument doesn’t hold much water. If I really wanted to try to seek status, I could have gotten a BMW Z4 or a Corvette for about $5k more. I bought the S2000 because at the end of the day, I’m an unabashed sun-worshipper and an auto-enthusiast, and anyone who knows the now-discontinued S2000 product knows that it’s one of the few true driver’s cars. And it has Japanese/Honda reliability going for it, unlike the Bimmer.)
Stuff or Experiences
There’s an article that tries to answer the answer the question of how much money one needs to make per year to be happy. Well, scratch that–not happy, but how much it takes to be satisfied. And the answer is about $75k. I already read that money doesn’t buy happiness, but that $75k…is that before or after student loan payments? Regardless, $75k is not much, and it’s tough to buy a whole lot of material goods with $75k. But it can buy plenty of beer, which leads me to my next point.
Between losing my friends in the pursuit of a motorcycle and realizing that buying a nice car doesn’t generate happiness, I’ve started leading a less materialistic life, looking to spend money on experiences rather than stuff–which explains my $1,400 in monthly entertainment spend. And this article indicates I might be on the right track: “Those who never drink are at significantly higher risk for not only depression but also anxiety disorders, compared with those who consume alcohol regularly.” A similar article explains that heavy drinkers outlive nondrinkers! “Alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health.”
And in case there are any doubts, check out this article: “One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff. Unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness.”
I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been stressed for the past couple of weeks, and I attribute it to the fact that the last time I had a drink with friends was over two weeks ago, on September 4th. All of my free-time has been consumed with revenue-searching ventures and avoiding spending money on entertainment. Nothing has ever, ever made me happier than spending a good night out with my friends. Clearly, it’s time for a night out, flask-style.
To bring this post full circle, the question now is how to have experiences cheaply. I would argue that Halloween for me last year was more about experiences–scaring kids and acting South Jersey in Austin–than it was about accumulating material goods. But as I demonstrated with Halloween last year, some experiences can get out of hand cost-wise. And as indicated by my swing of emotions at Lowe’s, some experiences can actually stress me out when it comes time to redo them to the point that I actually look forward to getting a pass out of them.
I’m glad I’ve gotten over the materialism (at least I think I have). I just need to take some time to reflect on the whole “want” vs. “need” concept in a little greater detail. And I need to learn how to have experiences more cheaply–$1,400 a month in entertainment and $300 Halloweens are probably not a great idea.
The next nine months will be a balancing act:
- Limit entertainment spend as much as possible and work as hard as possible to generate incremental revenue, but somehow make time and spend some money to go out with friends.
- Figure out what I need vs. what I want, and spend money on the former only. Also, identify situations where deferred maintenance or repairs will lead to more expensive repairs down the road.