Updated on 03.12.13

Quality of Life and Consumer Spending

Trent Hamm

Recently, I read a fascinating comment from Sydney on SmartSpending (I added the bold myself):

I’ve never understood the unending supply of articles telling people to skip a cup of coffee or brown bag lunch just to save a few dollars. It helps, sure, but it won’t save you if you’ve made bad decisions on major expenses. I completely agree that if you plan carefully and take care of the big things – the long term major expenses in your budget – there’s far less need to sweat the small things. So many people buy a more expensive home than they can easily afford, cars they can’t afford, big expensive vacations or a houseful of new furniture they can live without. Even the choice of how many children to have and when has a huge impact on finances.

Yet if you arrange your life so that major expenses are not consuming all of your income and then some, you can actually eat lunch out once awhile, buy that cup of coffee, or see a movie. Quality of life goes up dramatically. At that point, if you want to save on little things also, it becomes a choice, rather than a constant necessity just to survive.

What struck me about the comment is that Sydney immediately ties events that involve spending excess money (“eat lunch out once awhile, buy that cup of coffee, or see a movie”) to quality of life. In other words, the ability to participate in a consumer economy is directly tied to quality of life in this quote.

I have no doubt that Sydney sincerely feels this way. I know that, for a very long time, I felt that way, too. I felt like my life was better if I had the freedom to go out to eat whenever I wanted, buy a video game whenever I wanted, or go out to a movie whenever I felt like it.

Today, I feel differently. While I might enjoy the experience, I no longer feel like a meal eaten out raises my quality of life at all. Instead, the things that bring what I would call “quality” into my life are experiences with my family. A quality experience is eating a homemade dinner with my children at the dining room table. A quality experience is a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon curled up next to my wife. A quality experience is a picnic at the park or watching my son’s soccer practice.

I believe that tying quality of life to consumer purchases is a personal, conscious decision – one that often results in financial trouble. If you judge your quality of life by the things that you purchase, then you feel worse when you spend less and feel better when you spend more. This situation runs entirely contrary to healthy personal finance management.

A financially healthy mindset, in my opinion, derives quality of life from things that can’t be bought. The source of that quality can vary greatly from person to person, of course, but the real key is that your quality moments in life are wholly unconnected to spending money.

Not there yet? Look for the things in your life that fill you with joy that don’t involve spending money, then work on putting those things front and center. Once you find sources of quality that are separate from spending money, it becomes much easier to cut your spending drastically – and doing that can provide the foundation for a great future.

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  1. brooke says:

    i’m with you, trent.

    well thought-out and nicely written post.

  2. Bill in Houston says:

    I have no problems with people going out for a cup of coffee instead of bringing it from home but does it increase their quality of life? I would say, “No” unless THEY believe they have to have these things. Personally, I think the folks who have to stop off at Starbucks on the way to work are silly. Aside from paying too much for an average cup of coffee the drive-thru lanes appear to be dog slow.

    I brew my own coffee. I like to. I brownbag nine days out of ten (departmental lunch or a friend’s birthday are the exceptions). I have a pretty good quality of life without feeling the need to walk around my office with a Starbucks cup. I find that snobby, but I never say a word.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to spend money. I just hate to waste it. I can separate needs from desires and allocate accordingly. My wife and I have our rainy day emergency fund and we saved up for a nice vacation this year. But we still economize, coupon, and have started menu planning to further reduce waste when we shop. We’re doing pretty well with our grocery shopping, but there’s always that head of lettuce or bunch of scallions that never gets used (and that grates me a bit).

    I judge my quality of life by what I have: a loving wife, a decent job, good friends, and close family.

  3. Dana the Common Cents Coach says:

    I don’t think that Sydney is talking about his base values requiring him to purchase stuff. It sounds to me like he is saying that you can get your cup of coffee without guilt or feeling bad about it. It can be a slippery slope that could lead you back to spending $125/mo at Starbucks (not that I would know…), but I think he says that it is good self-care (or quality of life) to treat yourself once in awhile.

  4. Bill in Houston says:

    (I think Sydney is a “she” not a “he.”)

  5. Oskar says:

    hmmmm I guess I agree with you both, it’s dangerous to connect wellbeing to spending money but it can also be quite a treat to go out to dinner having someone else cock a great meal for you in a style you might not do yourself. Things are not good because they cost money but on the other hand they are not bad because of it either.

  6. Wendy says:

    I agree with both Trent and Sydney. Your happiness shouldn’t be defined by spending money, but I would be terribly unhappy if I vilified myself for getting lunch out when my errands take more time than I anticipated. I wouldn’t want to have to run home just because I was hungry or needed a bit of caffeine.

  7. *sara* says:

    Yah, I totally agree. I think that many of the things you suggest on TSD – brewing your own beer, making homemade bread, even making laundry detergent, all increase the quality of life. When I compare an evening of eating takeout, watching tv, and lazing around to an evening of being industrious and enjoying the satisfaction and mental stimulation of learning and producing something useful out of nothing- It really is about quality of life more than merely saving a few pennies.

  8. kev says:

    Skimping on small expenses helped my wife and I get out of debt. For example, bringing lunch to work instead of buying it probably saved us 30-35/week each. That’s $280/month for both of us, that went straight into debt elimination.

    On top of that, I think quality of life is improved by bringing my own lunch to work, and my wife agrees. Our homemade lunches are always much more enjoyable than anything we could pick up in a restaurant around here, and certainly more enjoyable than store-bought frozen lunches.
    I keep them efficient and cheap by cooking dinner for six (there’s just the two of us) and filling the tupperware containers at the same time that I’m serving dinner.
    At the same time, I used to avoid buying coffee, but now i don’t. It’s only a buck and a half and its probably our only regular frivolous expense. I still can’t bring myself to buy it from Fourbucks, though. I guess it helps that I don’t like their coffee anyway!

  9. Lauren says:

    I feel like Sydney is simply saying that once you get your financial situation under control, it can be freeing. She certainly is not saying the her quality of life is tied to consumption. She says “once in awhile.” It’s like being on a diet, and watching everything really carefully so that you can enjoy a piece of cake at the end of the day, guiltfree. Whereas you seem to be saying that you should be happy eating veggies and beans all day, and cake isn’t necessary for a good life. Of course it isn’t, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying that cake every now and then, just as you shouldn’t be applauded because you don’t eat it. Both are valid choices, and both people end up “healthy” in the end.

  10. You may not feel that buying things raises the quality of your life, but not being able to buy things can certainly lower the quality of your life. If you have to watch every penny because of poor decisions in the past, it can be a drag. Some people seem to get a high off of extreme frugality as if there is a purity in it, but I think most of us would just like to be comfortable enough that not every small purchase requires an internal debate on whether or not we can afford it.

    Plus, I don’t see anything wrong with a small treat every so often if you feel like you’ve worked hard, made the big decisions correctly, and deserve a small luxury as a reward.

  11. Johanna says:

    I agree with Sydney, but think that she/he is missing the point. Eating lunch out “once in a while” is unlikely to be a problem for anyone’s budget. Eating lunch out every day, on the other hand, could be a problem, because a little expense repeated daily turns into a big expense. And the point of the unending supply of articles to which Sydney refers is not that going out for lunch is inherently evil, but that if you’re looking to trim big chunks from your budget, you shouldn’t overlook habits like a daily coffee or a daily restaurant lunch.

    I do think that quality of life can be enhanced by spending money on things that you really want – like a delicious meal that you wouldn’t know how to reproduce at home, a book that gives you a new perspective on life in this world, or a carefully planned trip to see a place you’ve never seen or visit people that you care about. That’s not to say that your life is all about spending money – you can draw most of your fulfillment from things that don’t cost money and still enjoy a good restaurant meal once in a while.

  12. AD says:

    I agree with Lauren above. I think Sydney was just saying that if you save on the big ticket items, you don’t need to sweat the small stuff, unless you choose to cut back more. The point is that it’s a choice.

    I didn’t get that he quality of life it tied to consumption at all.

  13. Francisco says:

    I’m also with both Trent and Sydney, but I guess Laurie used the best concept to make the point: it can be freeing. Quality of life is not related to buying or not buying, but to having the liberty to do it(or not) without feeling guilty.

  14. Denise says:

    I love #2’s comment “I love to spend money. I just hate to waste it.” Perfect!

  15. Maybe Sydney isn’t tying quality of life to consumer purchases but many do. I do enjoy eating a lunch out or watching a movie and I indulge in these fairly regularly. I can afford to do that because I save money on the big stuff.

    If I couldn’t do these things my quality of life would suffer. If I chose to just eat at home or watch DVDs then my quality of life would be the same.

  16. Battra92 says:

    Well I brown bag almost every single day to work. I don’t view my quality of life as being lower that I bring my lunch (in many ways I view it higher since it’s almost all fast food around here.)

    I used to buy a lot of stuff but I don’t so much any more. I don’t need it and I have different goals.

    Though if my lunch wasn’t already made I am craving some Burger King for some strange reason …

  17. Tamara says:

    I disagree with Trent on this one. I don’t think that spending money is going to increase quality of life, but I don’t think that is what Sydney was saying. If I have managed my home, car, and other major expenses I have some money that will allow me to occasionally get a cup of coffee, or a lunch out with friends. That *will* increase my quality of life because I can participate in outings with friends and co-workers without just sitting there drinking free tap water. I think that having the ability to occasionally socialize with others over a cup of coffee or a meal does, in fact, increase quality of life.

  18. Jen says:

    I don’t think that this is really a “one size fits all” situation. I don’t have a family, or even a significant other at the moment, so my personal life revolves around my friends. Sometimes we do things that don’t involve spending money, like stay in and make food or watch movies, but several of my closest friends live on the other side of the city and it is often more convenient to meet in the middle for coffee or a meal than travel 1.5 hours on the subway to their homes. Plus, in NYC the cost of groceries is extremely high. Making a simple brunch of french toast with fruit compote and yogurt for 2 can cost $20. I don’t waste my money on things I can do as well or better at home, but with so many wonderful ethnic restaurants who can make food that I most likely wouldn’t be able to reproduce at home for the same cost, it seems a shame to not eat out occasionally.

    In fact, the most miserable I ever was was when I was living with a significant other on a very tight budget and we couldn’t afford to go out at all. Sometimes just knowing that you can have that $4 latte if you really want it and maybe doing it once a week (not every day) is enough to make a huge quality of life difference.

  19. SteveJ says:

    I think the thing that helps me with frivolous spending is to consider if that “luxury” is meaningful. If I have Starbucks today, will I reflect at the end of the day about the great cup of coffee I had? Will I remember it next week as the best cup of coffee I’ve had in a while? It’s not the consumerism aspect that gets me, it’s the disposable aspect. Will I even bother to remember that I did this thing, or will I toss that memory out before the coffee gets cold? Will eating out for lunch bring me any happiness beyond “hey I saved 5 minutes not making a sandwich” (And spent 20 mins driving and waiting instead!)

    I’m just saying, if you’re not going to remember it tomorrow, you might as well go with cheap or easy. If you’re going to Starbucks because it’s easy, that’s fine, and yes, it’s liberating to have that option. Just don’t treat it like it’s some luxury that you’re adding to your life.

  20. Dana says:

    Agreed that it’s a matter of choice. Having the choice to spend or not to spend, we feel constrained when that choice is gone.

  21. Alison says:

    So what do you do when the hi-quality low-cost stay-at-home and spend valuable time with loved ones *is* the splurge you fester over. At points in my financial past I was concerned over the cost of gas to have a night-in with a friend, or the splurge in groceries to cook a special meal for a loved one.

    My real question for we who profess the joy in the simple non-consumer life is how to make any social event or meal *special* (above pasta and sauce) and ignore the consumerism in that.

    I see that buying a $15 bottle of wine and watching a movie at home as a date is cheaper than spending $30 on a movie and snacks. However to make that at home date night different than any other night I feel something has to be added, $15 wine, $10 steak, $5 rental…

  22. Katrina says:

    I think that BOTH perspectives are valid. What it boils down to is where you place your values. You (Trent) are willing to sacrifice eating lunch out, daily lattes and the like in order to have a nicer house, work for yourself, and other experiences with your family. Sydney is willing to sacrifice a larger house, nicer car, houseful of furniture, and that sort of thing in order to have the daily latte. Neither is more right than the other: the important thing is that both of you recognize that you have finite resources, and need to budget and prioritize your spending in order to fit within those restrictions. That’s the heart of personal finance.

  23. Jon says:

    As a member of our church finance committee and someone responsible for our “benevolent fund” giving to folks in need, I find that many times people seem to get into a situation where they can’t pay, for example, a power bill or make a credit card payment, or perhaps even a car payment. Many times, the amount of money in a person’s budget that is spent on semi frivolous indulgences, such as dining out, Starbucks coffee, fuzzy dice for the car, paying for entertainment, etc. could cover those more necessary expenses.
    These things are just low-hanging fruit that one can pluck while getting started on the way to a better managed personal financial life.

  24. Courtney says:


    That said…there are times when money does bring happiness, which is why we are talking about being fiscally prudent, no?

    It’s a good feeling to be able to fund the kids’ college education, which is definitely being a consumer.

    I think the key is wise consumption.

  25. Michelle says:

    First, I’d just like to say that what I’m about to say only applies to those with their financial houses in order.

    I think the prudent spending of money can improve your quality of life.

    Sometimes my husband and I need to go out, without the kids, to reconnect and relax. Things that are much harder to do at home because there are always things to be done, laundry, dishes, taking care of kids, etc, all of those things distract and it does improve our quality of life to go out, not cook, not have to worry about cleaning up, and just be together.

    Same thing with going out to lunch, infrequently, my husband likes to go out to lunch with co-workers and he is better able to build relationships with them if he’s not having to explain why he brought his ham sandwich to the restaurant.

    These things add value to our lives, and improve our quality of life without destroying our bank account. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. Buying lunch doesn’t mean that you’ve sold your soul to the consumerist mentality.

    Sometimes, spending money makes life a bit easier and, yes, a bit better. And if you’re financially stable, then it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

  26. It is all about finding a balance and being able to have the option of buying dinner out or a cup of coffee or anything else for that matter without having the feelings of guilt that come along with the purchase when you know that you are drowning in debt and can’t afford the purchase. I don’t think that the quality of life is linked directly to making a purchase but is linked to the emotion or feeling that you are left with after the purchase is made. If you feel guilty over a couple of dollars being spent on a cup of coffee then your quality of life most likely stinks is so many other areas.

    Money is a tool to help get the things you want in life. For some that means a cup of coffee, a BMW or security. If you are wise, you can have all of these things without sacrificing another, but there must be balance. There needs to be priorities.

    I’ve found that saving money and eliminating debt are 2 of the best ways to create peace of mind, but I’ve also found that there are other things in life that bring enjoyment. For example I recently purchased a new bike. I’ve been wanting one for a long while now and kept putting it off. When I finally purchased the bike, it wasn’t the cold aluminum frame that brought me happiness, but rather it was knowing that I would be able to use the bike to spend time with my girlfriend and friends out exploring the countryside.

    Money is a tool. It has its uses and I would say that, yes, there is a link between using money, even if to buy a cup of coffee, and the quality of life. Not everything requires money in order to be a quality moment, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when it can be used as a means to bring about quality times. Use it for the tool it is.

  27. Rachel says:

    Today I can relate more to you, Trent, than Sydney. There was a time when it was more of the other way around. I used to think that I “deserved” to splurge on something like a cup of expensive coffee or dinner at a nice restaurant if we paid down debt and were being wise with our money. Those things were like rewards and they made me feel inspired to be frugal. Now it’s not the same. Any more, those things do nothing for me. I enjoy living the way I do (cooking/eating at home, taking fewer weekend trips, shopping at thrift stores, and just hanging out at home with my family). It isn’t rewarding to spend even $40 at a restaurant when I think of how I could have made a similar meal at home for under $10, and we wouldn’t have had to get around and find a babysitter and all of that.

    I guess it’s a matter of who you are and where you are in your life/financial journey.

  28. vowel says:

    It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that “the ability to participate in a consumer economy is directly tied to quality of life” based on this quote alone. Being able to enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch is something she likes, but likely not the only thing that brings her joy. I think many PF websites would argue that being aware of your money allows you to know if buying a cup of coffee or lunch out will break your bank, and knowing that it is something you can afford makes it more enjoyable. It’s nice that you like spending time with your family and that you recognize that. You might also consider working from a coffee shop now and then in order to tackle your struggle with loneliness as described when you talk about working from home. It might just be worth the cost of coffee and lunch to spend some time in the company of others who work independently.

  29. Faculties says:

    Reading the comments on this thread, it seems to me that real financial freedom is having the resources to eat out or buy coffee at Starbucks, but being just as happy not to. Then you have money AND happiness: you “have your cake and eat it too.”

  30. David S says:

    I feel Sydney’s point is valid. Referencing back to “Your Money or Your Life” there is an exercise in which one logs their expenditures in different categories and place a “+”,”-” or “0” underneath to determine if they feel they should spend more or less in said category based on the cost and personal fulfillment one receives from that category. If an occasional dinner or cup of coffee gives you enjoyment and you can judiciously afford it, then so be it. Just try to stay between the left side and peak of the fulfillment curve.
    Isn’t the definition of frugality simply getting a good value (fulfillment) for your dollar(s)? Also once your “needs” are met, shouldn’t you pursue your “desires”? Whether that desire is to give to charity, a nice dinner out or extra time with your family (which has an opportunity cost), it should simply be based on the fulfillment one receives vs. cost.
    Trent, I whole-heartedly agree with you that quality of life should first be derived from your relationships with others. I can think of nothing more frugal than time with people you love who reciprocate that love. Yet even you must sacrifice time with them to pursue your other interests (writing, meditation, prayer, reading and exercise). Sometimes we have to save money in order to pay for our time with them (vacations are a good example).
    Trent, I love “The Simple Dollar” and your writing. I agree with your points and find them valid. I just also agree with Sydney, a nice cup of coffee sounds great to me.
    Battra92, get yourself a BK burger sometime soon, really be conscious, in the moment, when you eat it. Yeah, it’s a desire, not a need, but I bet you’ll find it a buck well spent.

  31. Tina says:

    I like to have a coffe out every now and again but I don’t care if i ever go out to dinner again after the experience I had the other day.

    My husband took me out for a birthday lunch to a place we have enjoyed in the past. The food ended up not being good, and we sat by family where the mother repeatedly threatened and slapped her children. It was absolutely awful.

    We don’t eat out much anymore so this was very disappointing. I realized that I would rather eat at home,enjoy my home and prepare my own meals. After what we experienced the other day, eating at home is certainly not a sacrifice!!

    love your blog trent!

  32. Susanne says:

    I can see it both ways. Generally, happiness and contentment shouldn’t require the purchase of a cup of coffee or a nice meal. But every now and then, as a special treat, dinner out with a friend or a trip to a bed and breakfast in the mountains does enhance my quality of life, at least for a little while.

    Of course – transferring money into my savings account or paying off a big chunk of credit card debt also increases my quality of life. ;-)

  33. Des says:

    “I believe that tying quality of life to consumer purchases is a personal, conscious decision…”

    I wholeheartedly disagree with this. I think the problem is that it is an UN-conscious decision. No one says “Hmm…should I derive value and pleasure from free things or costly things today? Costly things, definitely.” No, rather people just don’t realize that is what is happening. Stopping to smell the roses and all that…

  34. This is some nice ideas to chew on for a while. I agree that there is a difference between consumer culture and quality of life, but sometimes they do intersect, just not as much as some people believe.

  35. Susan says:

    I have very much enjoyed this blog and all of Trent’s insightful articles. I have to agree, however, with Sydney’s comments above. I consider myself quite frugal, brown bagging my lunches and always offering to host a dinner party rather than go out to eat. What I think Sydney’s is trying to say is that sometimes (if it is reasonable and within one’s means) the experience of a lunch with friends or coffee outside of the house adds quality and enjoyment to your life. My general rule is, I’m never going to take myself out to lunch, but at the same time I don’t want to miss out on spending time with friends. So for me it is more a matter of spending money on the experience rather than the product itself.
    Another thing to consider is the cultural aspect. If you lived in Paris, New York, or Milan, would you really want to forgo experiencing the cultural richness that your community has to offer for a bigger home or larger retirement fund? Assuming I had a certain level of financial stability, I would rather spend $10 or $20 for the last balcony at La Scala rather than save a few dollars renting the DVD. It all comes down to what we value.
    Love your work Trent! Keep it up!!

  36. Michele says:

    While I agree that the quality of life with homemade things and spending time with family is high, the meal out gives the cook a break and that cup of coffee on the road is a convenience that comes when you can afford it. It improves the quality of life for the person who normally makes the meals by giving them a break.

  37. J says:

    Trent, I think you are overanalyzing. You may get quality of life from being with your family and not spending money, but I can tell you without qualification that when I can get a break from my usual frugal routine (packing a lunch, brewing my own coffee/drinking the office coffee, going to see a movie in a theater) that my quality of living DOES go up. I view these as special “treats” that I enjoy, since I enjoy them infrequently.

    The problem comes when the “treats” are no longer “treats” and are now commonplace or part of a routine. I do enjoy cooking, spending time with my family, etc. But I also really enjoy sipping a coffee somewhere by myself for a little while, too. Sure, I guess I could brew my own at home, then go to a local park and not “spend” any money, but there’s something about a nice coffeehouse — the smells, the sounds, the entire experience — that makes me enjoy it. Same for the movies — I like the big screen, and even the overpriced snacks. But I watch more movies on TV than I do at the theater (maybe 5 a year) that going out to the movies is something special for me.

    Also, I live somewhere that is cold, dark and wet for a few months a year. A trip out for coffee or to a movie gets me out of the house for a little while, to someplace that’s warm and inviting.

    It comes down to choices, though. I make a very conscious choice to spend money on something I enjoy. I don’t feel that I need to apologize for it, and I can definitely tell you that my quality of life improves when I can get an hour AWAY from my wife and kids sometimes.

  38. chris says:

    I agree with you about tying “quality of life” to consumer spending, absolutely! And I love the alternative perspective on quality of life that you give . . . I’m finding that not eating out as much, brown-bagging lunch, etc, has resulted in a shift of my own perspective — a meal eaten at home is just as satisfying as ordering takeout, etc. I do think it’s ok to splurge occasionally on eating out, especially if it’s a way to spend time with friends, etc, but I find that the less often I do that, the better it tastes!

    However, I don’t agree that things like brownbagging lunch and skipping the coffeeshop don’t make a huge difference in one’s personal budget. Things like this can make a huge impact — take as an example that if you eat lunch out every day during the week, and that lunch costs between $5 and $10, that’s $25 to $50 a week spent on restaurant or fast food meals! I can feed myself and my husband on not much more than $50 per week for groceries for 3 meals a day plus snacks! These small things really do add up.

  39. J. says:

    Trent>> compare your critique to your “mission statement” in the upper-right hand corner of your blog. has your mission changed since you composed that?

  40. Dave says:

    It’s about choice. I was having a conversation about purchasing a car a few years ago. My friend didn’t understand why I wasn’t spending as much as I could afford… then I explained to him that the reason I CAN afford nice things, is because I often choose not to buy them.

  41. Jough says:

    Quality of life is way too subjective to be defined as being derived from whether you are spending money.

    You may honestly enjoy driving to your son’s soccer practice followed by a picnic in the park. Or spending an hour driving to the grocery store and back to pick out the ingredients for homemade pizza.

    On the other hand, I don’t have kids. Those activities sound torturous!

    One of my greatest joys is walking to the neighborhood coffee joint, plucking down $2.00 for a coffee (free refills!) and $5.00 for a Sunday Times, and spending three hours learning about my world. Or, taking the bus out to the local floppy pizza shop for a couple of slices and a beer with my wife.

    Who’s better? Well, you tell me. I would just point out that while you are busy getting your britches in a logical twist, I find your judgmental attitude to be quite humorous. Oh of course, if everyone had YOUR LIFE we’d be perfectly happy. To each his own I suppose.

  42. Sarah says:

    What Sydney is not getting is that it is not about not spending on “treats.” It is about not spending money thoughtlessly and failing to get good value for it, whether the expense is big or small. I suspect there are many folks out there who could not, if they thought about it, justify spending the, what, four dollars more for the coffee they grab on their way to work from Starbucks as opposed to the coffee from home or from Dunkin Donuts. If you asked them, they wouldn’t actually say that the coffee they got is four dollars’ worth better than the coffee they didn’t (and that’s considering the entire experience). But they don’t think about it. So even if it is only four dollars, and even if you can afford to fritter away $20 a week, that’s a pointless and wasteful expenditure that a frugal person would cut out of their life.

    I’m hardly the queen of frugal, but it’s clear that (when you have a choice) it’s the best route to not spend money on things that aren’t worth it to you so that you can spend more on the things that are worth it to you.

  43. getagrip says:

    Didn’t we have this thread a couple of weeks back with Ramit at I will teach you be rich?

    It seems to keep coming down to the same old same old. Some folks feel any amount of frugality leads to “denying” yourself “stuff” leading to impacting their quality of life via a false idea of frugality = hermit living. On the other hand there are people who see no purpose in getting a fancy latte, droping $100 a plate just so you can say you ate at a certain restaurant, or any of a myraid of other spending choices in their personal pet peeve area. Yet in the end no matter what view you want to take it’s really all about spending less than you earn on things that give you value.

    One point that I think Sydney and others who focus only on big ticket saving have a potential to fail at is that of spending “creep”. Much as J discusses above once the “treats” become commonplace, they turn to needs. Then folks tend to seek out new treats, and over time those become new needs, and so it grows. This can continue unless, and this is the important part, a person doesn’t keep some reasonable reign on their overall spending to ensure they aren’t spending more than they make.

    While I feel we all agree that it makes no sense to buy more house or car than you can reasonably afford, I’d like to also think we all agree that going into debt over large or small spending needs to be avoided.

  44. Jenni says:

    Unfortunately, for my ‘quality of life’ to go up, I have to spend money: in order to see my boyfriend or my family, I have to purchase a plane ticket. Thus spending on a cup of coffee or going out to lunch brings DOWN my quality of life–that’s $3 or $8 that could go to a plane ticket to see my loved ones.

    Why can’t people work on improving both aspects in their lives? Reduce the big ticket items, AND the smaller items. It doesn’t have to be one or the other–anything that saves you money and gets you closer to your goals is a worthy action!

  45. Dan says:

    Firstly I love the Simple dollar. I read it daily and find
    it well researched and written. But Trent an ad for a Capital one credit card at the bottom of todays post. Maybe it’s just me but
    I found it a little weird.

  46. Lana says:

    It is true that people should not equate money with quality of life. Money is a tool and you should use it accordingly, not to allow it to control your life.

    On a diff note:
    I feel you (Trent) have become so self-righteous which is a very sad thing.

  47. Mister E says:

    Personally even if I was able to tap into some magical unlimited source of funds I would bring my coffee and lunch from home.

    It’s a quality of life issue, things made at home by me or my wife are of a higher quality than take out coffee and restaurant food.

    I personally feel the people in my office that buy coffee and lunch all the time are SACRIFICING quality of life for convenience. But that’s just me and they would quite likely disagree.

  48. partgypsy says:

    I agree it’s not an all or nothing deal. I normally bring my lunch, make tea at my desk, most weekends are spent cleaning the house and doing something free or inexpensive with the family. So when my husband and I get a sitter and go to a nice restaurant, it is a real treat. I guess I like participating in the consumer economy! I think it’s good to be able to have the choice to have someone else make dinner, and I really appreciate it when we do. I kind of agree with the posters comments, because we have only 1 car and a more modest house we don’t have to sweat for example going out to eat, which I would hate having to do.

  49. Just a guy... says:

    Pardon this for sounding too much like an economics professor….

    Quality of life increases when they are able to make decisions on what goods and services to utilize solely on personal preference without regard to their available resources (i.e. money).

    Personally, all above comments are a derivative of the above statement. For some, enjoying the latte without guilt increases their quality of life compared to enjoying the latte but having to have made a trade-off between the latte and saving or some other purchase. Most of us don’t have the resources to just make our decisions on preference without consideration to money, but quality of life improves the more we’re able to position ourselves that way (saving, accumulating assets, no debt, all the other good and responsible things we should do).

  50. Anastasia says:

    For me the point is: having some slack in my budget dramatically improves my quality of life.

    How? It means that when my car needs a new tire, I can go pay for it outright without dipping into my emergency fund (which is a good feeling). It means that when I have a day that just won’t quit, I have the money to order take-out for dinner, instead of spending time in the kitchen cooking and doing clean-up. It also means that I can save money to visit my friends and family this summer (plane tickets requires).

    If I spent every penny trying to pay a mortgage on a house, I couldn’t do those things. It would be a very stressful way to live.

  51. Sarah says:

    I don’t know, I sort of disagree with both of you.

    Getting a coffee at my favorite coffeehouse on a Saturday morning and sitting outside drinking it while enjoying the sunshine and watching the people walk by is exactly the kind of thing that adds quality to my life. It’s the experience of coffee I didn’t have to make myself and being able to sit outside in March (I live in California, but am from PA originally).

    On the other hand, she’s wrong when she says that you shouldn’t spend as much on vacations or furniture. Having lived with a hand-me-down couch from my parents (& I was grateful to get it) with fraying cushions, I think my quality of life would be greatly improved if, instead of coming home to that couch, I came home to something sleeker. A neat, stylish home would definitely increase my quality of life.

    And travel can completely change the way you look at the world! I’m going on my honeymoon in September, and we could have gone for something cheaper but we’re touring Europe instead. My quality of life will be increased by having time away from work and spending alone time with my fiance, not to mention actually getting to see Europe!

  52. Courtney says:

    The barrier for most people is not just that consumer spending = happiness, it’s that consumer spending is your gateway to society.

    When people are laid off, they lose their ability to participate in society. That’s simplistic in the extreme. But it’s also true. If you want to stay in touch with your friends, you have to convince them to do things that don’t cost money. Even going for a coffee is going to cost money. If they want to have lunch, if you say “no,” the response might be “it’s my treat” – which is a nice thing for a friend to do (and is my policy for friends who are out of work – i always say it up front so they don’t have to decline, feel bad, and then have me offer) – but it still perpetuates the subconscious feeling that money is required to participate in society.

    A good friend was out of work for 9 months. he had an insane severance package, no debt, and a very low cost of living, so he was in good shape – but he was continually frustrated that his friends couldn’t think out of the box about how to get together in an economical fashion – and even if he would suggest something (rollerblading, let’s go on a photography walk, when was the last time you went ot the free art museum) they would all complain, sigh, and say “can’t we just go out for lunch?”

    So I understand your point, my point is that it goes pretty deeply on a subconscious level and isn’t a simple binary yes/no choice to reorient.

  53. Jim says:

    Trent seems to be going a bit too far here. Or maybe he’s making too general of a statement that he should really be only applying to people with real financial dysfunction.

    If you’re broke or in debt then sure its a good tactic to find enjoyment in free things. If we derive too much pleasure from simply spending and buying then that can be unhealthy. But as written Trents statement makes it sound as if you enjoy going to Starbucks or going out to the movies that you are emotionally dysfunctional or something.

    If I can afford to go to the movies and I enjoy doing so then that is OK. Things or experiences do not have to be free in order to be good.

    As someone said above, money is a tool that we use. Spending it on important things is the best way to use the tool. We each prioritize what is or isn’t important and everyone will have different preferences.


  54. Todd says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these posts. I like participating in the consumer economy too. I don’t envision Utopia being a place where there’s just one general store in each community. I like that we have a society based on a great deal of consumer choices, just as I love a variety of great foods. The problem seems to be that spending, like eating, can become an addiction. I think the challenge is to learn how to cut back, to learn some self-control, not to cut out spending (or eating, of course) all together.

  55. JC says:

    Trent – I’m a lurker here….

    I think you’re stretching the argument a little far.

    I go out for coffee every week day morning – I buy the small cup of the cheap (but decent) stuff. It improves my quality of life not because of the $ I spend but because I have a good 30 min conversation with colleagues each morning outside of the office. I have developed good friendships and working relationships through this almost daily habit.

    Spending $ can have a dimension beyond the consumer context you have emphasized here.

  56. Lisa says:

    JUST looking at Sydney’s comments, you can see that she comes from a different financial place than Trent does a lot of talking to. Trent started writing from a place where there was not enough money to pay the bills. The starting point for a person in that position is to find money anywhere no matter how small (meals out, starbucks, etc.)

    Sydney is right for many people who can already pay their bills and think they are in a fine financial place.

  57. QOAS says:

    I definitely agree with this one, “Look for the things in your life that fill you with joy that don’t involve spending money”.I believe that the best things in life are free.

  58. Laura in Atlanta says:

    Poor Starbucks’ lattes . . . always comes out as the bad guy. ;-)

  59. T'Pol says:

    Excellent article as always…

    Quality of life is certainly in intangible things not in the stuff we feel obliged to acquire and we are made to believe we have to have.

  60. Erin says:

    Trent, I think that you and some of the other commenters missed the point of Sydney’s statement simply because she happened to use the example of buying coffee or eating lunch out, which you equate to tying “ability to participate in the consumer economy” to quality of life. She could easily have used other examples of inexpensive things – say buying a board game to play with your family or spending $8 each on admission to a children’s museum when you could have stayed home and played in the backyard instead. I am sure you didn’t intend it this way, but your focus on her examples of small things that add to quality of life versus your definition of quality of life came off to me as preachy and completely beside the point.

    I interpreted her larger point as something like this: Don’t buy a house if the mortgage payment is going to cripple you so much you can’t afford to buy a coffee while you’re out running errands; pay cash or get a small loan for a much older used car rather than taking on a huge car payment; don’t buy a new couch on payments for your new house or charge a fancy vacation on credit cards. Avoiding those things is going to make a lot more difference to your quality of life than if you spend so much on big stuff that you have to brown bag it to work every day in row for 5 years.

  61. Ken says:

    I’m not really sure where you got “Whenever you feel like it” from her clearly stated “Once in awhile.”

    I didn’t really take that quality of life is directly tied to consumer spending from her comment, but rather that the quality of life comes from not having to stress over the fact that if you spend $2 on coffee you will be close to tipping over some edge.

  62. LC says:

    I recently kicked a 30 year caffeine addiction, and let me tell you — that addictive cup of coffee every day is very insidious. There are numerous health risks that you are taking on with that little thing. My quality of life improved dramatically after I kicked that stuff.

  63. P says:

    I think that you misinterpret what this person may be trying to say. Being extreme in your frugality can be just as unpleasant as being a slave to spending. There is nothing wrong with occasionally eating out, buying a coffee or seeing a movie. It’s about having a novel experience, something that’s part of the human experience. It needn’t be viewed as an endorsement of consumerism being an essential part of our idea of happiness. Find a balance and be comfortable and confident in how you spend the “fun” money in your budget (see “All Your Worth”).


  64. Kode says:

    Well said Erin. I too took the same meaning from Sydney’s words.

  65. leslie says:

    I agree that the most important thing financially is to take care of the big pieces (affordable house payment, no debt etc. etc.). I also agree that there is a lot of money to be found in looking at the small stuff we buy every day (really…I didn’t need nearly as many smoothies in a week as I bought…saved me a ton of money over time). But I do have to ask…since when did spending ANY “unnecessary” money become some sort of evil act? I eat virtually all my meals at home but it does vastly improve the quality of my life that I CAN eat out lunch or dinner with my friends a few times a month, for example.

    Sometimes, I feel like there is a knee jerk reaction on this blog in particular that places a high and mighty moral judgement on any spending above and beyond what could be considered absolutely basic. I am all for frugality and making connections with friends and family. And I agree the rampent Consumerism has caused huge problems in American society. But that does not make all consumer transactions evil by definition.

  66. leslie says:

    I agree that the most important thing financially is to take care of the big pieces (affordable house payment, no debt etc. etc.). I also agree that there is a lot of money to be found in looking at the small stuff we buy every day (really…I didn’t need nearly as many smoothies in a week as I bought…saved me a ton of money over time). But I do have to ask…since when did spending ANY “unnecessary” money become some sort of evil act? I eat virtually all my meals at home but it does vastly improve the quality of my life that I CAN eat out lunch or dinner with my friends a few times a month, for example.

    Sometimes, I feel like there is a knee jerk reaction on this blog in particular that places a high and mighty moral judgement on any spending above and beyond what could be considered absolutely basic. I am all for frugality and making connections with friends and family. And I agree the rampent Consumerism has caused huge problems in American society. But that does not make all consumer transactions evil by definition.

  67. Michelle says:

    Amen to this one. So few people in our generation believe that quality of life does not have to be tied to owning and consuming things.

  68. Maureen says:

    I agree with Sydney that you get ‘more bang for your buck’ if you are prudent with your major expenditures (housing, tranportation,, education etc.). If you focus instead on the little things like takeout coffee vs home brewed, it would take a lot more effort to reach the same goal. My wise granny would call that being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. These little things do add up, and can certainly help. So, after you’ve taken care of the major expenses, tweak the little ones.

    In other words, stop the bleeding from the arteries before you worry about the paper cuts.

  69. erin says:

    Trent, I think you’re missing the point here. I also think you’re veering off to an extreme where spending money should never give you enjoyment.

    If my financial house is in order, and going out to lunch with my girlfriends is something I want to do, why is that bad? I’ll likely eat a good meal, laugh and catch up. And I can do it without feeling guilty about the money I’m spending.

    I happen to love vanilla lattes. They brighten my day. So if I’m having a bad day, what’s so wrong about heading over to Starbucks, smelling the wonderful aroma of coffee, chatting with the barista and enjoying my latte?

    The point is, these are treats, not everyday things. I can do them because for the most part, I live frugally. But never going out makes me a little crazy, and these types of outings shockingly yes, enhance my quality of life. Is that so wrong?

  70. Kate says:

    Sometimes convenience food is just worth it!

    If you are sick and stuck at home, I don’t see anything wrong with a delivered pizza, especially if you are burnt out on eating the same oatmeal, canned soup and frozen vegetables on hand for the past week because you can’t get out to get anything.

    Pizza is something I would eat about four times a year anyway and usually I get carryout to save a few bucks. After thinking back and forth about it all morning, I decided to splurge!

    Now that I have had some pizza (with the rest put away for later), I can go back to the other things.

  71. Sandy says:

    Everybody’s different in their spending for pleasure habits.
    Our family lived in Paris for a few years, and we got to make the most of it. We travelled all over, as I saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime to take my kids and visit cool places.
    But I knew one woman there who didn’t travel or do anything there really. Her reasoning? She wanted to be able to pay for a bathroom remodel when they moved back home. I could hardly beleive this when I heard, and came to realize that what my priorities were were obviously not hers, but it was OK….we all have to live with all of our choices, big and little. I hope she has a prety bathroom now!

  72. Helen says:

    It’s not just about the coffee, remember. It’s about taking a break in my day, away from the house (where all around I see chores waiting). I’m greeted by a barrista who knows my name, have a great coffee and watch the people going about their day.

    Likewise going to a movie – a trip out, dressing up, a big screen. It’s an occasion.

  73. Amy H. says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all the great comments on this post. I agree with those saying that certain, well-chosen expenditures in the consumer economy do, in fact, improve my quality of life. Indian food, Vietnamese food, $18 pedicures (not regularly but once in a while), good running shoes (because I’m a huge pronator), live music concerts and a once-in-a-while massage are all on my list of things worth spending money on.

    A couple months ago I read a very interesting book on this exact subject — given what we know about the hedonic treadmill, etc., how does spending relate to quality of life? Are there ways to boost one’s quality of life by spending consciously? The author’s answer is yes — the chapters I remember focus on spending money to improve your relationships (like the commenter above spending on flights to see loved ones), improve your own health (including mental health — like spending on pets), and buying experiences vs. Stuff (for example, travel — like another few commenters above). The book’s called “Money Can Buy You Happiness” and it’s by M.P. Dunleavey. I liked it very much . .. good food for thought once you’re in a safe enough financial place to be able to make these choices.

  74. Des says:


    It may just be a case of the grass is always greener. We had an ugly (but comfortable) blue sectional that we bought at Goodwill for $70 for years. When we bought our first home, I wanted the new, matching furniture I’ve never been able to afford. I spent almost $1,000 on the sectional of my dreams. Turns out, its not that comfortable to sit on! Now, I have a lovely $1,000 decoration in my living room.

  75. RHJunior says:

    congratulations on inserting that little layer of sanctimony on top of your usual parsimony. Extravagance may buy you no more worldly comfort, but self-flagellating miserliness gets you no brownie points anywhere either.

  76. IRG says:

    It’s always a good idea to consciously choose what you spend on, whether large or small. No matter how much money you have. (I’ve seen millionaires berate their kids for not returning DVDs on time.) And you’re right Trent, you don’t want to tie one’s quality of life to THINGS. Purchasing. Spending.

    That said, we all have to personally define what contributes to our quality of life. And some of that involves a degree of spending as some of the commentators have noted.

    This is especially true based on where you live, your social circle and other variables. And how you and your friends/family interact.

    I live in a major city. I first moved her in my 20s. I didn’t have a lot of money but the majority of my social life involved getting together with friends and going out: Drinks, lunch, dinner, dancing, etc.

    I’m older (!) now, our lives have changed in terms of the professional and personal demands, but finding time to get together is tricky and it is still about socializing—generally at out of home events (because our apartments are generally too small for any serious entertaining or hanging out).

    Socializing often centers around “events” (annual Xmas concerts, special events (their family or mine), etc.

    The reason? The event is the “excuse” in many ways to get out of the house.

    People just don’t have people over for dinner in the city the way many do in the suburbs or rural areas. THere’s no time. No space.

    So we go out: To restaurants, diners, etc.

    I had several years awhile ago where I was seriously financially challenged. There was NO MONEY for anything, let alone dinners out.

    I saw a dramatic falloff in my quality of life. Why? I simply could not afford to go out with my friends and hang out with them. (And no, it’s not like we ever were eating dinner out five nights a week.)

    I couldn’t afford to do things with them (concerts, theater, etc.), which are the backbone of some connections, etc.

    In a perfect world, they could have come around to the apartment for a meal. But when people work long hours–in a whole other part of the city, have families and often have long commutes, that breakfast, lunch or dinner out in their part of town–which I could not afford–were important times to catch up. (Heck, I could not even afford the Starbucks stop.)

    For many of us, our families are far away and in fact, though we value them, our ability to see them is affected by finances, too. No matter how well you plan things, you still have to cough up significant monies for annual (if not more frequent) trips.

    One of the things I would like to see more of in your very good blog, is an ability to think beyond your immediate world/way of life, which simply does not apply (for the most part) to those of us who live in a big city, etc.

    There are so many different ways that people live based on where/how they work, where they are in relations to friend and family (most of my close friends, for example, live in Europe, not the U.S.) and other variables that really affect spending choices and lifestyle.

    All I can say is, what’s the point of life if you don’t allow yourself a treat now and then, whether it’s broadway theater tickets, a latte with a friend at a coffee shop or a very special vacation with friends.

    Quality of life can’t be JUST what you save. And the reality is that some things, though certainly not all, DO involve spending. Quality of life sometimes requires a financial investment that you want to plan/save for. Plan/save (and not going into debt) being the key.

    Entertaining people in one’s home, no matter how carefully done, also involves money. And quite frankly, when friends do come over, I’m not serving them budget meals.

    I personally think the reason so many people cannot stay on budgets or save is because they have to give up a lot of what they love and this affects their quality of life. Or the quality of life of the kids they are raising (I think of how my brother and sister in law, who are far from extravagant and are very frugal, strugggle to keep up with the vast number of expenses kids in school have for activities, etc.)

    They feel seriously deprived and this leads to that whole save/splurge syndrome.

    It’s a lot easier to “just say NO” when your world is as “narrow” (for lack of better word) as a rural area is. It’s a lot different in the heavily socialized suburbs (which have their own demands in terms of costly socializing) and the big cities.

    Some things simply do not apply. (I call it the Trader Joe’s syndrome. We have one in NYC. But the cost of taking a cab BACK from going there (to make it worthwhile in savings, I’d have to really stock up and I could not haul the stuff, by myself, on the subway or bus), somewhat offsets the savings. (Yea, they deliver, but again it costs.)

    We can’t get the savings you get at a Costco because we don’t have one near us–and we have no car in the city (renting one for an hour or a day, again, offsets any savings. We’ve tried to find people to carpool with, but so far, no success). ANd the list goes on.

    So, how to save is often very related to location, location, location.

    I’d really love to see blogs that talk about seriously saving in the city, beyond the obvious (I often order in bulk from amazon. With Amazon prime for “free” shipments, and the amount I order in a year, it’s cheaper than public transportation. But it’s not the same as shopping Sam’s or Costco, where you can also get fresh food.)

  77. “I no longer feel like a meal eaten out raises my quality of life at all.”

    Trent, evidently you have never eaten at a Brazilian steakhouse, an Ethiopian restaurant, an authentic Indian hole-in-the-wall where they don’t give you silverware and you eat with your hands, or a little African or Chinese joint whose menu makes you giggle because because it has all of these body parts and animals which you didn’t think people ate. I am the LAST thing from a foodie on the planet, yet eating out has given me some of the most memorable and exciting experiences of my life. Yes, this is all “consumer spending”. Does this make me shallow?

    Your portrayal of frugality as a homebound, never-leave-your subdivision, domestic existence is depressing, negative, and needs to stop. Hey, I’m a pretty frugal guy, but still manage to actually do stuff at least “once in a while”. There is a whole world out there. Go out and enjoy it. Anyways, the lifestyle you are advocating requires plenty of expensive purchases such as a house, furniture, fancy kitchen equipment, gourmet groceries, etc. Who doesn’t this count as “consumer spending”? Last I checked, it was this type of thing which caused the financial system meltdown, and not overspending on Big Macs.

    P.S. don’t bank your entire happiness on your children. You need to diversify. Children grow up & move out. There are a lot of depressed empty nesters out there. Don’t end up like them.

  78. Janice says:

    Oh, wow. Trent, you have gone too far. I’ve been reading you for the last couple years, and you have taken frugality to a level of judgmental derision at those who ENJOY life (eating out, coffee, etc.). My financial life is completely in order. As Sydney stated, it is freeing to know that spending a bit on FUN is ok.
    Are you sure being cooped up in the house all day is what you need?

  79. Joey says:

    The fact that so many people disagreed with this entry should be a clue that you’re barking up the wrong tree with these kinds of posts. I’d suggest doing some reevaluation before writing another critique of how others live.

    “One of the things I would like to see more of in your very good blog, is an ability to think beyond your immediate world/way of life…”

    IRG nails it. Trent, you write a lot of posts about your life, which is fine, but the end note you always seem to sing is how your domestic surroundings are the pinnacle of how frugal-minded people should be. And it just isn’t. To keep from alienating more and more readers, you’re going to have to acknowledge that not everyone reading is a young male with a wife and two kids in a rural environment, and that what works for you isn’t automatically better than other ways of living you observe.

    “P.S. don’t bank your entire happiness on your children. You need to diversify. Children grow up & move out. There are a lot of depressed empty nesters out there. Don’t end up like them.”

    Frugal Bachelor makes another excellent point. You write a lot about your kids and how much joy they bring you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it often seems as if you’re trying to get your readers to see how happy and fulfilled you are because of your kids. After a while, I wonder whether you truly believe it, or whether you’re trying to convince us that you believe it. Regardless of the answer, kids grow up. In the end, there needs to be a you that’s distinct from your children, and if you want readers to stick around, you can’t keep tying every justification for frugality to staying home with your children, because that’s simply not going to apply to the majority of people who visit this site, as evidenced by the comments.

  80. Troy says:

    so what is the value of money.

    what is it’s purpose.

    To be spent.

    now,tomorrow, in the future,at retirement, or byyour heirs, money is worthless without it’s ability to be a medium of exchange.

    When you understand that, you understand why people do different things with money.

    some save it for securuty. some spend it for “quality of life”. some blow it. some lose it.

    but eventually it gets spent. on what is the debate.

    I like Joey’s comment above. some people get a kick out of a car’s fuel efficiency. some enjoy the accelleration ,some the looks, some the utility, some the brashness.

    takes all kinds for you to be yours.

  81. Jimmy says:

    I agree with #22.

    A large part of our consumer-quality of life habits are not consciously thought out, but more a part of the environment we are exposed to. I was brought up in Zimbabwe (someone where there is a great deal of termoil if you follow the news) and only moved to Australia 4 or so years ago. In Zimbabwe, unless your rich, a consumer lifestyle doesn’t exist. When I moved to Aus at 16 (I came alone), I immediately thought the quality of life had increased tenfold. Looking back I’ve realised I subconsciously based this on having the ability to buy more things. I’ve spent the past 3.5 years in this mindframe, never having any money. I finally realised that, if anything, the quality of my life had decreased significantly because of the lack of finacial security even if I did have the latest phone and a starbucks in my hand.

    (I would just like to thank Trent for his blogging, as although I knew I needed to make a change, finding out where to start is difficult. Thanks Trent.)

    Also I know you (Trent) follows some of the news in Zimbabwe and I still have family there, so if your interested in knowing anything send me an email.

  82. Ooh, interesting topic here…. between Sydney, Trent, and me I think someone is splitting hairs. I wonder who it really is…

    I think there’s a fine balance here. Clearly addressing the big cost levers is always the best place to start. If I finance a $3M home it doesn’t matter how many coffees I have or don’t have. I’m screwed.

    At the same time, eating out and buying coffee does not itself equate to happiness.

    So both camps have a valid point. However, I think the deciding factor is in the middle.

    Trent feels satisfaction even without the latte but he knows he can have it if he wants.

    Whereas Sydney is saying that botching the big decisions put you in a place were you can’t eat out whether you want to our not.

    In the end, it gets to a feeling of security. I know I can do something and THAT is what makes me feel good. Whether I elect to actually do it or not is immaterial. But the notion that I have choice is huge.

    Another great discussion topic Trent! Keep it up bud.


  83. The only positive argument I can think up is that the salary spending to implement many of these projects will create some better quality of life for some and a good amount of jobs

  84. AppleF says:

    Sarah, you might notice in Europe that fraying cushions aren’t a deterrent to quality of life. :)
    I don’t know what it is about America, but there seems to be some earned right to live in aesthetically pleasing environments. In Europe, and most parts of the world, people live perfectly well despite less than picture perfect quality settings. I think sometimes we all focus too much on “set” and less on the “play”.

  85. Becca says:

    I agree with this in principle, but I think you are ignoring a facet of what “quality of life” should mean. You seem to indicate that any facet of your life that you love that is connected to consumer spending should be questioned. But I don’t think that means that they are all bad.

    For example, I’m working toward being a professional chef after I get my BA. Going to restaurants for me is not only job research, not only a networking opportunity, it is a genuine pleasure that is one of the things that makes my life worth living. For me, the expense of eating out (and it is expensive — I’m a college student) is totally worth it.

    So, I think what you are really saying is that your quality of life depends on what you love and you should really, sincerely evaluate what it is that makes you happy.

  86. I am all for quality of life, but I think Depeche Mode said it best, “Everything counts in small amounts . . . “

  87. 144mph says:

    I agree with Joey, IRG, and Frugal Bachelor.

    It reminds me of the scene in Glengarry Glenross where Alec Baldwin says, “You want to be a good dad? F- you! Go home and play with your kids!”

    I don’t have kids and a wife.
    I don’t live in rural IA.
    I’m not a stay-at-home blogger.

    Sadly, that means that 90% of TheSimpleDollar blogs are completely off-base for me and a whole lot of other people.

  88. DrFunZ says:

    I like to keep things simple. A cup of coffee out costs between $1.39 – $3.00 depending on the java joint. Brewing coffee at home costs a fraction of that. If I am trying to save money, I brew at home. If I am trying to save money, I forgo things that cost money. Really simple. The true issue here becomes WHY I am trying to save money. Am I paying bills? Am I building an emergency fund? Am I saving for a college fund? These are things one does when trying to get thefinancial picture in order and it usually involves forgoing luxuries a lot and for a long time. OR am I saving for a nice vacation? Am I saving up SO I CAN BUY A STARBUCKS LATTE? These are saving for things that you want and are willing to sacrifice for. If a person is set financially, then they can move to spending money whatever way they want. Frugality for its own sake is not a virtue; it is a tool.

  89. J.O. says:

    My view is if you go too far to one side or the other (saving vs. spending) it’s a bad thing.

    The key here is BALANCE.

    I wouldn’t want to live a life where all I did was save. What are you saving all that money for while your life passes you by? You only get to live once, and as I’ve often been reminded in the passing of friends and family, you’d better try to enjoy what little time you have on this planet. Some of the experiences you could be having now may turn out to be something you regret you didn’t do when you’re too old to enjoy your savings.

    I also wouldn’t want to live a life spent in debt up to my eyeballs.

    I completely agree with Sydney in this case. I enjoy eating out from time to time and don’t really enjoy cooking that much. Even so, I don’t really spend that much on eating out as an overall percentage of my budget. I’m also planning on taking some expensive vacations (paid for in cash) as well as potentially buying a sports car. (Also with cash.) I’m not doing those things because they cost a lot of money, they’re things I’d want to do regardless of cost.

    In exchange for increased financial freedom to do these things, I’m limiting monthly expenses on stuff I don’t consider to be as important as those life experiences. I’m going to buy a smaller, but nice, house. I’m going to run my daily driver car until the wheels fall off it.

    I agree that you should build some security for youself with money, save a good chunk of each check, but as far as limiting my life experiences by obsessing over every penny, every day, that’s not something I’m going to participate in.

  90. kevin says:

    A little late to the game here and I admit I’ve not read every comment, but has anyone *defined* “quality of life”?

    What I find is that one person’s concept of “quality of life” differs from another. For example, the person whose income and “standard of living” is in the $10-20K range will have a decidedly different definition of quality of life than than the person whose income is in the $100-200K range. Who’s right?

    One of the sticking points I find in many of these types of discussions is that the terms aren’t defined therefore people are arguing,commenting, responding from wholly different reference points.

  91. lindsay says:

    Trent, consider whether your ideas will change about “quality of life” when you are a bit older and your children are teenagers and not that interested in spending time at home with you and your wife in the evenings. :-) Or when they are completely grown and away at college or out of the house living on their own.

    I think the only thing Sydney is saying is that it’s nice to be able to get out a bit, maybe just people watch and have a cuppa joe by yourself or with friends, take in a movie and not have to worry about whether you can pay the electric bill, etc. Stuff like that REALLY adds to my quality of life.

    But I think from your very-young perspective (with a very-young family), that is what sounds right to you at this time in your life.

    I just think you misunderstood Sydney.

  92. Thank you for this, Trent!

    I recently had a conversation with my mother that annoyed me (a lot). I told her I had won an iPod Touch in a blog giveaway and that I was super excited to get it in the mail. She told me that “by next year, you’ll buy the iPhone, I’m sure.”

    I told her I wouldn’t because I don’t need an iPhone and don’t want the $30.00/month increase in my phone bill for getting the data package. I also told her we recently went down a step in our phone plan and texting plan to save some money, and reminded her that we don’t have cable TV either.

    She seemed to take it as some sort of sign that my husband and I are living as if we’re destitute and that we can’t possibly be enjoying life. She said, “You only get one life! ENJOY it!” … I’m enjoying my life plenty, thanksverymuch. In fact, every time I talk to my DAD on the phone he ends up saying things like, “Well it sounds like life is good in Mississippi!” or “I’m excited that you’re so excited about everything that’s going on.” (He also shared my thrill when my husband and I became debt-free in January.)

    Frugality really is a way of life, and it’s not for everyone, but for those of us who come by it naturally, it’s not a sacrifice.

  93. wren says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like some might be missing what Trent was trying to say. In the end, the things you REMEMBER are generally not the cup of coffee, the meal, the plane tickets, etc., but are the experiences. Saying that one’s quality of life goes up because they are able to spend makes it sound like the spending is what is remembered, not the experience. I can certainly appreciate taking a latte break with my DH now and again, even while we are scrupulously watching our budget and expenses. But it’s not because we’re spending money, but because we’re spending time together, chatting over lattes, laughing at my childlike danish, and gossiping about all the other people. I forget the coffee in a heartbeat, but I remember the day always.

    And perhaps that’s really what Sydney meant… that having one’s house in order allows for more EXPERIENCES, some of which may even happen over a good meal or a tiramisu latte and danish homework. Having read Trent’s blog for a good while now, I’m quite positive that’s what he means by quality of life… and I’m all about that.

  94. Ford says:

    What Sydney is saying is that the financial articles concentrate on the little controllable expenses, such as eating out, and miss out on the big ones, like fixed payments on expensive items that you can’t really afford.

    I chose a house with a payment that is $400 less than I can afford. I also buy used cars for cash, and pay cash for any purchase that devalues, such as furniture, clothing, food, eating out, etc. I do give myself a $50 a week allowance to blow on anything I want, because I can reward my responsibility with controlled mad money.

    Because my fixed expenses are so low, I have sufficient flex room to enjoy a latte, lunches out, without any guilt whatsoever. I only eat out about twice a week, and prefer my own coffee over anything sold at a coffee shop, but this is by my choice, not neccesity. Again, it is the fixed expenses that bind your budget the most.

    If someone is so far in debt that eating out pushes them over the edge financially, then the fixed expenses seriously need to be evaluated. Which is exactly what Sydney is talking about.

    Also, we are all part of a consumer society. Until you are completely off the grid, grow all your own food, make all your own clothes, and never, ever buy anything from anyone or any store, including groceries, you are a consumer. But even getting off the grid requires initially buying land, seeds, and something to generate electricity. Heck, if you are breathing then you are consuming air. The key is making sure your purchases or consumptions do not hurt your fiscal health.

  95. Catherine says:

    Going out for a coffee or to dinner, and having the flexibility to do so without worrying about making rent, CAN improve one’s quality of life. Defining that as buying into the consumerist culture is off base. For many people, going to a cafe, restaurant or movie is a way to socialize with people. Many people don’t have a wife to cuddle with at home. Especially young people, who haven’t settled down yet and who crave social connections with various groups of people, coffee or dinner out is a vital way to stay CONNECTED. I realize that this is your personal blog, coming from your own experiences, but if I didn’t know better I’d have sensed a bit of superiority or judgment in your summary of the comment.

  96. Amy H. says:

    @IRG (#54) — I’d also love to see more PF blogs about saving and being frugal/spending smart in the city. (My Open Wallet is one — the writer lives in NYC — but it doesn’t have as regular posts as The Simple Dollar.) Your points about the size of apartments and the difficulty of getting together to spend time with friends anywhere other than a restaurant or other outside-of-“home” space b/c of people’s work schedules, etc. is very well-taken.

  97. no_sked says:

    “What struck me about the comment is that Sydney immediately ties events that involve spending excess money… to quality of life.”
    that’s an interesting take on sydney’s quote and i appreciate you illustrating the possible connection. it’s not something that i thought about until you emphasized it.
    however, i would guess that sydney simply provided a few easy examples to make the point, “take care of the big/important stuff and you won’t have to sweat the small stuff.”
    its up to you and your lifestyle to determine if the “small stuff” is a monetary contribution to a charity or enjoying an overpriced latte with a dear friend.

  98. Honestly, I think there is such a thing as being too frugal. If you deprive yourself of a small latte treat just because you think to yourself “oh this doesn’t contribute to my quality of life”, it just sounds inane.

    If you wanted the treat, then obviously it contributes to your quality of life to be able to purchase it without feeling resentful or angry at yourself for spending the $3.

    And if you decide that a nap is better than going out with a friend to eat, then that’s up to you to decide that.

    However, I am going to always pick the lunch or dinner out with my friend because I want to see them (or invite them over) rather than hole myself up in the bed and nap my time away thinking that it is what makes me happier in the long run.

    This frugality thing is getting to be too crazy for words.

    Spending doesn’t make me happy in the sense that I feel the overwhelming need to collect all these different bags in different colours, but I DO like to spend. Point blank.

  99. CD says:

    “I no longer feel like a meal eaten out raises my quality of life at all.”

    Apologies in advance for the snark, but — I think it still should be said.

    If I lived in Iowa, this might very well be true for me, too. But I live in San Francisco, so it’s not.

  100. Maha says:

    The one thing that would improve my quality of life dramatically, and it’s so totally free, yet I can’t seem to achieve it yet: Going to bed in my comfy bed, not be woken a single time during the night by a youngling or a snoring husband and wake up completely on my own when my body says it’s time (in other words, it’s been deprogrammed to waken at 4am, then 5am, then 6am) and the sun is up. It’s something I’m truly looking forward to.

  101. Barbara says:

    Its probably already been said, but…. to me quality of life is basically having the freedom to do the things one enjoys doing. If that is being frugal, fine. If that is buying a latte at Starbucks, fine. Having things and spending money is not sinful in and of itself, neither is being frugal. Its not a matter of one is right and one is wrong. Its all about the choices one has to make in order to do what one feels is really important. Being frugal in some areas allows me to be completely extravagant in other ones…but the “quality” in this comes in that its my choice and I’m living my life in ways that truly make my soul happy. Know yourself, know your resources and their limits…but then live your life as you see fit!
    That and only that means quality to me.

  102. Sarah says:

    @AppleF I don’t understand what you’re trying to say here? Are you bragging about your knowledge of European life, or bragging that you live in Europe? Aesthetics aren’t just for Americans, and my friends from Holland keep a beautiful home. Perhaps your comment was too simplistic because you didn’t want to leave a novel. Either way, I find your tone condescending since I enjoy my life and don’t require new furniture to do so. (As I said, we’ve had the couch for 4 years now!) However, having the stuffing stick out from the cushions & it’s sort of scratchy, perhaps some new upholstery would be worthwhile!

    @CD: I LOL’d!

  103. AppleF says:

    Sarah, apologies, I didn’t intend to be condescending. The point I was trying to make, without “bragging” is that Americans often allow a less that perfect home hinder their enjoyment of life. An avocado green kitchen, brown shag carpeting, or yes, fraying cushions aren’t particularly attractive to look at, but I have plenty of examples of people who won’t allow friends to visit, go in to debt or spend ample amounts of time worrying about just such things. Yes, Europeans and the rest of the world as well prefer beautiuful surroundings – we all do. I’m just saying that those things should not hugely increase OR decrease your quality a life. A great dinner around an old picnic table with good friends should be as good as if it were around an antique table set with silver.
    Your comment, “I think my quality of life would be greatly improved if, instead of coming home to that couch, I came home to something sleeker. A neat, stylish home would definitely increase my quality of life.” is what got me thinking about all of this. Naturally, it’s all personal isn’t it? :)

  104. AppleF says:

    Sorry for this running on, but regarding other cultures, it does seem they spend less time focused on aesthetics then do Americans. It’s probably simply a result of financial resources, but the quest for perfection in a setting seems less of a priority elsewhere.

  105. Sarah says:

    @AppleF: Sorry, I didn’t intend for my comment to come out sounding as bratty as it did. I guess I figure nice furniture would be the same as when I return home and my apartment is actually clean!

    I actually think the best thing for me would be to reupholster it. I still love the furniture because my parents had it while we were growing up, so I can point to the dings and scratches and say, “Those teeth marks are from where my sister went through her chewing-on-furniture stage,” etc.

    I do think I attribute things to the fantasy of what they might do for my life. Oh, if I had fancy china, imagine the dinner parties I would throw! If I had that designer dress, I would magically have a social life where I’d have somewhere to wear a designer dress! If I had nice cushhions, I wouldn’t leave folded laundry on them for days and the floor would also somehow magically be clean! :-)

  106. Genevieve says:

    I have to say that I agree whole-heartedly with Sydney. As a junior/senior in college, I have only just gotten to a place where I can spend money on the “small stuff.” (I used to have a $20 biweekly grocery budget, among other restrictions.) I have had spotty employment, but now that I have a stable job again my quality of life has gone up dramatically. Why? Because I no longer agonize over whether I can afford the gas to the grocery store or if I can wash my clothes.

    No one has to tell me about living frugally. I do that extremely well. I also am very conscious of cutting down my big expenses, which are really only big in relation to my paychecks, given my student status. However, I have a two hour break between classes on Fridays, and it’s nice to get a free newspaper (with my student ID) and buy a $2.30 medium coffee and sit down in the student center for a while. My homemade coffee tastes better, sure, but it’d be cold and stale by that point and I enjoy the atmosphere and employees at the coffee shop. I was miserable when I couldn’t even afford that. Now I have a small amount every paycheck I set aside for fun stuff, and I am much happier. All that agonizing over a $2 student movie ticket or $4 symphony ticket (which is required as I’m a music major) took a major toll on my stress levels.

    I love doing free stuff, and some of my best times have been having potlucks at someone’s apartment; I can also recognize the weight that is lifted when you can spend even $3 without a mental tug of war. I should know; I’ve been there not three months ago.

  107. jeg says:

    I played this flash games before. It was called tower defense. It was fun. But I’ve learned a lot about savings, budget and investments from this.
    Some of you might have known this game. Anyway, here’s how it goes.
    At the beggining of the game you are given a certain amount of money. You should spend enough of this money to buy towers(weapons) to be able to terminate waves(enemies). The rest of the money will be saved and would gain interests. As you move up to a higher level, the number of waves increases and they get tougher too. So you’ll have to buy tougher and more expensive towers. Sometimes the waves don’t get killed on the first round and would move on to the next round which would decrease your life meter. But you can spend some of your saved money to buy more life. Kinda like getting sick in real life and paying for the hospital bills.
    At the later part of the game, where you have a lot of money saved, you could buy a lot of towers and it would not seem to matter since the cost of the 5 towers would be much lesser than the interest you’re gaining with the money saved.
    So it’s kinda like saving from small things to get the bigger ones later then spend as long as you want on both later.
    Now, I do have a salary and I do save some of it. I have a nice budget plan but my problem is investment. Any of you could give me some tips or ideas on good investments? I’m still starting so I would be needing investments that requires low or not so high capitals? Any ideas and recommendations would be highly appreciated. Thanks. :)

  108. cookie says:

    I definitely agree that it is up to each person to decide what is worth spending money on and to determine how his/her resources can be best used to improve his/her quality of life. While a small treat (e.g. takeout coffee) makes my work days bearable, I track how much I spend so that I can decide if these short-lived hits are worth wasting my hard-earned money on.

  109. AppleF says:

    Sarah, no apologies neccessary – so easy to misinterpret on the net! :)
    “I do think I attribute things to the fantasy of what they might do for my life. Oh, if I had fancy china, imagine the dinner parties I would throw! If I had that designer dress, I would magically have a social life where I’d have somewhere to wear a designer dress! If I had nice cushhions, I wouldn’t leave folded laundry on them for days and the floor would also somehow magically be clean!”
    Btw, you are not alone in doing this – we are ALL guilty of being susceptible to marketing and thinking if only I owned “X”, then all would be well. That’s what I meant about focusing on the “set” vs. the “play”. Sometimes things get put off because the setting is less than perfect, but it really is a case of substance over style when it comes to quality of life.

  110. Katy says:

    Sure, what makes up your quality of life is a choice, but remember context. There is a difference between getting a coffee or eating out alone, or for no purpose other than it being easier, and doing these things with friends, coworkers, and family.

    Having the freedom to go to coffee with a coworker rather than miss out on the socialization time because of money constraints IS a quality of life issue. Being able to go out to dinner with friends and spend an extra hour with them, instead of meeting them after dinner, adds to my quality of life.

    Its not just about consuming, its about the context of the consumption.

  111. steve says:

    I find it curious to focus on big ticket items, becuase being careful about big ticket items seems to come easy for me–it’s all so obvious that a purchase should be carefully considered in most cases if it is, say, $500 or more.

    What’s not so obvious is the spending creep from the “creature comforts” like *habitually* getting coffee out and having lunch out when at work, whcih easily adds up to $500 in a month if it’s a 5 day a week habit.

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