A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an old friend of mine. She was telling me all about her winter trip to Bolivia (I think that’s where it was, anyway) and seemed really passionate and excited about all of it.
After telling me, though, she paused for a bit and then said, “The problem with travel is that it’s so fun but when I come home it’s so depressing. There are so many bills…”
I suggested that there might be a connection between the travel and the bills.
“Of course,” she said, “but the things I enjoy doing are all expensive.”
I can sympathize with her situation quite a lot. I enjoy travel, too. I love seeing new places. Quite a few of my hobbies could easily involve buying an endless stream of supplies if I so chose. I love eating wonderful meals made with fresh and varied ingredients. I love surprising Sarah with little things and (sometimes) big things, just so she knows she’s love and just so I can see that little look of happiness on her face.
It is really tempting to fall into a cycle of endlessly indulging these desires. Only a few things keep me from doing so.
First, I know that if I indulge heavily, other things in my life will suffer. We’ll lose some of the career freedom we have. Bills will start to pile up. I’ll start to have short-term financial worries again, something I haven’t had in a while and something I never, ever want to return to.
The stress of those things is not enjoyable. It’s something that I’ve worked quite hard to remove from my life. It’s something that casts a negative pall over the normal day-to-day routine of living. It’s something I simply do not wish to face again.
Second, I know that if I repeatedly indulge, those indulgences will begin to seem less special.
There was a time in 2002 and 2003 where I would stop into a local coffee shop about once a month. I really, really enjoyed those stops. The coffee was a warm treat, the atmosphere was wonderful, and I quite loved just sitting there browsing the local newspaper while sipping my cup.
Over time, these “indulgences” became slowly more frequent, until I was stopping several times a week.
One day, as I was sitting there, I looked around the coffee shop and realised that this routine had just become normal. It no longer felt special. It no longer felt like a treat. That special enjoyment I would get from doing something to spice up my life was gone. Instead, I was just paying $7 for a cup of coffee without any extra pleasure, something I could do at home for pennies.
The joy had gone out of the indulgence, and all that was left was a big expensive routine.
Indulgences are wonderful things, but they only stand out in your mind if they’re indulgences, not routines. It’s hard to feel deeply stimulated by something that’s just a normal part of your everyday routine, and if it’s just a normal part of your everyday routine, why are you dumping extra money into it without getting any extra pleasure?
Not every example of this is as stark as my coffee house example, but it’s true with almost any pleasurable experience. The more frequently you indulge in something, the less special those indulgences seem but the higher the monthly cost. Your dollar-to-pleasure ratio becomes a terrible one if you give into temptation all the time.
A final thought keeps me from indulging, and that’s knowing that small indulgences now keep me from big indulgences later.
As I’ve mentioned on here before, I fully plan to travel internationally with my children several times later on in their childhood. I know how expensive that’s going to be.
I also know that if I spend my money on splurges now, those wonderful dreams have very little chance of happening. The effort to make those dreams come true happens today, not tomorrow, and it means saying “no.”
My daughter has a sparkly Eiffel Tower shirt. She wears it fairly regularly – it’s one of her favorites. Whenever I see her twirling around while wearing it, I think of our plans. Whenever she asks me if we’re ever going to go see the Eiffel Tower, I can look her in the eye and tell her that we will sooner than she thinks, and mean every single word of it.
Doesn’t this make life boring, though? Not really. I put time and effort into finding other ways to spice up my life that don’t involve spending money.
I put aside blocks of time to just dig deep into my hobby. I plan small romantic surprises for Sarah, ones that usually involve the input of effort and thought rather than cash. Whenever I desire a new game, I look through the ones I already have and usually find something to engage in that I already own. I keep a big project list and if I ever start to feel bored, I just look through that list and I have tons and tons of things I might do.
Each day, I try to find something new to do each and every day, preferably something that doesn’t cost any extra money. If I find something I like, I remember it and add it irregularly (or regularly) to my routine. If it turns out that the new idea wasn’t enjoyable… well, at the very least, I know that and I can say I tried it. Doing this makes the days enjoyable and fills them with variety without filling my mailbox with bills.
Yes, that means I won’t be dining at a five star restaurant this weekend. Maybe I’m missing out, but I’m okay with that. I think I’m getting something worthwhile in return for that choice.