Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Budgeting Without Being a Dick (or an Asshole)

 A few years ago, I read a vacation post by a blogger-who-shall-not-be-named that really pissed me off.  Said blogger retired in his 30s, has a net worth in the millions, and prides himself on being uber-frugal.  In this post, he described taking his rather large family to a museum that let visitors set their own admission price.  His chosen price?  $2.

Not even $2 per person.  $2 for his family.  And he didn't just list this as a budget line item - he bragged about the "good deal" he had gotten.

 I think I vomited a bit in my mouth when I read that.  I love the idea of pay-what-you-can attractions and events, because they enable people whose means are limited to participate, without having to ask for a special discount or feeling ashamed about being unable to afford the full price.  But the flip side of this is that the people who can afford to need to pay more.  Not brag about being an asshole who only pays $2.

When I was revamping my budget recently, I kept thinking back to this post.  And even though I feel frustrated and financially vulnerable at the moment, I really want to ensure that I don't start behaving like a dick just to save money.  As I get used to putting some limits on my spending, there are a few things I'm doing to try to avoid being a dick.

Recognize my privilege:

I'm not budgeting to survive or even to live comfortably on a small income.  I'm not even doing it to make sure I have enough to retire when I'm 65 - I'm doing it in the hope of being able to save enough money to retire as much as 10-15 years earlier than the traditional retirement age.  I am incredibly fortunate to be in this financial situation, and hopefully it will get even better "after COVID", if there is such a thing.  So I do not need to, nor should I, make morally questionable choices to cut my spending*.

Keep tipping:

People who work in the service industry are pretty universally underpaid and are often treated really shittily by customers and employers.  When I started working as an attending, I made a commitment to do a tiny bit to help people in the industry out by upping my tipping game.  I started tipping for takeout, which I had never done before, and I increased how much I tip for delivery and table service.  I increased my tipping rates further when COVID hit, and I try to remember to keep some actual cash on me at all times so that I can still tip at places that only accept cards and don't have a tipping option on their machines (I'm looking at you, Starbucks).   

It is reeeeealy tempting to cut back on this right now.  It's an "easy" way to save money, and it doesn't affect me in the least.  Except...cutting back on tipping at the same time as the service industry has been devastated by COVID is the move of an asshole.  So whenever I don't cook for myself, I maintain the same tipping rate as I used before.

Keep donating:

The charitable donations line in my budget is also a really tempting thing to cut.  Spend less without having to give up anything?  Sounds great!  Except...asshole.  I know that my local charities need the money now more than ever, so I'm treating that line as a fixed expense and not touching it**.

Keep supporting the businesses I believe in (and avoiding the ones I don't):

I recognize that the Walton family and Jeff Bezos aren't affected by whether I support their companies, but it feels good to boycott the businesses that seem to be the worst "corporate citizens".  (You will also never catch me eating at Chick-fil-A.)  And when I avoid the giant multi-nationals, I have more money to spend at local bookstores, the farmers market, and other small businesses.  And my dollars actually do matter (at least a little) to local businesses.

What else should I keep doing, even as I try to cut back?  

*To be clear, this is where I am right now.  For people who aren't earning enough and are legitimately struggling to get by in our brutal capitalist society, do what you need to do. 

**Honestly, I should probably actually increase the amount that I donate, but I'm not quite mentally at that point yet.  Eventually.

5 comments:

  1. Yay!!! Thank you so much for this post! I really wish more wealthy/privileged people would think about this, especially in the financial blogger/FIRE community! Also appreciate your more holistic approach, unlike one blog that will not be named where they talk about how donations are important to them, but then brag about their amazon deals (OMG you retired in your 30s and have tons of money, pay some more at your local store!) and make money off a property in a super desirable area (but then never spend money at any of the coffee shops, restaurants, cute book stores etc that make that area desirable and therefore make their property valuable, yesh). One of my goals for this past year has been bringing my finances more in line with my ethics, which was big things like switching my investments to a socially responsible portfolio, but also watching the smaller things - sure, we can park on the road beside the state park and not have to pay, but also I want state parks to be available for everyone so I'm buying the annual pass.
    Anyways, glad you were able to recognize and do this even when you are feeling some scarcity.

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  2. I tried to comment this weekend but I guess it got eaten by the interwebs.

    I know you said you took a pay cut recently, so it makes sense you're looking at this. In this particular time, I'm feeling for the first time that I really DO need to identify as a consumer AND a citizen. I'm trying to really spend where my values are, so supporting local restaurants and businesses, not buying from the big box retailers except in very specific instances (wildfire smoke = janky furnace filters PLUS all local stores sold out).

    I am able to meet my main financial priorities, which are 1) saving for retirement, 2) staying out of cc debt and 3) making some progress toward paying my house off sooner rather than later.

    Because I've met those, I'm spending & donating more than I would ordinarily until others in my society can help pick up the slack. I'll hope I can be back to more-normal spending and saving by the end of next year.

    Just like rounding up a tip from 20% to 25% doesn't really affect how the takeout meal affects my bottom line, spending more right now may make a real difference to local businesses, and it won't make a huge difference in my retirement hopes and dreams. And if I don't support my local shops, what will I have left to retire to?

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  3. I tipped $20 for a pizza delivery the other night, and the delivery person fell all over himself thanking me. It was 20%! WTF are most people tipping these days??? It made me feel bad for all of our blue collar front line workers who are getting the shaft from all of this. The LEAST you can do is tip well, ffs.

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    1. I hope you got amazing pizza for $100! I think a lot of people are cheap tippers, even during the pandemic. And I must admit that there was a time in my life when I was a lot cheaper...becoming an attending has helped me to get better.

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    2. It was pretty amazing! My team enjoyed pizza all night long. :-)

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