Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Value of a Dollar

Whereas it helps me to write when I have a predetermined topic, and

Wereas I want not to bore everyone too much by writing about the same things over and over again,

I hereby declare Saturday's topic as Running and General Fitness and Sunday's topic as Financial Stuff.

Some ideas I'm still throwing around for Monday-Thursday are: Spirituality, health news, personal organization, being a good steward of the environment on a budget- and hey, that's four ideas. So maybe I'll work with that unless I come up with something better.

But the point of this post is how developing a budget really made me stop and think about how I value money and how I use it. Now that D. is back in school, finances are much tighter than they were when we were both working. Before saving just happened because we weren't running out and buying big screen TVs and personal watercraft each weekend. Now I'm afraid if we don't consciously put money aside each month, we just won't.

After we determined how much to put aside for savings, we had to decide what was important to us. Obviously paying the bills, but then what? Fitness is important to us so that needed to go in the budget. Some money needs to be allocated for clothing, food, household stuff, gifts (especially with Christmas right around the corner), gas, travel, and the other things that always seem to come up (like getting our electric mattress pad laundered). Not only was this a good exercise for our financial health, but it led to some major introspection (at least for me).

Here are the two major things I learned about myself while working on the budget:

1. Taking a closer look at how spending in one category decreases what I have in another really made me think about what I value.

One example is clothing. I've been trying to put together a more adult, work appropriate wardrobe now that I'm a "grown up". Both my parents and in-laws have generously contributed to this. I really started getting into waching What Not to Wear and enjoying shopping for new clothes and purses, etc.

Before, when I didn't think about where money was going, I'd buy something if I liked it because I don't have expensive tastes or shop much, and we always had more than enough. But now I really see the tradeoff. What would bring me more happiness? A new outfit or to save that money to take a trip with D? I already have plenty of clothes that I like, that fit and are appropriate for work. Why should I just accumulate more of the same when I could do something really special with that money?

Also, I've noticed is that I only want that stuff when I see it. Turn off What Not to Wear and throw away the catalogs, and I'm much more content with what I have.

2. How "expensive" a think is depends a lot on how conscious you are about how much you are spending.

I could also call this the Yoga and the Coke Machine Phenonomenon. Really what I was thinking of is Massages and the Coke Machine, but Yoga has a nicer ring to it. At the end of last month I was having a lot of pain in my right lower back and hip. This happened to me once before, and I let it get away from me and develop into a real problem. But one heavy duty massage and a lot of stretching made it go away. So faced with the same problem, I really wanted to get a massage to try to loosen it up. But massages are expensive. And you know they are expensive because you see that you are paying more than a dollar a minute for something that has a luxury connotation to it.

Contrast that with the vending machines down stairs. It's really easy to walk down to the vending machine each day and grab a soda and a snack. There's no luxury connotation, and it's easy to go down there and feed dollars in because "it's cheap".

But really, what is more expensive? The massage or the vending maching? And what has greater value? One really good massage a month costs $65. Now let's say I get 1 20oz soda for $1.50 each day and buy one snack for $1 each week day at work. How much is that? $65. The point is that I'd always assume that the massage was way too expensive becuase I knew how much it cost. The cokes and pretzels were fine because I had no idea how expensive they really were. So what would I rather have? The massage, definitely!

The same is true for yoga. The yoga studio we are going to on a trial basis has community classes on the weekends for $8 a piece. That sounds really expensive. But that's about the same price we pay for lunch out on Saturdays without blinking an eye. What is more important? What is more beneficial to us? I'd say the yoga classes, for sure.

Swiming lesson