Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Have Learned About Money - Part One

As the completion of my training approached, I noticed that people began asking me a lot of the same questions.

"Are you going to buy a house?"  
"Are you going to buy a new car?" 
"Where are you going to travel during your vacation?"
"How are you going to reward yourself for finishing?"

The message being that, now that I'm a "real" doctor, I can (should?) start spending like one.  Looking at my Facebook feed over the past few years, it's obvious that many of my classmates have taken that approach since completing residency, as they've posted pictures of giant new homes and fancy cars and trips to exotic locations (usually complete with shopping at designer boutiques and eating in pricy restaurants*).

If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have told you that my plans for post-training were similar.  I was definitely dreaming about owning my own home (which in my mind would miraculously not require any repairs or maintenance), and I could think of many places to which I wanted to travel and restaurants in which I wanted to eat.  But then came the unexpected work crisis, followed by the adoption of a budget.  While the initial motivation for putting myself on a budget was purely practical (eliminate crippling debt!), sticking to a budget over time (and reading lots of great frugal blogs) has taught me a lot of unexpected things about money and my relationship to it.

Money isn't necessary to have fun (and can sometimes make things less fun): 

Prior to the "great budget experiment", I did mostly the same three things for entertainment (eating in restaurants, going to movies, sitting in coffee shops/pubs).  While I enjoy all of these things and haven't stopped doing any of them entirely, there was a certain monotony to how I entertained myself.  With the introduction of the budget, I had to get creative in order to have fun without spending much (or ideally any) money.  Some of the things I've done for fun in the last year include potlucks (brunch, supper, appetizers), volunteering at a music festival (free tickets!), volunteering at a theatre festival (more free tickets!), free walking tours of my city, free movies in a local park, cycling (with a discarded bike that my girlfriend repaired for me), reading library books, attending free lectures at a local bookstore, and going to a snake pit to watch snakes mate (perfect activity for a nerd like me).  While all of these free/inexpensive activities were available to me before, having the constraint of a budget made me actually look for them.  I've enjoyed the new variety, and I've met a lot of interesting people through volunteering whom I never would've met otherwise.

More things make me less happy:

The message is everywhere (tv, magazines, websites) that having more things will make us happier (and more fulfilled/more successful/more desirable).  Since starting a budget ten months ago, I've bought almost no things for myself (a bike helmet was probably my largest purchase), and I honestly haven't felt like I'm missing anything.  I've also done a major purge of my apartment and gotten rid of about 10 garbage bags worth of stuff, and it feels wonderful to be free of so much clutter.  Having fewer things allow me to hang my jacket in the hall closet instead of over the back of a chair, to open cupboards without canned food falling on my head, and to actually find my bloody keys when I go looking for them in the morning.  Life is better with less stuff.

It's easy to waste a lot of money:

Pre-budget, I was stopping at Starbucks on most days (sometimes twice), buying all of my lunches at work, and getting takeout whenever I was bored/tired/in a hurry/feeling like celebrating/not interested in the food in my fridge.  I was easily spending hundreds of dollars a month on convenience items, all of which was being paid for with credit.  I've cut out all of these things pretty much entirely (I still spend $1.70 on tea from Tim Horton's on work days), and I barely even notice.

There are more things that I've learned about money, which will have to wait for another day, as it's time to change out of my sweatpants (yay vacation!) and go pick up my girlfriend.

How have your thoughts/feelings about money changed over the years?

*Okay, I'll admit it:  I love eating in pricy restaurants.  I will make a major splurge on a celebratory dinner once I get my first paycheque, and I will enjoy every bite and sip of it because it's been so long since I've visited my favourite restaurant.


  1. I've always been frugal but willing to splurge. I like the things that money can buy - like a bicycle that I ride to work and save gas money. I try to keep my purchases useful. But I also treat myself to vacations - I have a stressful, hateful job, and so I slip away whenever I can. I go places like Grand Cayman, but then I stay in the cheapest hostel with a kitchen and my experiences are in the supermarket discussing local produce with local people who tell me how to eat it so I take it back and prepare it. Or an upcoming trip for my birthday, flying for free (work mileage) to Oregon and my friends will drive me all around and I booked a coast house but split four ways it's like $100 for a six day vacation including three day on the coast. I don't get a lot of pleasure from expensive things but I do indulge my diving habit and such things (a coworker just gave me a bunch of equipment for free).

    But I have very rich friends coming to visit me soon, and I'm a little embarrassed of all my deep discount and borrowed furniture, the lack of art on the walls, the clear "economy" level of my life.

    1. It's amazing how much travel one can do on a budget if one is careful. I recently went out East for a cousin's wedding, and I had a great vacation for little more than the points used for my plane ticket. As you'll see from my next post, I do agree that it's essential to still spend money on the things that are important to you. In my case, that's usually eating out.

  2. Has the whole world gone frugal! Every blog I read is all about the frugal living these days! I agree with your three thoughts. I also LOOOOOVVVEEE pricey restaurants.

    1. Don't worry...this isn't turning into a frugal blog! I'll still have lots of ranting about medicine to do, especially once I get back to work.