In this country we have very few real needs. Most of our purchases would be considered frivolous by the world’s truly needy. Take for example the two new pair of tennis shoes I bought recently.
In a previous column I touted the benefits of the “repair, reuse or make do” strategy of the very wealthy. Some of us live rich and others actually are rich. Wealth is what you don’t spend, not what you do spend. As an example, I mentioned that I repaired my tennis shoes with duck-tape and showed the $50,000 portfolio that results from saving and investing $50 every two years over 46 years.
As a result of that column, my duct-taped tennis shoes stopped being an eccentric novelty and became an object lesson. Gradually they grew from an object lesson into a badge of honor. Recently my badge of honor became an eyesore. My old tennis shoes had been repaired with duck-tape for six months, and the duck-tape needed repair.
After the winter break, the SOCA team I help coach offered to take up a collection in order to buy me a new pair of shoes. That was the deciding factor in purchasing a new pair. I kept the old pair (you never know when you need a pair that can be destroyed). In the meantime I bought two identical pair of shoes. They were on sale at a decent price, and by purchasing two pair the second pair were half price. Being frugal is good, but being rich and yet living miserably is not.
Many people don’t want to live frugally. “I work hard every day and I deserve nice things,” they say. “I know it is extravagant but it is one of the few things I really enjoy. I know this purchase was frivolous, but I was afraid if I did not buy it now I never would. It was on sale.”
These are common sentiments. Everyone needs some fun in their life, and sometimes fun costs a little money. But frivolous purchases can also rob a family of the savings they need to reach their goals.
It is the frivolous purchases that form the battleground of many marriages. The husband lectures that they need to cut back. He talks as though their spending problem is entirely the wife’s fault. The wife justifies herself by protesting that she doesn’t see where she can cut back. Then the husband says he knows exactly where she can cut back and points out several frivolous purchases. The wife defends her purchases and counters that the husband doesn’t care for anyone but himself. The husband shoots back that he slaves every day for the family. And the wife retorts by pointing out the frivolous purchases that he made.
Arguments like this happen every month in families who are struggling to make ends meet. But a spending plan should never be used as a weapon. It can only be used as a tool for couples that are working together toward a common goal.
Most people have purchases that a spouse might consider frivolous. The way to contain the damage they do to a budget and a marriage is to set a boundary within which they can be enjoyed, and beyond which they will not threaten your other financial goals.
Therefore, frivolous purchases must be limited and must come out of some budget category. Here are some guidelines for dealing with purchases that might be considered frivolous:
1. Wait a week before making any frivolous purchase. A week later you probably won’t still want the item.
2. When you make a frivolous purchase, tell your spouse that you made it. If you can’t tell your spouse about the purchase, it isn’t worth the trouble.
3. Limit your frivolous purchases. Set a limit of 1% of your take home pay each month. Try to under spend it most months.
4. Set an amount of money beyond which a husband and wife must agree before purchasing. Err on the side of setting the limit low to encourage communication. Try starting with your monthly limit for frivolous purchases. Increase it if you find it easy to meet your saving goals.
5. For discretionary purchase that are more than your monthly limit wait one month even after your spouse approves. A month later you probably won’t still want the item.
6. Have a budget for large purchases. I recommend having a spending category called “Big Items” and putting 10% of your income into this category. A Big item is any item that costs more than one month’s salary. By putting 10% of your income into this category, you can make about one big purchase for the household each year. Make this purchase together as a present to yourselves in the season of your anniversary.
7. Recognize that there will always be more desires than you can afford. If you plan on making monthly, periodic, and yearly frivolous purchases you will be more thoughtful and less wasteful in your expenditures.
Above all, learn to work together in marriage. Being wealthy requires a husband and wife to both be frugal. That kind of teamwork can’t happen without trust, respect, and communication.