Spend Money Well

After Burning Out: This Is How I Spend My Money Now


Spend Money Well

There are a lot of articles and publications dedicated to saving money, paying down debt.  Articles on changing your money mindset.  How to manifest riches.

But how many of them teach us how to spend our money?

Spending seems to be an after-thought.  Or an inevitability.  We view spending passively.  We work on saving, but spending is something that just happens to us.

Savings Head Start

When I was 11 or 12, I remember my mom taking me and my sister to the local bank branch and opening up savings accounts in our names. I also remember that interest on bank deposits was around 10%.  I didn’t understand the concept of inflation at the time, but I loved seeing my money grow.

As you can see, I grew up in a family that taught me to save from an early age.  All throughout my childhood, that lesson was reinforced frequently.

It paid off too; I was able to supplement my insufficient student loans with my savings to attend university.  When my savings ran out, I got a part-time job to make up the shortfall.

Spending on Opportunities

When I got my first “real” job, I put my mom’s lessons to work too.  I siphoned off a large percentage of my take-home pay towards savings.  Again, it paid off.  After 2 years of full-time work, I had the opportunity to backpack and travel throughout South America.  I was able to quit my job and take advantage of this once in a lifetime adventure.

From these early life experiences, it’s apparent that saving money was positively reinforced and afforded me opportunities that enriched my life.

But did it have negative repercussions?

Surprisingly, yes!

Saving to Extremes

When I came home from my South American adventures, I got a regular office job in a high-cost of living city.  With it, I had to scrimp.  I had car payments, I had student loan payments, I had rent payments. On a good month, without an unexpected expense, I might have been able to eat out at a mid-tier restaurant once.

Because of my previous experiences, I felt I had to save money. And save ambitiously.    I had to save as much as I possibly could. It wasn’t enough to save, like, $100/month. I’d force myself to save 6x that.

Much like our society, I viewed spending on magazines or frappucinos akin to a moral failing.  If I wasn’t stripping my budget bare and saving every dime, I was being frivolous. Irresponsible.

My refusal to spend took on absurd lengths.  Once, while travelling for work, my return flight was delayed by 11 hours.  This was during my early years before I knew to pack extra reading material or load an extra movie or two onto my iPad.   It was a small airport, without much to look at. I refused to buy even a $6 magazine to while away the 11 hours.

Surely I could have spared $6 for a bit of joy?

The Consuming Years

Next came a period in my life where I was feeling more comfortable with my finances.  I no longer berated myself over the small things.  I tried to use my spending in ways that would make my life easier; sometimes a cleaner, sometimes for prepared meal service.

I never felt guilty about spending on a cleaner or for healthy meals.  Those fell under what most would call “money well spent”.

I was far from perfect during this time. Money and our relationship with it is ever evolving. I had fits and starts.  Once, I spent $800 over 4-6 months on Korean skincare products.  This was during the slow demise of a toxic relationship.  But that’s for another article!

Generally, I continued to coast along.  I saved.  I invested.  I was a regular consumer.

Doing the Wrong Things

Many things in my life were on auto-pilot when things suddenly imploded.

I went on stress leave.

During my leave, I spent a lot of time alone.  I had the luxury of time to reflect on my life.  And I had a lot of reflecting to do.  Something had obviously fallen off the rails.  But where?  How?

As I mentioned in my recount of going on leave, I thought I had been ticking all the boxes of “self-care”.  I’d go out for dinner with friends.  I’d buy and take luxurious bubble baths. Because I was going to the gym, I was eating healthier and I gave up drinking (another habit that was great for the wallet).

The problem was that I was using other people’s benchmark for self-care.  The self-care industry has become so commoditized.  It is a model is based on consuming and spending.  Buy something.  Spend on an experience.  Paying convenience.

But do any of these really move the needle on well-being?

What to do Instead

I still have the occasion pamper sessions like bubble baths or manicures.  I love going to the gym to get my dose of endorphins.  I grab lunch with friends and coworkers.  I just cut back on some of these activities and added 1 crucial thing.

I now spend Quality Time by myself.  This is based upon the concept of the 5 Love Languages.  Popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman, the idea is that each of us expresses love and care in one of 5 ways; Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch.   It’s like we know which of our friends always likes to hug.  Or we know which friend that always picks out the perfect gift.

We probably have a combination of these, but Chapman believes we have a primary language and a secondary language.  When I think back, from my childhood to my earlier romantic relationships, my main disappointment and heartache were consistent if my loved ones were too busy to spend time with me.

When I took the self-assessment quiz on the 5 Love Languages website, sure enough, it rates Quality Time as my primary love language. Incidentally, I believe that sometimes how we wish to receive love can be different than how we wish to show love.   I actually love to buy gifts for my friends and family.  I’ll spend months with a running list of possible gift ideas before landing on the perfect one based on a throwaway comment from the recipient.

How I Spend Money Now

My mix up was that I was trying to take care of myself the way I like to take care of others.  I give them thoughtful gifts.  Some of them love pampering sessions like massages.  Other friends love eating out.  For me to feel loved and cared for, I need Quality Time.  The only thing I wasn’t giving myself.

Ok, but spending Quality Time doesn’t require spending, right?  Technically, yes.  But technical isn’t always optimal.

While it is free if I stayed at home to write in my journal, I enjoy the experience of sitting at a coffee shop to do it.  It frees me from the nagging thought of, I should be doing the dishes instead.  The price of the coffee is negligible by comparison.

Recently, I decided to embark on a 30-day challenge to make art every day.  I’ve loved art; painting, drawing since I was a child. Like most adults, I gave up drawing years ago. To set up my 30-day challenge for enjoyment and mitigate frustration, I took a 3-hour workshop to kick off.

I didn’t have to spend the money, but the workshop taught me new techniques.  It allowed me to explore different styles to try.  Most importantly, I gave me to confidence to play with it for the rest of the 30 days.  Without that workshop, I might have encountered much more frustration and self-doubt. I might have given up before really giving art much of a chance.  The $50 workshop price doesn’t seem too high with that perspective.

Money Well-Spent

Learning how to spend money well is actually more difficult than I first realized.  I thought it was about buying “the right things”.  Or if you listen to advice-columnists, they espouse the idea of buying “experiences”.

When people say that personal growth is just that – personal.  It applies to personal finance as well.  One investment strategy will be right for some and not appropriate for someone else.  Some people save better using the envelope method, while others like to track their spending electronically.

Turns out spending was incredible personal too.  While we all spend money, how much are we getting out of the spending will vary greatly.  It’s not about buying coffee vs making it at home.  It’s not about avocado toast vs a downpayment.  It’s spending that in turn nurtures us.

If your love language is Acts of Service, then a house-cleaner or a food delivery system might be optimal.

If your love language is Physical Touch, maybe a massage by an RMT would recharge you.

If your love language is Receiving Gifts, then a treat from Sephora or a subscription box might be the ticket.

For those who need Words of Affirmation, maybe a book of inspirational quotes or even a session with a life coach can nourish you.

And for those like me that need Quality Time, block out that time.  Spend money buying yourself a seat in a cafe or on movie tickets to send your family out so you can have the house to yourself.

The lesson I learned from all of this is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to spend money.  Spending money itself is not a moral failing.  But we can choose what we spend it on and how much we spend.  And we can make it count.


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10 thoughts on “After Burning Out: This Is How I Spend My Money Now”

  1. Quality Time is my love language, and sometimes that means quality time alone! I love it when my husband takes our daughter out for daddy-daughter days, and I get the whole house to myself to chill, read, clean up, or anything else. It doesn’t cost money, and it helps get me centered again.

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  3. I am someone who needs Quality Time too – even when I’m travelling solo, I need some downtime just reading something that is unrelated to my travels. And I always need some time by myself if I have been out socialising a bit.

  4. I love that you called out the self-care industry being highly commoditized. When in fact, self-care can be as simple as setting boundaries and say no to working on nights and weekends, or taking a sick day when you simply need a day to recharge, read a book, and not feel bad about it!

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  6. I’m more an acts of service gal, I think, though I’ve never taken the test.

    I’m glad you figured out what works for you spending-wise (and self care-wise). I’m still figuring it out now that I’m divorced. I no longer have to worry about someone else’s needs and wants, so I have to figure out what brings me joy or fulfillment. Takeout once a week seems to make me inordinately happy, so that’s one thing I’ve added to the financial roster.

    1. Take out (or even better delivery) is delightful. I’m glad you are concentrating on finding the things/experiences that being fulfillment to you. Its so important, esp for women.

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