Stumbling on the Simple Things

When I write on Money360, I often write about tips and techniques that I’ve found useful for saving and investing money. I’ll talk about the big things – like always spending less than you earn – but I also list things like ten ways to avoid financially responsible buying.

I have very little problem managing the big things. My debt is steadily going downwards, I’m starting an investing plan, and I’ve got most of the things I need to pay set up automatically. Even better, I’ve found lots of ways to minimize my spending so that right now, we’re actually spending less than half of our income on the required stuff, like food and minimum bill payments.

Where I tend to stumble instead is on the little things.

I’ll go to the store and pick up a game for my DS, justifying the unnecessary splurge by thinking to myself, “I am doing such a good job! This little thing won’t make a difference!”

I’ll go splurge and spend $40 on a bottle of wine, telling myself that it is the perfect complement to a meal I’ve spent an hour and a half preparing.

I’ll buy an expensive, high quality pocket notebook (for my idea notebook) rather than a simple Mead one that does the job just fine.

Now, many people would react to all this by saying you work hard, you deserve it and you save a huge amount of money each month, these splurges won’t really matter and what’s the point of life without those little things we enjoy.

The problem is that those little mis-steps are the ones that really add up.

Rather than buying a new DS game, I could either actually finish some of the ones I own or trade one of my unplayed ones online, thus saving me $25.

Rather than buying a $40 bottle of wine, I could go to the winery down the road from where I live and buy a perfectly good bottle for $10, not only saving me $30 but also supporting a local business.

Instead of buying that expensive pocket notebook, I could save $4 and buy the little Mead notebook – it’s just for sketching ideas, anyway.

None of those alternate moves deny me any deep pleasure in life. They just save some money and reduce the impact that my immediate needs have on my long term future.

Yet, I still regularly make these little mistakes. I have a $40 bottle of wine sitting in the wine rack right now, waiting to accompany some homemade lasagna. I have a pile of DS games (and a few Wii games), many of which I’ve not played through entirely. My pocket notebook is currently not a Mead (though I need a new one soon).

It often seems as though I can see the boulders and can get past them, but I trip up on the pebbles.

So what can I do to get past this? The most powerful technique I’ve found is reminding myself a lot of what the big picture really is. I keep a few items in my wallet near my credit card so that whenever I go to pull it out, I see what I’m sacrificing to make that purchase.

Even with that, though, it’s still a constant challenge to overcome the little things.

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