What I Miss Most About Overspending (and What I Don’t)

It almost seems like, overnight, I transformed from a fun 20-something to a middle-aged mom pushing 40 years old. I’m not sure I’m any more mature than I was, but I sure do have a lot more responsibility.

As my kids have grown, I’ve come to the realize they’re not just my babies; they’re actual people. Everything I do now – and don’t do – could very well shape the lives they get to live. The behavior I model every day is potentially behavior they’ll mirror when they become adults themselves.

So, I try to do the responsible thing at all times – or, at least when my kids are watching. Sure, I drink a bunch of beer and get into shenanigans with my husband and our friends from time to time, but I make a lot of responsible decisions that prove I’m a full-fledged adult.

We pay all of our bills on time, for example, and we avoid debt like the plague. We save a large percentage of our income and even stash away money for college. I pay for my kids to take gymnastics and piano lessons, and we help them with their homework and read to them every night. From a distance, I look like I have my life together. And, for the most part, I do.

Five Things I Miss from My Days of Spending Too Much

Still, I think all of us have that little voice inside that wishes we didn’t have to try so hard. As privileged as I am, I still wake up some days wishing I would just win the lottery already.

I’m at the point in my life where I don’t want to cook, clean, do dishes, or put away laundry at all. I still do it all every day (with my husband helping), but I don’t want to.

And sometimes, I still wish I didn’t have to care so much about money. Most of our financial goals (such as retirement and our kids going to college) are so far off it’s hard to get overly excited about achieving them.

Part of me also misses my carefree 20s – a time in my life where I mostly spent whatever I wanted with the idea that I’d worry about it later. It wasn’t very smart, but it was fun.

But, what do I miss most? Here are five major lifestyle factors I occasionally wish I could enjoy again:

#1: The Joys of Dining Out

While we still dine out when we travel, we almost never go out to eat when we’re at home. We gave up that habit a long time ago when we first started tracking our spending and using a zero-sum budget.

I still remember when, a decade ago, we found out we were spending nearly $1,000 on food some months – mostly due to our penchant for dining out for convenience. By cutting out our restaurant dining, we were immediately able to save hundreds of dollars per month and divert those funds toward debt repayment and other financial goals.

I don’t miss wasting that much money, but boy, I do miss not having to cook dinner all the time. I miss heading out to a restaurant and not worrying over whether I have the right ingredients for our evening meal, or dealing with dishes once we’re done eating. I also miss everyone getting to order whatever they want without having a 20-minute conversation to figure out a dinner I can cook that everyone will eat.

#2: Having a Newer Car

Sometimes I miss having a nicer car, or at least I wish I had one to drive. I’m mostly reminded of this fact when we go on vacation and rent a car to drive around. The last few times we’ve rented, we’ve had a really nice Mitsubishi SUV, a Mercedes Benz that we got through an accidental upgrade on Expedia, and a giant Ford truck.

It’s not that I care what it looks like when we drive, but I really like the newer amenities some cars have. For example, I love having a USB port to charge my phone (something our 2009 Prius doesn’t have), and I truly enjoy having more space and a much larger trunk. The new car smell – and the fact that rental cars are usually pretty clean and nice – doesn’t hurt, either.

But while I miss being able to trade in our cars whenever we wanted, I don’t miss having to pay for the privilege. Keep in mind that the average new car payment is over $500 right now, and most new cars are financed for almost six years.

While I miss having a nicer car, hearing those stats brings me back to reality rather quickly. New cars are nice, but they are not even close to worth it in a financial sense.

#3: Constant Home Upgrades

My husband and I live in our forever home. It’s more than 30 years old and worth around $240,000. We paid approximately $187,500 for it four years ago and have done some nice upgrades since then. But now, we’re pretty much tapped out in terms of upgrading our home. We could spend more for nicer bathrooms or new windows, but it wouldn’t necessarily improve our property value.

If money didn’t matter, I would pave our driveway and add on a covered porch in the back. I would upgrade both of our upstairs bathrooms and add in new floors and granite countertops. I would maybe even remodel my kitchen and get new cabinets, potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars.

But alas, I no longer spend on home upgrades because I’m fairly certain our home’s value is close to as high as it could go. And really, I’m too cheap to spend the thousands of dollars it would take to get everything up to snuff anyway.

#4: Buying Nice Clothes

When I worked in a professional job, I enjoyed dressing up every day. I bought gorgeous suits, adorable blouses and dress slacks, and accessories that tied each outfit together.

Now that I’m much more frugal – and I work at home – it’s hard to see why I would bother. I mostly wear pajamas and workout clothes, and I hardly leave the house other than to go to the grocery store.

But sometimes, I miss having nice clothes. I miss feeling good about what I’m wearing and having the newest styles and colors all the time.

I don’t miss wasting all that money, but I do miss how new clothes made me feel.

#5: Going Out and Having Fun

My husband and I do quite a bit of travel these days – with and without our kids. But, when we’re home, we are home – as in, we rarely go out and do anything.

This is a pretty big departure from our old lives, when we were in our mid- and late-20s. Back in those days, we used to go out all the time.

I used to love going to our local casino (before we had kids) and playing poker, and we used to go out to bars with our friends nearly every weekend. We went to movies and out to fancy dinners with other couples. We went out to concerts and shows, and for pub crawls and nearly any other grown-up get-together you can think of.

These days, my husband literally will not go out and buy a beer at a bar. When we drink, which isn’t really that often, he would rather buy beer at the store and drink it at home. And now that we’re older, we’d rather avoid dealing with the traffic, hassle, and discomfort of being in bars and at shows. We’re boring now, so we mostly get together with friends and play cards or watch a movie.

Do I miss our old, more active lifestyle? Absolutely. Then again, I also know that a lot of the money we spent “going out” was an absolute waste. It was fun while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end.

And now, the hundreds of dollars we don’t spend going out every month gets diverted to things like our retirement accounts, college savings, or our travel fund.

I May Miss Those Things, But Not Enough to Sacrifice the Future

Getting older and becoming more frugal has definitely made me focus on what is important in life. And now that I’m approaching 40, I’m firm in my belief that a lot of the things we spent money on in our 20s were a total waste.

But, I still miss the days when I didn’t have to try so hard or think so seriously about the future. I miss the days where I could spend whatever I wanted while knowing I had decades to save money and get my financial life on track.

Now, some of those decades have actually passed – and the time to get serious about money is here. New cars and fancy clothes are nice, but they’re not going to help any of us achieve our goals.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.


Do you miss a time in your life when you weren’t so frugal? What do you miss spending money on?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.