Friday, August 28, 2009
Don't spend it all
By Robyn Davis Sekula
I’ve recently experienced something that is thrilling: I’ve had a large surge in my income, mostly due to a new client I signed just a month ago. I got the first check today, in fact.
It has changed the way I work. I don’t have to chase down hourly work anymore, and I reserve two days per week for this new client, who buys hours in advance through a monthly retainer. I love the client, love the work and feel incredibly blessed in a “pinch me this can’t be real” sort of way.
However, I’m quickly seeing something I didn’t expect to experience: a rampant desire to spend, and spend heavy.
I’ve spent most of the year paying down debt, and in fact, we now have two paid-for cars, no credit card debt and we’re saving for my three daughters’ college funds and for our own retirement. I had told myself, rather severely, that I would be banking this extra money, hoping to pile up a significant emergency fund by the end of the year. Perhaps I’d splurge on one item, such as a new television to replace ours, which is 15 years old.
But then, I had other ideas. My mother-in-law is pushing for us to replace our 2002 Camry, which has 126,000 miles. I’ve sufficiently beat back that idea, but it still pops up every now and then. My friend Carmen, who runs a cleaning service, said I should hire a maid. Hey, you’ve got the income now, she says, and your time is valuable – why not?
Then the Coldwater Creek catalog arrived, and I wondered what it would be like to actually order clothes from it instead of paging through it and tossing it, as I usually do so that I can’t give in to temptation. I also want a new gas grill, to replace the rusted out hulk in our back yard, and a carpet shampooer for the downstairs carpet. Oh, and did I mention I’d like to turn the half-bath upstairs into a full bath, and replace a brick sidewalk outside with a new concrete patio?
Then I had this reckless thought: hey, I work hard. What if I spent the whole first check? I could make a major dent in my list. And after all, I’m thrifty – I don’t spend that much. I’ve gone after this work and brought it in. I deserve it. Why not?
That little voice, my friends, is the one that plagues us and keeps us from achieving true wealth. I define wealth in this way: you have enough money that when something breaks, you are able to fix it without panicking. You feel prepared for life’s near-certainties (retirement, children’s college). You do not spend everything you make. It’s not necessarily that you make great money, but that you’ve done well with what you’ve got. Wealth is about how you prepare for life’s events, and how you feel when you think about the money you have. Having significant savings would make me feel secure. And if I do in fact ramp up my spending to the level that it sucks up all of my extra income, yes, I’ll enjoy a few things, but when the contract ends six months from now, I won’t feel secure.
The problem with making a good income is we tend to spend it, all of it. And in the end, that grill rusts, just like the old one. The new TV isn’t watched, and isn’t enjoyed nearly as much as we thought we would. The clothes stain. The car transports us, just like the other car. In other words, NONE of these things that we thought would be transforming truly change our lives.
What changes lives? Paying down debt, saving money and investing wisely with thehelp of a good advisor who studies options and can make solid recommendations. Security, and the ability to sleep at night, changes your life, and that’s what you’re buying with savings.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a problem. Money will fix the problem. Therefore, you have no problem anymore. That’s appealing, isn’t it?