Are you spending for the life you have or the life you want?
That’s the question I had to ask myself as I stood in an electronic store recently mulling over an iPad purchase. As I stood there considering how much this purchase would set me back financially, I glanced down at my shoes. The rubber had all but completely worn off the bottom near my toes and it looked to be only a matter of time before my big toe came out for air. These were my only pair of decent flats to wear to work and they were at a point way past raggedy. I’d been too cheap to purchase a new pair, yet I was justifying a shiny, new electronics purchase that was easily forty times the price of a new pair of shoes.
There I stood between the life I have: a working girl who needs dress shoes for the office versus the life I want: a lucrative, self-employed woman whose line of business requires flip-flops…and the latest electronics. The lives were mutually exclusive at that point, one decidedly less expensive and the other undoubtedly rooted in fantasy. Yet, I was much more willing to throw away my life savings chasing a mirage instead of investing my disposable income to improve upon what I already possessed.
I’d done this time and time again:
Deciding I wanted to be a “Woman who Scrapbooks”, I bought a ton of scrapbook materials and never made a single scrapbook page.
Deciding I wanted to be a marathon-runner, I bought a pair of custom running shoes and signed up for a gym membership only to use them both twice in six months.
Deciding I wanted to be a great cook, I purchased a Wok to make cool Asian-inspired cuisine…and that Wok is collecting a considerable amount of dust.
Deciding I wanted to go to grad school, I bought several GRE study guides and vocabulary books and hardly cracked one of them.
Author Scott Young, would call my efforts “feel good tasks”: tasks I do to make me feel like I’m doing something without my actually doing anything. He says a feel good task is a task not essential to getting started nor directly contributing to success; therefore this task rarely results in achieving a particular goal and instead becomes an end unto itself.
In other words, I determine I want to be well-read so I subscribe to the New Yorker and immediately feel like I’ve reached my goal despite not having actually read a thing.
This isn’t to say I can never change, pursue my dreams or pick up a new hobby, but maybe I can ease into those changes financially once I’ve made a serious commitment (evidenced by follow-through) rather than using my desire to change as an excuse to spend money.
If I’m serious about scrapbooking, I can start by collecting and organizing all the pictures lying around the house. If I’m serious about running, I can go outside and run every day for a month. If I’m serious about cooking, I can unthaw the meat that’s been in my freezer for a considerable amount of time. If I’m serious about grad school, there are tons of free, online practice guides for the GRE. And if I’m serious about saving money and building wealth then I can stop spending money on random, unrelated projects just to feel like I’m doing something.
Prioritizing purchases is one thing, financing a life I don’t actually live is another. It’s a sure-fire way to end up in debt or, at the very least, with a lot of stuff I don’t need or use.
What do you think? Have you ever found yourself financing a life you don’t actually live?
[Editors Note: I wrote this for MadameNoire.com in June of 2012 and it was originally posted here: http://madamenoire.com/188912/no-fantasies-allowed-spend-for-the-life-you-have-not-the-life-you-want/%5D