I live in constant fear of judgment.
Not from my coworkers, boss, friends, or parents — but from my Budget.
My philosophy on budgeting boils down to one sentence: Don’t spend money, take advantage of freebies, recognise the difference between needs and wants, ask for receipts, and record expenses versus income on a spreadsheet.
The Spreadsheet holds me accountable; it keeps me aware of the ease at which costs can add up, and challenges me to lower them.
My stinginess started early on: I was a kindergartner who really wanted chocolate milk at the local diner when my dad first gave me the is that a want or a need? talk. The speech went over my 6-year-old head, but the message stuck — never ask for chocolate milk at a restaurant. Order water because it’s free.
I learned to apply my dad’s lesson to more things, and my miserly lifestyle matured throughout middle and high school. It peaked upon entering the “grown up world” and learning to stay afloat with minimal income in an expensive city.
My frugal system is a well-oiled, functioning machine — I haven’t been evicted and seem to be nourished well enough — but it holds me captive.
The Spreadsheet that carefully watches and scrutinizes every purchase I make is the middle-school bully that I never had.
It bullies me into schlepping miles across New York City to avoid the expense of public transportation. It bullies me into doing things like labelling a box fan as an absolute “want,” making this past summer miserable as I sweated through my sheets in my non-air-conditioned, third-floor apartment. Worst of all, it bullies me into not saying “yes!” to social events or activities with a price tag on them. It doesn’t allow me to do, experience, and live.
While I am not one to tamper with a well-oiled machine, I have adopted more of a growth mindset thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project,” learning that room for improvement exists even in the most reliable of systems.
I experienced an aha moment when I bit the bullet and splurged on a ticket to the Boston Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” this past December — engaging in the dazzling holiday tradition was an enriching experience, and I got to spend quality time with friends. It was completely worth the cruel judgment and menacing gaze of my Budget.
What I have learned after months of meticulously tallying daily expenses and playing the can-you-spend-less-money-this-month-than-the-last game, is that it is OK to spend on good things, meaning experiences that will make you happy. I like to call this quality spending.
Slowly, I’m learning how to stand up to my grown-up bully.
I invented a defence mechanism: The Pleasure Fund, which comprises of a percentage of earnings from my part-time job and will be directed towards quality spending.
The Pleasure Fund demands that I do and experience, and that I don’t feel bad about spending money for a memorable experience. It’s not encouraging me to go crazy — to buy a round of tequila shots for a party of 10, or drop a half grand to dine at a renowned restaurant — but it allows me to say “yes!” to things I otherwise would have declined because of my hardheaded, often irrational Budget.
Every time I trade in my low-cost oats for a Sunday brunch with friends, sign up for a pricey, yet thrilling half-marathon, or set the buffering computer screen aside for a luxurious movie theatre experience, I’m sticking it to the bully a little bit more.