Saturday, March 1, 2008

Can You Be Too Financially Conservative?

I had an interesting debate with a friend this evening.  Apparently, I have been deemed extremely financially conservative.

What's ironic is that this discussion came after a day of my husband and I hitting the outlets, eating out, and retiring to the bed and breakfast where we are spending the weekend up in the mountains.  

All paid for in cash, of course.

I have a healthy appreciation for spending.  I like to shop - always have, always will.  But I also have a loathing of debt, and believe that retirement and other savings are critical to not only our well being, but the well being of society at large.  It worries my husband and I both that the consumer economy is a giant house of cards, and that most people don't save a dime.  
And because money and personal finance is a topic of immense interest to me, many of my conversations have a financial aspect to them.  I often see the world through a lens of money.

Some of that comes from growing up with very little.  Real economic security was scarce, although I never went hungry or cold.  Once I was out on my own, I tried to buy security in the clothes I wore, and the accessories I carried.  I wanted nothing more than to be perceived as a 'have' rather than a 'have not'.  This cost me in ways both financial and spiritual.  I ruined my credit quite young, and spent years playing bill roulette every month.  

Once I finally dug myself out of the economic hole I had made for myself, I became fascinated by the emotions that surround people's relationships with money.  I had learned that much of my spending was driven by my feelings - of inadequacy, of insecurity, of desire to fit in, a desire to be one of the successful, rather than the failure I often believed myself to be.

Over many years, I learned that not only was I not a failure, but I had learned some great lessons about how to have a healthier relationship with the money that flows through my life. Some of it stays, much of it leaves, and the flow varies - sometimes there is much, sometimes not so much.  But I - for the most part - feel in control.  That control was hard won.  

Whether you pretend it isn't important, see it only as a tool, or budget obsessively, money has a profound impact on your life.  I spent years reading books, participating in message boards, and talking about people and money.  When my husband suggests something, my immediate question is 'How much does it cost'.  The answer to that question will often drive whether I choose to like something or not.  If I can't afford it, I don't want it.  

But now I am learning when to make things not about money.  Some decisions in life are purely about other things.  And sometimes my money focus seeps into places where it doesn't belong.  And so while, for me, money is a component of everything, I know it isn't always the right thing to say so.  Some things just aren't about the money.   So when friends ask suggest a restaurant, I try to check myself from saying 'that's expensive' and instead say 'how about this one instead, it looks good'.  

I don't think I am extremely financially conservative.  If you take a look at our balance sheet, it proves that out.  But my words, and my perceptions of how I and others spend money proves to me that while I maintain physical control of our money, I don't always have emotional control of what it means to me.  Just because I'm not stuffing our money in a mattress doesn't mean I've resolved all my emotions around things financial.  I'm still working through all the things money means to me.  

I don't want to be that 'extremely financially conservative' person.  I want to be the person who just happens to have a healthy bank balance, writes great cover letters,  adores mini-golf, reading,  fajitas and dim sum, and makes a mean lasagna.  

I'll never lose my interest in money, and I won't apologize for the lens through that I see the world through.  It's the thing that captivates my attention, drives me to write, and has created a number of relationships for me.  But it also can be too much of a good thing, which isn't a good thing at all.

You can be too financially conservative.  Or at least too financially focused.  And it has nothing at all to do with your bank balance.


Anna said...

I don't think you're necessarily "financially conservative" so much as you are "financially responsible". Conservative would have more to do with your investment style than your not spending more than you've got and saving for retirement. That's just smart.

Mandy said...

I've become a lot more financially conservative in the last couple of years, and fanatically debt-averse in the last year in particular. It's a long journey, but fortunately we do still try to allow for small rewards here and there to keep us motivated, and remind us to still really enjoy our life. Some people go to Mexico for their first anniversary. Others buy a house (some friends of mine happened to buy their first home right around their first anniversary).

We will go out to dinner at one of our new favorite restaurants and take the following day off work to just spend time together. We will also take a lot longer than we'd like to buy a home. But I'm okay with that, because I've been through financial stress that was almost unbearable. Peace of mind is priceless.

ak said...

I think many people in debt become very money-focussed. It is hard to think about anything but money if you don't know how to pay the bills AND for food.
It's just that not everybody uses the emotional space that money takes up in a constructive way. If you think about money a lot and you use that energy to keep you on the right track - that's a good thing.
If you think about money all the time and you don't convert that into good money habits, then you have a problem.

Serendipite said...

I could have written this. Although maybe not ans eloquently. Thanks!

Ms.Moneypenny said...

AK, I think that's true. In our case, our debt is only our mortgage and a car payment, both well within our means. We've been living below our means for years.

But money is fascinating to me, and the emotions around it.

I also think that these friends that I wrote about and we have probably fairly divergent lifestyles.