More Than Money
Issue #8

To Spend Or Not To Spend

Table of Contents

“Exploring Lifestyle and Spending”

Walgreens and Truffles

Throughout my 20's I worked in the health professions earning about $37,000. I shopped for bargains, traveled low-budget, didn't save any money but paid off my credit cards every month. I felt completely happy to live comfortably and in line with my peers--proud of what I was earning and confident I could keep doing it.

Then a year ago my father died, leaving to me a sizable share of the $100 million dollar investment company started by his grandfather. I've been reeling with the change--how do I both enjoy and deal responsibly with an income of a million dollars a year?

My partner and I have done some extravagant things--buying a vacation house in the mountains, a new home in the heart of the city, two new cars, custom-made furniture, Pratesi sheets that cost an outrageous $3000.... The indulgence I'm really savoring is champagne truffles flown in from Switzerland. I eat one a day. Yet I notice some of the excitement already going out of buying things for myself, because I can have anything. Before, if I saved up for a $100 pair of shoes I'd savor them enormously, but now they're just another pair of shoes.

Wealth lets me be more socially conscious. I used to buy only what was cheapest, whether environmentally best or not; now I can afford to get organic food, recycled paper, and durable goods that will last my lifetime. I won't buy anything without consulting Consumer Reports, and we shop all the time at Price Club, which is easier now that we have the storage space to buy in bulk.

Some old habits no longer make sense: the other day in Walgreens I was paralyzed with indecision, debating between buying two small bottles of liquid soap or the large bottle which was the better deal! Finally I shook myself out of it.

In time I hope I'll be giving away 50-90% of my income to groups that will help the world be more balanced, less unequal and unfair. I believe I'll be a more relaxed and honest giver if I don't deny myself, but get lasting enjoyment out of this money. My philosophy is a version of "think globally, act locally." If I take care of myself, and I'll be more able to care for others.

- anonymous author

Value for the Dollar

I bring home close to $200,000/year from the investment negotiation company I started. I buy, give, and do as I please, guided not by any sense of budget but by the feeling I will always have enough and I can always make more. My success in business, as well as growing up with wealth and knowing I'll inherit someday, gives me an unshakable sense of abundance.

Even though I go to a bank machine and fill up my wallet with cash, spend it as I please and fill it up again without a second thought, I still care deeply about getting value for my dollar. I'll spend fifteen minutes negotiating with an airlines over $20 because I feel strongly about the principle. I won't even buy watermelon if it's 59 cents a pound and I know a different store is selling it for 29 cents. I just hate wasting money.

As generous as I am with money, I'm even more generous with my time and skills. I believe the more you give, the more the universe gives back. Spending is a dance. I'm not pretending my way with money is right for anyone else, but for me it has coherence and I am at peace with it.

- anonymous author

In the Moment of Buying

My mother used to accuse me of not knowing the value of money. She was absolutely right. I never have, and I still do not understand what money can and can't buy, and how to make responsible choices about spending it.

My attitudes are a direct reflection of the money issues that floated around my second-generation, rapidly assimilating American Jewish family. Having money and "class" meant women could spend without thinking about it. I am still haunted by images of piles of expensive clothes--with tags still on them-heaped in the garage for the Salvation Army truck to take away. I am deeply ashamed by the waste so pervasive in my family and my community, and the degree to which I inherited that carelessness.

I have had real struggles with spending addiction. I don't know how many times I have tried to beat depression by the rush of a purchase. I have loved going out and surveying what I want to buy, making selections and walking out with my new stuff. But the actual moment of financial transaction, whether I am spending addictively or not, is always a complete blank. I do anything to keep from being mentally present at that moment of accountability. I hate myself for being irresponsible about something that could be put to such important use helping people's lives. This is my greatest shame about money.

Now I try a type of meditation whenever I spend money, just to bring awareness to the actual interaction and what it means. Each time I buy something, I consciously think about what the exchange of money means on every level.

For example, when I buy fifteen dollars worth of gas with my credit card, I think of what else that could buy: a book, a CD, my share of dinner with a friend, two-thirds of my electric bill. When I sign the credit slip I think about what credit means: that I have not yet paid for the gas I am using, that when the bill comes in a month the gas I bought will already be gone. I want to remember this the moment I pay the bill. I sometimes feel stupid that at 26 years old I need to think about these things on such a basic level. But for me, exercising awareness is a real step out of paralysis and towards understanding the true value of money in my life.

- anonymous author

Working out Differences

My wife, Jan, and I do a careful budget process each year and designate one third of our income for giving, one third for saving (for our kids), and one third for spending. We pool my earned and unearned income, currently about $120,000 and $80,000 respectively.

We both wish we would spend less as a family, but Jan and I have differing priorities. She grew up without much money and loves buying tons of nice clothes and toys for the kids. If we could lower our family's clothes budget to $10,000 a year, that would be an accomplishment! On the other hand, she cringes when I make one more "loan" to a friend that I never expect repaid and wishes I were more disciplined about my giving.

My job has required that I move to a new state, and we have found a home in a smaller community that I hope will help us shift towards a simpler life. It's in a community with great schools, so my kids won't need private school. It's away from the glitz of the city. My vision is that it will be easier to eat out less, travel less, have friends over more, and build community where we are.

I'm part of a large, close-knit family of friends, most of whom have far less money than I do (and as my wealth grows, the gap gets wider.) Last year we went on retreat together, and I asked the group of about 20 people whether my money and level of spending felt hard for them. Most responded no, and said that they appreciate my generosity. But a few friends said yes, they feel alienated and jealous. Since then, talking through differences is helping us grow closer. It hasn't always been easy, but I'm proud of putting the issue the table.

- anonymous author

The Freedom of Keeping Track

I used to feel that I was rich enough to never have to project a budget, given that my life-partner had wealth. When she first mentioned the idea of budgeting it sounded so confining! Too much like my mother--with over $2 million to her name, she still writes down every purchase and can pull out her expense account from 1940 to tell me what she spent on stockings!

Yet as my partner and I experiment with budgets, I find they help me to live within a range and to feel more secure in both my giving and spending. Over the past three years we have changed from spending beyond our income to spending about $20,000 less than our income. This has enabled us to increase our giving.

To my surprise, I don't feel deprived by setting spending goals. Instead, I feel inspired to reach those goals, and even get into the fun of spending less because it becomes a game for me.

- anonymous author

Tradeoffs

I have lived for years in a poor, dangerous, but close-knit, caring, multi-cultural neighborhood in Santa Cruz. I have loved it and felt very stimulated and at home. Now I am moving to a "nice," safe, mostly white, upper-middle-class area of San Francisco.

On one hand, this move represents a healthy direction for me, as I'm finally able to use my money (inherited and earned) to enhance my work. At last I'll have a full-time secretary, an office at home, enough room, and physical safety. On the other hand, I'm deeply uneasy: Is this really me? Will I lose an important part of myself, my connection to "ordinary" people?

- anonymous author

Well Worth It

For a long time I felt conflicted and angry about having what to me is an excessively large income (over $100,000 a year) from a rigid irrevocable trust that my father created. The only way I knew how to rebel was not to spend the money. I wore my clothes until they fell apart; I bought used furniture.

In time I discovered a very good reason to spend money: my sons' well-being. After a number of years in the neighborhood public school, Tim was being transferred (by city policy) to a school where he would have to defend himself on a daily basis. Thank goodness I could afford private school and give him an alternative to "trial by playground." Years later, my step-son, Frederick, became dangerously self-destructive. Sending him to a special school cost nearly $2,500 a month, but it helped him head in a positive direction for the first time. It was worth every cent.

For a long time I believed that "the best things in life are free" and I didn't like money. But sometimes some of the best things in life aren't free.

- anonymous author

A Step Forward?

I live in the country with my wife and kids. The annual income from my inheritance is close to a million dollars, but our living expenses are probably about $50,000 a year. We recently spent two years living in a tiny, $10,000 mobile home while we were designing and building a new house. Now we're in this beautiful, energy-efficient, $300,000 home where the kids have separate bedrooms and their own "project room" and my wife and I each have an office...

As much as we love our home, I'm surprised to feel some loss. In the mobile home, life was more of an adventure. Pipes froze, and we had to pull together as a family to deal with the crisis. We did more together and spent more time outside. Now we can each disappear into our rooms and not come out for hours. Is this really improving our lives? Is it possible to live in our culture, at our level of technology and wealth, and not live isolated from each other and the earth? I am searching to know how.

- anonymous author

An Ethical Dilemma

Sometimes buying art feels "sinful" to me. I feel it's a misplaced value to be so self-indulgent. When I think of how the money we spent on one painting could have paid the salary for a community organizer or for part of a nonprofit executive director's salary, I can't help but squirm inside. When I can let go of that guilt, I can recognize that the money also helps artists make a decent living and brings beauty into our lives and into the world. I don't feel settled with these opposite pulls--yet I do keep buying art.

- anonymous author

Mortar for Community

I used to judge my relationships, being suspicious of them if their origins had anything to do with money. But wonderful friendships--with fundraisers, artists, activists, jewelers, clothiers, builders--have begun because I could afford their services or could contribute to their cause. Finally I realized, "What difference does it make how I meet someone? If we become friends and can depend on each other, thank God my money brought us together." My community benefits from my good fortune, and I benefit from the good health of my community. My wealth has actually served to bring me together with people, and this, for me, has been its greatest value.

- anonymous author

Friends and Hot Water

At first I was against buying the hot tub. Even though we intended it as a community resource, I imagined my struggling friends seething with resentment: "Spending $7,000 for an oversized bathtub? For a car, maybe, but to sit in hot water?!" So I asked my closest friends for help in making the decision. One seriously questioned it. "Do you really want one more thing that sets you apart from ordinary people?" But most of them said, "We already know you have money. You use it carefully. If this will really nurture you and help you build community, go for it."

Now a big, beautiful six-seater tub sits in our back yard, hot every night, open to friends and neighbors. To our surprise, it has taken two years of steady encouragement to get people to use it! But now a few families play there with kids, a women's circle meets there on Mondays, a young couple from next door soaks on Fridays while we watch their baby girl... and many a night (after laboring on More than Money ) Christopher and I slip into the hot water, stare at the moonlight through the steam, and say, "Oo la la, how delicious to eat our cake and share it too!"

- anonymous author

Worth Every Penny

From age 13-21, I lived on social security payments because my father was seriously injured. I remember many times when I couldn't afford tuna fish and so I ate pilchards at five cans for a dollar. When I received a $10,000 inheritance at age 21, I learned how to invest, and divided my portfolio into separate pieces for retirement, home-buying, vacations, etc.

Twelve years later, substantial increases in some stock values put me so far ahead of my retirement goal, I was faced with a delicious dilemma: should I be reasonable with my windfall, or splurge? I bought myself a $65,000 Jaguar convertible! I have loved sports cars all my life, yet the only car I had ever owned was a beat-up '66 Plymouth Valiant. My friends were shocked, given my customary parsimonious nature. The car cost more than my house! But I wasn't concerned about people's opinions. I never worried about that when I was poor, so why should I now?

Buying that Jaguar taught me that whatever my dreams are, I can pursue them. It gave me the courage to later start my own investment company--an enormous risk that has brought me great satisfaction. My car is a beautiful piece of art that I use daily... a good investment, as the resale value of Jaguars often exceed the initial price after 10 years...and something that has brought me delight every day for the past six years.

- anonymous author

An Abundant Life

After my kids graduated from college and I became CEO of a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak, I began to realize how excessively rich I was on a global level. I didn't feel guilty about it, but I felt deeply motivated to be a good steward of all I had.

My wife and I were both brought up with: "Wear it out, use it up or do without," so as my salary rose over the years, our giving went up but our spending stayed roughly the same. We still try not to buy anything new unless it is replacing something else. When our car caught fire just before Easter we bought a new car. We don't want to accumulate more--we already have more than we need.

When Jesus said that we might have "life abundant," I don't believe he meant that we should spend lavishly on ourselves. A life of abundance means we should take care of our basic needs, some wants, and occasional luxuries. God makes each of us unique so that the extras we choose to satisfy our desires are as unique as we are. I feel deeply that I must not be judgmental about these things. When I judge how other people live based on my value system, I not only damage my relationship with them but destroy a part of myself. An abundant life really has far more to do with meaningful relationships than with material possessions. .

- anonymous author


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