I was thinking about the way I used to feel about spending money:
“I have to buy a gift for my second cousin visiting for the summer”
“I have to buy new shoes so I can start stepping up my appearance at work.”
“I should take this person out for lunch”
“I have to go visit this person because it’s been a while.”
“I have to get my eyebrows done because I look like a disheveled bear otherwise.” (Wait, this last one’s still true and totally neccesary).
Each instance above is something that I used to regularly say to myself and then promptly be stressed out by the thought because I didn’t have any extra money. I was supposedly doing something thoughtful for someone, but I was doing it out of this overwhelming sense of obligation to people which mostly stems from me never, ever wanting to upset people. But it’s been about two years now where I feel a lot less obligated to do anything just because I think I should or it seems like the right thing to do. Instead, I try to do stuff because I want to or because it serves a definite purpose. I take a friend out because I just want to catch up and see how they are, not because I am doing an obligatory 3-month check-in. And I don’t have to buy anything when it comes to clothes and shoes- I have a packed closet and not having brand new shoes is not going to hurt my appearance (although those crazy eyebrows might). But the main point is, a lot of the stress we feel about money can be self-inflicted. We don’t have to do anything: you don’t have to spend a minimum of $50 per person on Christmas gifts, you don’t have to have a wedding with 150 guests, you don’t have to buy new clothes for work or a job interview.
One recent example made me laugh. My boyfriend has one of those powerful man-crushes on his iPhone. I personally don’t even like my iPhone (given to me by work) all that much. If I ever have to get my own smartphone, I want an Android. But he really loves his iPhone and I noticed that he cracked about 25% of the screen in July. He asked if we had an upgrade available. Yes, I said, we’ve had one since April. I thought he was going to go get a new phone. Two years ago when he shattered that iPhone, we were at the mall the next day getting a still-under-warranty replacement for $100. I remember feeling stressed because it was $100 we didn’t have and spent anyways. And you know what I saw yesterday? His cracked but fully functional iPhone still in use! By him! And this from the guy who used to spend hundreds, if not thousands (low thousands, I think) on a night out in Old San Juan or New York. He’s been insisting to me that he has embraced the frugal mindset, which I usually scoff at and point to his $5 Starbucks white mocha. But shoot. He doesn’t even seem to notice that he’s living with a cracked iPhone. He’s not feeling obligated to go out and buy a new phone because this one works just fine. It made my day yesterday. (Now just don’t go and contradict me by pre-ordering an iPhone 5!)
We all have feelings of obligation, some financial and some simply things we think we have to do. They can be a guide or a place to start, but living your life out of a sense of obligation will not allow you to be creative and consider all kinds of different paths. And you’ll feel resentment that you put there, not anybody else (I did this a lot). I only recently discovered Mr. Money Mustache. He shows people how to stop thinking in the normal, accepted patterns. And he’s having a blast.
What about you? Have you had any obligations that you created for yourself and later resented? Any changes in things in you think you have to spend money on?