This past week, we spent quite a bit of time visiting Sarah’s parents. Her mother kindly bought several items that I would be able to eat or drink throughout the week in advance of our visit (yes, I actually like my mother in law!).
One of the things she picked up for me was a quart of soy egg nog. On my first day there, I tried it… and I liked it! It was quite tasty and it was something I could essentially enjoy without violating my current doctor-ordered diet.
Every day, I’d consider having another glass of it. Every day, though, I’d think “well, if I drink it all now, I won’t have any later in the week, so I’ll wait to enjoy it later.”
Sure enough, the last day of our visit came. Sure enough, there were so many things going on that the egg nog didn’t even cross my mind.
Sure enough, the rest of that egg nog is now sitting in their refrigerator, several hours away, at a house where the occupants likely won’t drink it.
In other words, my desire to conserve that egg nogd meant that much of the egg nog simply went to waste.
This phenomenon pops up all the time with regards to shopping and personal finance. If you buy ten pounds of apples in bulk because the price is right, you need to use them quickly before they begin to rot. If you buy a large container of honey, you need to use it before it crystallizes.
On a straightforward level, good personal finance is about conserving things. You conserve your money. You conserve your splurges. You reuse and recycle things, finding second uses for them. You buy secondhand items, allowing these items to have a longer lifespan.
Yet, when you do this too diligently, you can often waste things – like the egg nog this past week.
After thinking about it a few times the past few days, I’ve come to a few conclusions about this.
First, if you have a desire to use something that can go bad, use it. If that egg nog is sitting in the fridge and you want a glass, have a glass of it. Don’t wait unless you’re waiting for a very specific event – for example, you might be waiting to specifically share a glass with someone who will be there later.
Second, the real decision with regards to being financially conservative with such disposable items happens at the store. Your choice with regards to the egg nog doesn’t happen at home. It happens in the store when you’re deciding whether to buy it. The same philosophy goes with regards to virtually any item you might pick up.
Once you have that item at home, use it. Use it when you want to use it. Use it until it’s gone, then make a decision about whether to replace it.
If you’re preparing a bowl of oatmeal and think to yourself, “I could put honey in this… but I should save that honey,” don’t. Use the honey. If you “save” the honey for some unspecified future event, you’re just increasing the likelihood of finding yourself with honey that’s crystallized into a giant brick in a month or two.
If you’re wanting a drink and think to yourself, “I could use some egg nog right now… but I should wait,” don’t. If you wait and then forget about it, you’ll find yourself with rancid egg nog – and wasted money.
Your decision to buy such treats should happen at the store – or, ideally, before you even go to the store, when you’re assembling your grocery list.
When you make the choice to write the words “egg nog” on your list, the decision of whether or not to have a cup of it in your kitchen a few days later should already be made for you. Otherwise, you’re spending money on items that will go to waste.