Raising Davis: Hey Big Spender!

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I put off writing this article like I put off doing my taxes – doing both at the last possible moment. I usually get a refund so the tax prep delay is not because I owe money. It is because I don’t want to have to look at how I spend money. As I pour through the receipts, I see a big pile of restaurant stubs and all the clothing and cosmetic shops I have visited in the last year. I also get to grumble about the things I can’t help, such as the price of gas, insurance and daycare.

In thinking about this column assignment, I realize that I handle money in the same way that I watch calories. I eat a slice of cheesecake and order a Diet Coke. The splurge accompanied with the sacrifice somehow makes it okay.

Let’s start with the sacrifice: My husband Paul teases me because he knows that I am going to pour through all the flyers and make a note of all the things we can buy on sale. I will surf websites like Groupon and Wagjag to see if there is a deal that will save money. I clip coupons and have been known to hit more than one grocery store in a day to maximize savings. I can shave as much as $50 off our weekly grocery bill by only buying sale items. I am also a loyalty card junkie. I take advantage of these programs at the gas station and pharmacy. I save it all up for Christmas gifts as well as to justify occasional decadent purchases. I can collect Air Miles at Starbucks and that, I tell myself, justifies my occasional $5 latte.

Now for the splurge part (and the confession). I buy convenience. I choose ready-to-eat salad in a bag. I pick up microwaveable mashed potatoes and we eat take-out dinners about once a week. I justify spending more money on these items because of the time factor.
I get home from work around 6 p.m. Sometimes we have home-cooked meals in the freezer, but sometimes we don’t, and I would rather use the ready-to-serve convenience foods and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes versus taking an hour to prepare dinner and then not having time to spend with Davis. As it is, Davis complains about how long the dinner process takes and is always asking, “How long until you are finished with the dishes – I want to play.” And so do I! So, to recap, the grocery bill is a combination of savings and splurges in the name of convenience.

More confessions: I spend too much money on myself. My highlights and haircuts are far too expensive. I love having a spa pedicure and enjoy shopping for clothes and accessories, although I do watch for seasonal sales. I can somewhat defend the clothes-buying because I’m a professional career woman and need to look the part. There is a certain standard about appearance at the office! On the other hand, it really doesn’t justify six different variations of black pumps.

Don’t sic the credit counsellors on me just yet because I never go into debt for these splurges. I do not have any credit card debt and will not spend money that I don’t have. The problem is that I don’t save enough. This is where the guilt sets in. We should be putting more away for Davis’ education, our retirement and an emergency fund, and this requires trimming the fat.

I have started the process, thanks to my tax refund. I’m also developing restraint. I am now able to look at something in a store and ask if I really need it. The answer has me walking away most of the time. Watching episodes of Hoarders has kept me from buying any excess clutter for the house. I have also starting packing my lunches to take to work as the $8 to $10 a day habit was adding up. It’s a start and if I can keep it up, next year’s tax process won’t be so painful and the bottom line will be a little healthier.

The economic climate in the last couple of years has put many of us on high alert to overspending and I find I am not alone when I suggest meeting my friends for coffee or a stroll instead of going out for an expensive dinner. If I do go out for a meal, however, I will have to rethink the cheesecake and just stick to the Diet Coke.

Published in May 2011.

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