O Me of Little Faith

Today is my birthday. I’m not usually one to honk the birthday horn and go around telling people it’s my birthday. Facebook does that well enough for me. As does the band of minstrels I’ve paid to follow behind me, Brave Sir Robin-style, singing birthday songs all day long.

But birthdays are good times to reflect, which means they are also good excuses — under the guise of “reflection” — for me to tell people what to do. And I like to tell people what to do. I’ve written entire books for the purpose of telling people what to do.

So today and tomorrow, I’m going to pretend that you have asked me, “Jason, what are three important things you have learned in your many, many years on this planet?”

Thanks for asking. Here’s the first thing I’ve learned. Numbers 2 and 3 will follow tomorrow.

1. I’d rather spend money on experiences, not on “stuff.” I’ve never been a big spender, and I don’t always have a ton of money sitting around to spend. As a result, I’m pretty tight-fisted when it comes to money. My wife is the same way, so we make a pretty good pair. We don’t ever have the newest electronics. We bought a flatscreen TV just last year, when our old tubey one bit the dust. It took us three generations of iPhones before we bit that bullet. We think iPads are cool but can’t justify the purchase of one. We have a pretty fine-tuned appreciation for what we want and what we need, and in most cases our spending habits tack toward need rather than want.

But we have no problem saving our money so we can go on a week-long cruise together. We’ll save up so we can rent a cabin in the mountains for a weekend to go sledding or teach our kids how to ski. We love to travel and will gladly spend on something frivolous like Broadway tickets or a snorkel tour or a Cubs game. When we do splurge on “stuff,” it’s usually stuff that contributes to our experiences. A game we want to play together. A high-end camera. Camping or backpacking equipment. A bike for triathlons. A Kindle so we can read more often and conveniently. In other words, we spend money intentionally. We spend on experiences, traveling, and hobbies — things that promote memories. Studies have shown that more long-term satisfaction can be gained by a pile of good memories than a pile of stuff I didn’t need but bought anyway. We consume less so we can do more.

People have different spending styles, so I don’t want to say my style is the only right one and others are just wrong. But mine is definitely deliberate. And I think it’s dumb to spend money mindlessly. This is what I’ve learned: If you’re going to spend money, don’t do it on impulse. Do it smart.

Otherwise, you end up being one of those people who just doesn’t know where their money went, and that’s sad.

[Note: We’ve been practicing this spending rule for a few years, but “vagabonder” Rolf Potts helped me put words to it when I ran into his blog several months ago.]


Tomorrow in Part 2: the work/play balance and doing what you love.

Feedback: How do you spend money? Do you have any particular criteria for non-need spending?

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