If you know me, you know I’m a little bit of a personal finance geek. I’m the coworker offering unsolicited advice about increasing your retirement contributions or not investing in all government bonds at age 25 and signing up for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program even though I haven’t officially done it yet myself.
Most of what I know about personal finance I’ve learned from podcasts. (A certain duo named Joe and Josh should be mildly alarmed by this. Yes, you.) At first I listened to Dave Barry – I mean Dave Ramsey – until one day his financial advice meandered into marital advice that I found alarming. Then I listened to Suze Orman, and was completely wowed by her charisma and insight into human relationships. Seriously, she can talk into a microphone for 2 minutes and almost make me cry. Fortunately, her podcast ended and I was forced to find podcasts with less drama and more data. One of my first and best finds was The Money Guys.
The Money Guys are certified financial planners, now in Franklin, Tennessee. As official hiker trash, I wandered through that town on the Appalachian Trail in 2009. Brian and Bo have taught me a lot over the years. For example, they are the reason I spit out my coffee when my dad offered to buy my preschool children whole life insurance policies. This spring, Brian said something that made me pause the podcast, back up, and write it down word for word. Wanna hear it? Here’s the big idea:
“You have to get past the sugar high of buying things and realize that there’s more
value in actually having assets.”
That’s EXACTLY what I’ve been doing wrong.
I’m a person who loves a project. I have a to-do list a mile long, around the house, the camper, my car, my blog, my reading, my crafts. I have noticed a pattern where I feel good — accomplished — satisfied — when I have not completed a project, but begun it. Brian made me realize that I have this meaningless good feeling is from THE ACT OF BUYING SHIT that I need to do the project I haven’t gotten to. I have fabric from a baby blanket I planned while pregnant with my first grader. I have paint for rooms that stayed white for 5 years and furniture tacks for a couch that I wanted to reupholster 3 years ago and I have a low-flow toilet conversion kit that it took me 2 years to realize didn’t fit the toilet in question after all.
I think about this now, whenever I wander into a big box hardware store or have something awesome in my online shopping cart. I leave a lot in that “saved for later” section of the Amazon shopping cart and have decided that it’s better to drive all the way to Lowes or Home Depot again next week than to buy supplies for Stage II of a project I haven’t started yet.
I look at my biweekly retirement account contributions and try to feel like I’ve bought something with that money. I bought time. I bought future. I bought options. I bought freedom.
That’s a much better use of my money than buying donuts. Or Ben & Jerry’s. Or stain for that end table I want to refinish in maple instead of walnut, but I have a term paper first and I’m almost out of diapers.
If you eat nothing but sugar, you will end up with a lot of weight you don’t want and the inability to run soccer drills with your kids. If you spend your money on the sugar high of buying stuff, you will wind up with a basement full of unopened things that might be useful and the inability to fly to Alaska for your kid’s college graduation.
Let’s eat some carbs and protein for energy and strength.
Let’s spend our money on things that make us free.