Simple Family Finance is a website devoted to helping you save money, get out of debt, and live a more frugal life. Therefore, the term “piggy bank” is going to be referenced more often than “shopping spree.” But, every now and then, even a super frugal dude like myself needs to admit that sometimes spending money is good, necessary, and wise. Before I get carried away and talk myself into buying a new $1 million Luvaglio Laptop, let’s get to the 9 1/2 things you SHOULD spend money on.
9 1/2 things you should spend money on
1. Nutritious Food
Just because we watch our grocery bill so carefully, doesn’t mean that we eat Ramen noodles and Cheese Puffs all day. Fruits and vegetables are a mandatory staple in our home. We just find ways to make it as inexpensive as possible by price matching, buying in season and on sale, searching our local farmers’ market, and growing a small garden.
If we decided fruits and veggies were too expensive and tried to extract all of our vitamins and minerals from fruit flavored jolly-ranchers instead, we’d save a couple bucks now only to spend thousands of dollars on insulin and hospital stays in the future.
There are plenty of companies that have jumped onto the recent health-food push and have wisely marketed their products accordingly. I don’t need to drink another $8 pomegranate juice or a create a $15 wheat grass smoothie to be healthy. If you have the money to afford the next big thing, go for it. But, for the rest of us, bananas, apples, and broccoli still do the trick.
2. A Good Cause
Pick a charity that you’re passionate about. Support your local church. Spend some money starting a charity of your own. No matter what you choose, choose something. Giving back should not be an activity left to the ultra-rich. You may not be able to make the front page of the Wall Street Journal with the size of your donation, but that’s not the point anyway. Make your money count for something. Sometimes I think we forget how little time and money it takes to help change a life. We have more power than we think.
3. Ongoing Education
College is still a good investment for most people as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into (cost/student loans) and how you plan on getting back out (debt). However, I’m not talking about college.
I’m referring to any sort of education where you learn something new, make yourself a more well-rounded and informed individual, and maybe pick up a new skill. Learning a new language, taking guitar lessons, or reading a book that inspires you to be a better spouse would be great personal investments.
You can also pick up a new skill or nugget of wisdom that helps you make or save more money. For example, if a photography class costs $200, but teaches you the skills necessary to start a side business that nets $5000 next year, it has been well worth it. If you read a $15 book that shows you specific ways in which you can save money in your everyday life and you’re able to save $1000 this year, talk about a great investment! In fact, in these cases, being too frugal could be a problem. Not being willing to spend a little money in order to save or make even more makes no financial sense whatsoever.
4. A Good Rice Cooker
I know what you’re saying right now – “a rice cooker isn’t nearly as important as charity or personal development.” I beg to differ
My wife and I love our rice cooker because it saves time, and who doesn’t need more of that? It cooks rice perfectly without exception, can be set hours ahead of time to start cooking at a specific hour, and will even keep it warm until you’re ready. Rice is one of the cheapest, most filling, and most versatile foods you can buy. Also, brown rice is nutritious and packs plenty of fiber. Why not make it easy on yourself?
But, I haven’t even got to the best part yet! We have perfect steel-cut oatmeal hot and ready as soon as we get up in the morning! Our particular model cooks a mean steel-cut oatmeal and since the timer can be set the night before, all you have to do is put the right amount of oats, the right amount of water, and any spices you might like, and voila! I can’t stop using exclamation points!!
If you’re looking for a good one, it’s important to find a model that’s easy to clean up, has a reliable timer setting, and can handle foods other than white rice. They can usually be found for $50 – $100, but are a luxury that I personally think is well worth the cost. The model we currently use, the Sanyo ECJ-M100S, costs at the low end of that range and gets great reviews, but can be tough to find. However, I’m sure there are plenty of other good options out there as well. Amazon reviews can come in handy in picking the right one.
5. A Spouse
Actually, let me rephrase that – “Your Spouse” is what I meant. Don’t spend money on other people’s spouses or you’ll lose your own. Also, I don’t recommend spending money in order to obtain a spouse…through the mail, for instance.
On the other hand, spending money on the spouse that you already have is an excellent idea. Hopefully, money isn’t the only sign of your affection, because your wallet and your relationships will always fare better when you spend time instead of money, but spending a little cash occasionally is an excellent idea.
I am a lucky man to be married to a beautiful wife whose favorite luxuries are chocolate, foot rubs, and Lucky Charms. Her apathy toward jewelry and expensive shoes has saved me a bundle. But I also know that she loves to travel, so we make sure to save accordingly.
6. Debt Repayment
I’ll keep this short and sweet. If you want to have more money to spend on the fun things, pay off your debt so that you can stop wasting that money on interest payments to companies like Chase and American Express.
7. Quality Craftsmanship
The gap between excellence and inferiority is widening. Companies have found that people will buy anything as long as it’s cheap, so they’ve adjusted accordingly. I buy a lot of inexpensive items, but I am also aware of which items need to last and which are essentially disposable. Buying a $20 product 10 times over the next 15 years is much more expensive than doing a little research, purchasing a similar product for $120, and having it last the entire 15 years.
This doesn’t mean that the more expensive option is always the better choice or the better craftmanship. Marketers know how we think and will change their prices accordingly. Again, this is where a little research and common sense comes in handy. Have you read any reviews? What kind of abuse is it going to take? Are you planning on keeping it around for a long time or is it more of a temporary need?
For example, I could justify buying an inexpensive lamp because it’s just going to sit there and look pretty. Lamps aren’t really all that complex, so I’m not worried about it going on the fritz, and the price difference between a Bed Bath & Beyond lamp and the kind George Clooney probably has in his Italian villa is vast.
However, spending a couple hundred dollars extra on a decent mountain bike is worth it for me because I plan on having it for a long time and putting some miles on it. It needs to be quality construction to hold up to all the shenanigans I’m going to put it through.
8. A Wise Investment
Turning money into more money is precisely how the wealthy become more wealthy. Most banks are offering savings account rates at only 0.25% or less right now! You can do better by putting your money to work. Investing in the stock market, buying rental real estate, and starting your own business are just a few examples of investing your cash rather than sitting on it.
Notice I said “a wise investment.” Sometimes it’s difficult to know wise from unwise, but research is the key. Also, make sure you’re not putting your entire savings account up for grabs and always be cautious. I can’t tell you how many bad investments I’ve seen in my time working at the bank. A lousy investment is the #1 easiest way to lose a bundle of money quickly. Well, maybe it’s #2. I’ve also seen some really messy divorces.
9. A Vacation
We all need to get away occasionally. It keeps us from going nuts…or it at least slows down the process. I’m not talking about an all-expenses-paid trip to Bora Bora. There are hundreds of fun family vacations for under a couple grand and there are even some that can be had for only a few hundred dollars. The point is to get away from the stresses of normal life and have some fun, not spend so much in one week’s time that you have to work a second job for the other 51 weeks of the year.
Last summer Trisha and I went out to the west coast to visit family (Washington and Oregon). We spent most of our time laughing with loved ones, relaxing by the ocean, and hiking in some of the most beautiful spots in America. None of those activities cost much, if anything, and yet we’ll remember them for the rest of our lives.
Fill in the blank in the comments below. What should we spend money on?