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.