Money Ball

from Jan

I am, by nature, a frugal person.  Spending money is not comfortable for me, especially now that I do not earn any money.  You can imagine the internal conflict brewing as I contemplate Joshua having the things he wants.  Before I go on, let me make these pointsI truly believe that (1) no one should not have EVERYTHING he/she wants; (2) sometimes a person should spend his/her own money to get things he/she wants; and (3) money often does not provide the things that have real value. Very often experience is worth far more than anything purchased! 

BUT, sometimes, it is OK to spend money.  In fact, sometimes, spending money is the only way to access the experience.  The tricky part is knowing when spending the money will be worth the experience.  I just want the experience to be worth the money I’ve spent.  And, I can tell you, it is a 50/50 gamble for me! 

When Jeremy and I moved into our 1st condo together, we were, let’s say, a bit silly on how we spent some of our money.  We were newlyweds, young, and ready to set up a perfect place…a dangerous confluence of events.  One particularly silly and completely unnecessary item we purchased was a fajita maker which was basically a combination of a skillet (which we already owned) and a small, round pan (which we already owned).  Fortunately, this item did not cost more than $50, but it did take up a lot of space in our small kitchen, was really, really hard to clean, and was quite redundant.  Not a good use of our money. 

While this is a pretty trivial example, it was followed by the purchase of three hammocks (for which we had no yard or deck), a tent (with really no other equipment or interest in regular camping), a roof rack for our car (I guess for our hammocks and tent???), and many kitchen gadgets.  And, the final straw, the Omaha trip of 2008.  Looking back, we should have really known that hanging out with a large group of older, well-off people for the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting was not going to be worth spending all of our vacation money for the year.   

This past summer though, our luck changed!  After being burned by many previous experiences of spending money and then realizing it had been a waste, we have become (maybe a little to) cautious about spending money on  “big ticket” and "small ticket" items. When the parents of two of Joshua’s friends invited us to go to the Beach Exhibit, I very guiltily and reluctantly said yes.  The tickets were, to me, very expensive and I was quite unsure that Joshua would enjoy himself.  I felt sheepish about the whole thing.  But, even mommies can learn!  We had a GREAT time!  Joshua and I laughed so much.  Had a fabulous time jumping into what was essentially a gigantic ball pit.  Burying ourselves in the “bubble” balls.  And, yes, eating a $4 popsicle.  (When I’m in, I’m all in.) 

With that experience under my belt, I nervously suggested to Jeremy that we go to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on our next trip to Western PA.  Again, tickets were a lot, but there was one exhibit that had been recommended to us (an Eric Carle exhibit) and the rest of the museum looked fun for his age, too.  We discussed and discussed and decided to try it.  We had a GREAT time!  Interestingly, the Eric Carle exhibit was a bust for us as Joshua was just too old for it.  However, the rest of the museum turned all of us into kids again, even Grandma!  There was climbing and sliding and twisting and swinging and sand playing and water playing.  We were on such a high, we even spent $5 to sit in one of those photo booths and make silly-faces-pictures! 

A final, slightly less grand, example.  Since Joshua was about one year old he has been my best “lunch café” buddy.  We go places where the two of us spend less than $12 for lunch (total) maybe every other week or so.  And, I have had some of the best, quality time with him during these lunches.  When he was younger, it was fascinating watching him just figure out how to feed himself and be interested in all the movement going on around him.  I enjoyed a short period of snuggle-lunches when he was about 2.5-3 years old where we would sit on the same side of the booth and snuggle while eating.  Thankfully, I still get one of those every now and again.  As he has grown older, I love listening to his explanation of how things are being cooked on a “production line” and what the workers are all doing, the fact that he is tall enough to get his own utensils and sometimes operate the soda machine, and the long stretch of time it takes his curious mind to decided what of our trash goes in the recycling, the trash, or the keep pile (real dishes, utensils, etc).   

These experiences have changed my approach to spending.  I cannot say that I am comfortable spending money; but, I am more willing to give it consideration.  I ask myself: 

  • What is the experience value of this money? 

  • Is it related to an interest one of us has, or can we learn from it? 

  • Will it expand a family members comfort zone? 

  • Is the experience likely to create a valuable memory? 

You can never know the answers to these questions for sure.  But, I think, a person can often get a sense of the value of the purchase. 

All of this is to say, that sometimes it is not only OK, but even GOOD to spend money.  I am a true believer that experience, not things, brings satisfactionAnd, it is a reality that many times you have to pay for these experiences.  But, I am also an incredibly practical person.  So, while spending $50 to jump in a gigantic ball pit for 2 hours was totally counter to my practical, thrifty nature…it was one of the best decisions I made all summer!