a tentative edict for guilt-free finances

My biggest takeaway from I Will Teach You To Be Rich is that as long as I’m meeting my savings goals, my spending should not matter. I’m not a naturally spendy person and this doesn’t really haunt me, but I do get anxious about “spending too much,” whatever that means.

It’s something that I’ve been working on for years — being comfortable with accumulating “stuff” is hard. It’s hard to admit to yourself, “I want a nice TV,” or “I want to eat out whenever I want.”

I have been tracking my spending via Mint for the past year or so. I used to use another app, but I don’t remember why I got off of it… Either way, Mint works. Mint links all of my accounts and shows me my categorical spending per month as well as my total net worth each month. That seems good enough for me.

Caveat: Mint is not a very good app. Personal Capital is the spiritual successor to it, but I found the Android experience to be absolutely terrible.

As far as other finance tools I use, I have a dead-simple spreadsheet that I update once a month. It literally just asks how much I earned, spent, saved, and donated each month, and calculates the total per year. Along those same lines, I also input that information into the FI calculator from The Mad Fientist. I’m not sure why I do that. I have no desire to retire early, but I think knowing what date I will be financially independent is nice.

That’s my entire finance system… It’s more mature than it used to be. I’m happy with it as is, though. I never plan to track my spending the way some people do. I already have that instinct to kind of ask myself whether this is the right thing to do when I’m buying something.

The problem is that this happens pretty much every time I’m buying something.

For example, when I was recently buying my skateboard gear — I pretty much went for the best union of cheap and high-quality. I spent several days researching the best option for each thing I bought. It was good to think it through. I ended up spending over $150 total on my skateboarding hobby, without any indication on whether or not I was going to stick with it. It could’ve been much higher or much lower depending on my other priorities, but spending more time on it allowed me to find the happy middle ground.

On the other hand, on Friday, I actually ripped through a $100 pair of pants I bought earlier this summer. I’m going to repair the hole, but something that I thought would last me years lasted months. That kind of thing tears at me. I hate when you expect something to last forever, to be so high-quality, and it just doesn’t. I feel like it’s my fault that I broke it. It was my fault! But, if I broke it, it wasn’t right for me in the first place.

There’s still that guilt for spending $100 on something that I thought was high-quality and it turning out to be a waste of money.

I shouldn’t live with that guilt. It should be fine. I should be able to move on. They weren’t right for my future as a skateboarder anyway if they ripped so easily. We need to adjust and pivot.

So, I’ve decided to look at my spending per category on Mint. This is the chart for this whole year.

As you can see, rent is obviously the biggest thing. Other encompasses other sorts of shopping — entertainment, random purchases, pharmacy stuff. This isn’t all accurate, some of it should go into shopping, some of it should really be its own sliver, but it works for our purposes.

According to the book, there should be 1-2 categories that go into guilt-free spending. Let’s take this list and categorize it into stuff:

  1. Rent & Home: includes utilities, insurance, furniture, and rent.
  2. Food & Dining: includes grocery shopping and eating out.
  3. Gifts & Donations: self-explanatory.
  4. Travel & Transportation: includes Ubers, hotels, flights, and any tickets for events that I am traveling to( eg. conventions)
  5. Shopping: Amazon, clothes, essentials & non-essentials.
  6. Entertainment & Digital: making my own category here for Netflix, video games, anything I buy digitally.
  7. Other: the last category, includes literally whatever else. Pharmacy? Cash? Whatever.

Let’s break down my thoughts on each:

rent & home

Thinking about this a lot makes sense. I don’t buy new furniture very often — pretty much only when I move, and moving is obviously its own fixed cost of major nonsense. Each time I move, I get so stressed about how I manage to spend so much so quick, but this shouldn’t happen as long as I continue to stay in the Bay Area. I like my stuff here, I like my life here, even if I move apartments, it shouldn’t be a major issue.

Being willing to invest into living in the Bay Area is hard. One of my biggest “commitment” purchases was my couch last year. It’s not the highest quality. It was about $600 for a three-seat recliner. I love it. It’ll probably only last 3-4 years, but hey, that’s a decent amount of time to commit to a large piece of furniture.

I recently bought a really nice air purifier as well (lol fires). That means I now have an air purifier and a humidifier in my apartment. It’s so hard to commit to buying this stuff because I keep thinking about moving it. Every single thing you buy is something you have to move or throw away.

But that’s no excuse to live in a home that doesn’t feel like home. Just move less. Accept the pain when it comes. I think I should buy everything that makes my home more comfortable and convenient.

This includes stuff I am woefully lacking in like home safety stuff. (I didn’t have a first aid kit until last week. I still don’t have an emergency flashlight or any source of solar charging. One thing at a time…)

Also, I am happy with my rent price. I spent a lot of time on that (obviously) and I am happy with where I live. I shouldn’t move just to move.

food & dining

This is a big part of a rich life for me. The pandemic has made this harder.

Although I know that cooking is economical and healthy, I do want to eat out more. I used to get lunch out every day, and dinner 2-3 times a week. That was all normal before we were all staying at home all day. It no longer made sense after covid started.

I feel like earlier in the pandemic, getting delivery was not ethical, but I’m starting to change my mind there a bit. The issue now is that delivery is expensive.

I’m happy to live near some amazing vegan food that I can walk to and grab food from, but even then, there’s always some guilt. I really need to work on getting rid of that.

It’s been 6 months of cooking for most meals. I still hate it. Clearly, I’m never going to like it. I should just eat the cost of delivery for places that I can’t get takeout from guilt-free. Leave good tips, order enough for 2-3 meals, and eat well. Why worry about spending an extra $10 just to get it delivered? It’s fine.

My grocery bills continue to be relatively low, as well. This was more stressful during the beginning of the pandemic because I didn’t really have a set of meals and a backlog of rice, noodles, and canned goods to rely on. Now that’s all settled and I only do groceries every 2 weeks.

gifts & donations

This is one area I’m very good about. I had a goal to donate $3000 in 2020, which is a ridiculously large amount of money, but also relatively attainable. I am currently at $2800 for this year.

I’d like to increase this with time, but more as my income increases. This was a really scary thing to commit to and I’m really happy that I reached it.

travel & transportation

This is something I always want to stress about. Given public transportation (and soon, skateboarding!), there is very little occasion to use Uber or Lyft. Let’s see how many I’ve taken in 2020… 6. Total. I shouldn’t stress about the price when I do take them then. I do it so rarely. Just do it and move on.

My flights per year are fairly pre-planned. I will fly home maybe 3x a year (and that’s a flight from OAK -> ONT, one of the shortest flights in the US) and I’ll fly to the religious convention every year. There’s very little travel beyond that.

Basically, everything I do in this category is an essential. I don’t stress about it too much, but I could stand to stress about Uber less.

shopping

This is the big one in 2020. Being at home has made the limitations of my home and the stuff I have very obvious.

I’ll give some examples…

  • Exercise gear including my jump rope, resistance bands, and my skateboard gear
  • New clothes because I finally have the mental space to think about my fashion post-pandemic
  • Physical books (even though I have a Kindle)
  • Stuff I should’ve bought before like a first aid kit, batteries, and tape
  • Air purifier & humidifier
  • Instant Pot & other essential kitchen gear

Honestly, that’s about it. When I list it all out like that, it doesn’t seem that bad. Then why do I feel so guilty about it?

It’s complicated… Of course I know what I have is enough. But that isn’t the question being asked with these questions. It’s “Will it make my life easier and better?” The answer is unequivocally yes. Then what’s the big deal? Who cares about the price?

I don’t know. I just have to keep questioning it, I guess. I don’t want to get to the point where I’m buying stuff just to buy it. Stuff does accumulate.

There’s only so much space in my apartment and my closet to give up on things.

entertainment & digital

All things considered, I spend relatively little on this and I’m very happy with my spending here. (I wonder why… Digital clutter just feels different than the stress of new physical items, maybe?)

I do need to stop buying games because I have too many, but I never feel guilty for those purchases anyway. Isn’t it weird how the relationship just does a complete 180 when compared to my shopping section?

other

I have no comment here. I don’t know what goes in here even. This is fine. I don’t think about this.

what should my two limitless categories be then?

I think it’s fairly obvious that food should be one.

But god, should shopping be the other? I am allowed to buy whatever I want? That feels so limitless and bad and wasteful. I think if I allow myself to buy whatever I want, then the natural limits I have should act as a buffer.

One thing is for sure… I should not feel guilty about buying a nice air purifier.

We’ll see how writing this out helps my sense of guilt over the upcoming months.