Purposeful Spending

I just finished Brian Portnoy’s book, The Geometry of Wealth. In it he describes wealth as funded contentment rather than the constant pursuit of more. This has me thinking about spending habits.

Does your spending make you happy?

When we achieve financial success, it’s easy to find new things on which to spend our money. Keeping up with the Joneses takes zero effort. Bigger houses, more cars, second homes, private clubs, boats, planes, vacations, new hobbies.

My friend and fellow financial planner, Jude Boudreaux, made a deliberate choice to live in a condo rather than a house so he could drive a Mercedes. I suspect this is no longer a budgeting or financial decision for him, but he still adheres to meaningful spending. Ron Lieber beautifully profiled Jude’s philosophy on spending in the New York Times.

There’s an old saying, “it’s better to have a friend with a boat than to own a boat”. I love being on the water. Whether I’m sailing on Lake Ponchartrain, skiing in Alabama, or fishing out in the Gulf of Mexico, boats bring me joy. But owning a boat requires hours of chores and significant funds for repairs, gas, and maintenance. I suspect there are many unhappy boat owners out there. It’s another hassle, another item on the to-do list.

It’s easy to get buried in our stuff. We are living in the most abundant time in the history of mankind. Amazon will deliver almost anything we can imagine to our doorstep in two days. It’s not hard to accumulate physical goods as well as a laundry list of hobbies, memberships, and subscriptions the may or may not bring us joy.

I gladly cut my cable service a decade ago. There were too many options, and I spent a lot of time flipping channels and watching useless reality shows. Television has slowly crept back in to my life as streaming services grow, but I’ve netted about $15,000 by not paying a cable bill for 10 years. On the other hand, my colleague Ben Carlson loves cable and claims he will be the last one to cut the cord. He finds value, and I suspect joy, from his cable subscription.

Everyone has different preferences. That’s a good thing because it ensures variety in the products and services offered by companies. What brings you joy will not necessarily bring joy to your neighbors.

When was the last time you took an inventory of your spending? I’m not talking about a budget. I’m suggesting a review of everything you spend money on throughout the year. Perhaps there are better uses for some of your expenses. Maybe even ones that would help shift your life to a state of funded contentment.

Some expenses are out of our control: healthcare, home repairs, anything for your children. Life is too short to pay for things that don’t bring you joy. As I’m finishing this post, I am reminded of Nick Maggiulli’s recent opus on time as the most valuable asset. Perhaps you could read this entire post and replace spending with time. Either way, we can all benefit from spring cleaning now and then. Spending is a good place to start.

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