The Argument for Financial Indulgence

It seems as though throughout my entire life, I have been inundated with the message of financial restraint. From when I was a little girl, if I ever had any money gifted to me or earned through doing chores, I was strongly encouraged to save it as opposed to spending it in the toy store. This didn't seem to change as I got older. Now, I constantly see articles explaining why it is absolutely imperative at my age that I be contributing as much money as I can spare to a retirement account, as well as putting away more money towards a future home down payment. While I am doing this, I also must be vigilant about paying down any and all debt as quickly as possible while at the same time investing any other available financial resources into accumulating as much wealth as possible in every way that I can. Because wealth is power. Wealth is security. Wealth is freedom. What these articles fail to inform you of is the hidden cost of the obsession Americans have with being rich. When you focus all of your assets on obtaining more assets, your life becomes defined by the tomorrow and not the today. Will you ever have "enough" money saved? If so, when, and what amount? Where do you draw the line? If you're not careful, before you know it, life may pass you by and leave you with nothing more than paper in your wallet.

Let me clarify. I am absolutely not advocating for a lifestyle where you spend so carelessly that you don't have enough money to pay your bills each month. I am staunchly in favor of having an emergency savings account with at least a few months worth of expenses. (I have one.) I understand the need to put away money for retirement. I believe in financial responsibility. Having control over your money is a necessary part of life. What I am tired of is the patronizing tone I often hear used to refer to any sort of financial indulgence as if it were some type of sin, something to be ashamed of,  something that you must later atone for. Having money saved is a good thing. But so is spending money making memories with the ones you love.
There is no shortage of articles arguing for thrift, discipline, and self-denial when it comes to money. However, I don't see many articles arguing for financial leniency. As a society we seem to have cut ourselves some slack in other areas, recently embracing the idea of "real" women: Women who aren't a size 2, who are healthy, active, and beautiful; who are good moms with messy houses and happy kids; who work hard during the week and spend the entire weekend watching Netflix in their pajamas; who enjoy the occasional (or everyday) glass of wine or ice cream sundae. We have realized that the standards society imposes on us in various areas of our lives are often unreasonable, if not impossible. Why can't society be more accepting of the woman who spends her money freely and generously and enjoys her life?

I decided to lay out my own argument for why you should enjoy the fruits of your labor whenever you can without feeling guilty. I realize that many people will not agree with this article at all. Nonetheless, indulge me if you will (no pun intended) and at least try to consider the following:

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I know this is morbid, and a lot of people don't like to think about it, but there is the real possibility that today could be your last day on earth. How are you spending it? No matter what you believe happens with regard to the afterlife, one thing is certain: you absolutely cannot take your money there with you. I understand the concept of moderation, but there is something to be said for being mindful of your own mortality and thinking of each day as a gift not to be wasted, but lived to the fullest.

Youth is fleeting. Many things are more enjoyable when you're young. Some things become all but impossible to do when you are older. I am already feeling the effects of aging myself. If you dream of an epic vacation, make it a financial priority and do it while you are young. If you wait too long, you might find that you are no longer able to. Many great travel adventures require that you be in excellent health. When you are 75 years old, are you more likely to look back and happily remember how you hiked the entire Inca Trail, or that you saved $2500 by not doing it? Take me, for example. I love clothes. I try to take care of myself as best I can, but let's be realistic: I am not going to look as good in my clothes when I'm 80. Why not milk this time for all it's worth?

 Wealth does not equal happiness. In fact, the happiest countries in the world are some of the poorest. It turns out that the people there tend to find happiness and meaning in the day-to-day joys of life. I stand by my belief that logging into your bank account and seeing numbers on a computer screen will not bring you the happy memories created by taking a dream vacation with family, taking that special someone to a fancy restaurant, or splurging on a dress that makes you feel beautiful. I've never heard anyone say that they wished they hadn't taken a trip somewhere. However, I've often heard people regret trips they never took.

Your heirs will be the ones who actually enjoy your money. I understand that people may want to leave behind money for their loved ones. This is a very affectionate and admirable concept. However, you are much more likely to freely spend money that you didn't work for. It's just human nature. So don't assume that your offspring will continue your habit of penny-pinching after you die. Many people use money they inherit to splurge on things they wanted before, but otherwise weren't able to afford. In other words, they will have the fun that you were not having with your money when you were alive. Apart from extremely wealthy people, I think you're better off investing in a great life insurance policy if it is important for you to leave behind money for your family. That way, you free up a lot of disposable income for your own enjoyment during your lifetime. Remember, money is for living and for the living.

Children understand and remember financial worry from a very young age.  When I was a little girl, I remember going through some tough financial times. (Being a public school teacher is a truly thankless job.) While our living situation was far from poverty, I remember taking vacations where I literally felt stressed out about how expensive everything was and I felt worried that my mom was having to spend the money. In our particular situation, frugality was necessary. It was either that or we didn't get to go on vacation at all. I understand that and am thankful for what we were able to do. However, my point is that your kids are always going to remember how you act with respect to money. According to a study done by iGeneration, 1 out of 4 kids ages 8-14 stated that they worried about their family's finances, some even refusing spending money because they didn't want to contribute to their parents' financial troubles. Is it more important to you that your kids remember how much fun they had in Disney World or the astronomical price of a soda in the Magic Kingdom? I understand that children must be taught to that "money doesn't grow on trees." It goes without saying that they have to learn that you can't get what you want all of the time. All I am encouraging is mindfulness with regard to what type of message you are sending your children about how you value money, because they will remember it. Make sure they understand that having to spend extra money doesn't mean you don't think it's worth it to do something special with them.
Arguments over spending money can ruin marriages and relationships. Sharing money is one of the hardest parts of marriage. When you work hard for your money, it can be difficult to see it being spent on something that is not important to you. What's even worse is when your spouse tells you you can't spend your own money on something that is. Obsessiveness with saving money occurs at all income levels.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen couples who earn upwards of six figures fall apart because one person wants to spend money on something and the other person consistently tries to prevent that. The happiest couples I've seen are ones who manage to indulge each other financially while responsibly maintaining their household. Couples often make pensions and college funds a financial priority. What many fail to realize is that the happiness of your partner has to be a financial priority too. If you don't set aside money to go on dates, take vacations, or do other fun things with your partner, I hate to tell you, but your marriage is probably doomed. What's the point in being married at all? You might as well have been just business partners. Evidently, generosity is one of the qualities women find most attractive in men. So if you are one of those who are stingy with the marital funds, you have been warned....

Which brings me to my final point.....

Generosity is the true path to happiness. Nothing I buy or do for myself comes close to making me feel as good as I do when I give to others. Most major world religions include generosity as a fundamental element of their teachings. It's not a coincidence. Apparently, we as humans are hardwired to be generous. When we engage in the act of giving, a reward center in the  brain is activated, causing us to feel content. If you engage in generosity regularly, the pain of giving up the money or asset literally becomes outweighed by the feeling of happiness reached through self-sacrifice. It's science! Saving your money does not have the power to make you feel as good as giving money to someone else.

I realize that a lot of people will find this philosophy to be crazy. What you do with your money is a preference. You have to do what works for you. Living this way makes me happy, and I don't see myself changing unless I am forced to do so by unforeseeable events. I find it necessary to re-iterate that I do not condone irresponsibly spending down to your last dollar. Financial management is imperative to success and happiness. What I am suggesting is this: rather than seeing money as mainly a tool to accumulate wealth,  I encourage you to think of money as a tool to live, live well, and live it up with those you love.

When I lived in Mexico, there was a common saying. Translated, it went like this: "Mexicans work to live. Americans live to work."  I don't want to live to work. I don't want the meaning of my life to be determined by how successful I am at making money. I want to use the money I make to do meaningful things with my favorite people.

Europeans have a similar, often-heard phrase: "Europeans live. Americans exist." The idea that life could become one long and meaningless routine is terrifying to me. How would we be any different than the worker ants who repetitively and endlessly carry tiny grains of dirt from birth until death, building a mound that they will never enjoy? I am deciding to listen to the places in other parts of the world, where the people are happier and economies are stronger telling me to seize the day. What will you decide? Will you exist or will you live?

1 comment

  1. "Apparently, we as humans are hardwired to be generous. When we engage in the act of giving, a reward center in the brain is activated, causing us to feel content. If you engage in generosity regularly, the pain of giving up the money or asset literally becomes outweighed by the feeling of happiness reached through self-sacrifice. It's science! Saving your money does not have the power to make you feel as good as giving money to someone else".

    This is a very good point. When we give the brain actually secretes more serotonin. Interestingly, this is also the case for a bystander that witnesses the generosity.