Reflecting on this year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday exhibition of prudent financial planning, I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is to balance the need to live frugally with our desire for shiny new objects.
I don’t spend a great deal of money on myself. But as a husband and father of two young children, what I find is that situations arise where spending feels like a necessity. Tell me if you can relate to this.
You manage your budget carefully all month long, and then an obligation of one kind or another comes around. Say it’s somebody’s birthday. Without fully realizing the shift, you stop thinking about saving and start focusing on how generous you feel you need to be.
How often do we let ourselves off the budget hook because of extenuating circumstances?
The holidays are a kind of perfect storm of extenuating circumstances. The Lovely Lisa and I have an idea of the kind of Christmas we want to give our kids, and each year we deliver. I wouldn’t say that we spend lavishly, but it’s clear to both of us that what we add to our January credit card bill has more to do with what feels right as parents than it does what feels right as managers of family finances.
This is all a form of compartmentalization, a psychology term that describes our ability to maintain two opposing points of view. It helps us deal with cognitive dissonance, that awful feeling that comes, for example, from believing one has an obligation to save and spend at the same time. Our ability to hold firm to both ideas may be ultimately counterproductive, but at least we can sleep at night.
I do this less now than I used to. As a teenager, my $2.65-an-hour fast food restaurant salary didn’t afford me many luxuries. But when my friends decided we were going to have a night out on the town, I allowed myself to be taken up in the excitement. Those evenings may have drained my savings account, which made me unhappy. But the peer pressure was such that I couldn’t bring myself to turn down the invitation.
I still find myself faced with similar dilemmas (even if they lack the fun of a Saturday night out with Clayton, Danny and Rick). And while I don’t always make the optimal financial decision, I do find that recognizing these compartmentalization moments when they arise gives me sufficient pause to think about my decisions carefully.
So no matter how much I want a new camera, I allowed Black Friday and Cyber Monday to pass without making a purchase I might regret a month from now.
The question is, will my self-discipline hold out through Boxing Day?