Thursday, August 6, 2015

Road Bump Opiates

Ana from anabegins wrote an interesting post today in response to a post on the Frugalwoods blog.  In the original post, Mrs. Frugalwoods refers to the things we buy to make ourselves happy as "road bump opiates" and argues that these indulgences are barriers to achieving our long-term goals.  For example, a muffin purchased at work may give us temporary pleasure, but will ultimately make us feel worse because it works against goals of eating healthy food and becoming more financially secure.  She further argues that focusing on spending money takes us away from addressing more important questions, such as "How are we fulfilled? Where are we happiest? When are we appeased?".

In Ana's post, she talks about how she was considering going out with her husband in an attempt to feel less "blah".  But then, she felt guilty about this desire after reading the Frugalwoods post, as eating out seemed to be just a "road bump opiate" to "soothe our unsatisfied consumerist souls".  The post made her "feel bad about [her]self and [her] life choices for having the type of life that is prone to having the blahs and [her] immediate desire to use "going out" to fix it".

Reading and reflecting on the two posts got me to wondering - why is taking pleasure in anything that costs money suddenly a bad thing?  Why is anyone made to feel guilty because she wants to *gasp* go out with her husband?

Yes, living within your means and meeting your financial goals is important (I feel like recently I've been a bit of a broken record on this topic).  Yes, it's important to not let spending and consuming replace the more important things in life.  But we're also physical beings who derive pleasure from creature comforts!  Eating in restaurants, going out for coctails, taking in a show, drinking an overpriced coffee-based beverage made by a hipster barista - these are enjoyable things!  If someone wants to do these things and can fit it within her financial plan, then she should be able to do so without feeling guilty about it.  I want to not feel guilty about doing these things, even if it means I take 16 months to achieve a positive net worth instead of 12 months.

Furthermore, sometimes spending money can help us to achieve the grander goals that make life worthwhile.  Money let me go to medical school and become a physician.  Money has taken me to all sorts of exciting places and expanded my understanding of the world.  Money lets me eat in restaurants with friends and family members and maintain my connections with these people, even when we don't have the time or energy for cheaper options like having a potluck.

I think that ultimately, it comes down to recognizing our own personal "sweet spot" for spending.  It's great that the Frugalwoods are happy to never buy new clothing or eat in restaurants, but not everyone feels that way.  For many of us, retiring at the earliest possible moment isn't worth giving up every last bit of discretionary spending.  And that's fine!  We're all different, and we're all allowed to spend in the way that helps us to best meet our goals - even if one of those goals is to drink an $11 glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry at our favourite tapas restaurant.


  1. I think this all gets back to Not a Wasted Word and "intentionality"... but I also think it's ok to not be intentional all the time (self-help people who say to do be mindful all the time are also exhausting)!

    Ana's budget post I think shows that she has a really healthy attitude for money-- she is taking care of herself and her responsibilities now and in the future and has budgeted money for fun too. It sucks that extremists sell lifestyles through guilt, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

    Also I really don't think Mrs. Frugalwoods was saying not to eat out-- that post was about her spending an entire weekend eating out! It was more about being mindful about what you have and not taking things for granted. And a big thing about diminishing marginal utility.

  2. I've got to agree. There comes a point when so much mindfulness about money becomes exhausting and it stops being worth it. Sure, you are striving toward longer-term goals, but some short term gratification keeps us happy and motivated, and I really think that's okay.

  3. Now I want a muffin!

    Yes - intentionality. Balancing of short- and long-term goals.

  4. I started following the frugal woods blog recently, more because i'm fascinated by their lifestyle, and being in residency means i should probably be more mindful of how i spend money- but i just can't bring myself to give up things like brunches out, starbucks, shopping- and i guess the difference is that for me, i enjoy the material things. but it is definitely an interesting perspective and is helping me be more mindful of spending.