Growing up, my family and I spent many a Sunday heading to church and then driving 70 miles north to visit my grandfather in Troy. Most visits meant Sunday brunch at either Perkins or Traditions (basically local Perkins). Either way, I was staring down a stack of pancakes and a glass of chocolate milk which made for a happy little boy.
At the end of the meal, Grandpa, a frugal man by all definitions, would study the bill carefully and pay. Always in cash. Almost always with exact change. I can still picture him reaching into his pocket to produce a green rubber coin holder, chock full of change for any situation.
His frugality only went so far. There were two items where he was happy to spend money.
Mattresses and shoes.
By his estimation, your feet and your bed were where you spent the overwhelming majority of your time. Whether lying down to sleep or standing on your feet, you might as well invest in these two foundations and buy a quality product.
One of the questions we tackle most often for clients and their families is how to prioritize spending. While I’m not going to tell you to penny pinch on every purchase to save up for a nice pair of loafers and some memory foam, there’s a lesson behind my grandfather’s theory.
When considering a purchase, ask yourself what you’re hiring this thing or experience to do for you. Is it something you’re buying to provide long term benefit, family memories or the like? Or, is it a fairly frivolous item that’s not likely to see a lot of use or part of a passing fad? Is this a foundational object or experience for you or something where you can skip the brand name, the high end and opt for a less expensive substitute?
The danger in this exercise is that there is no end to the stories we will tell ourselves to convince us that the shiny object in question is, in fact, of foundational significance. While we can’t turn off those voices, we can be increasingly aware of them and begin to separate out the bias and the noise from our true values when balancing the tradeoffs of parting with our hard earned dollars for something of value to us.
“If it’s worth having, it’s worth taking care of” is the first line of my TAAG bio. It’s something my grandfather told my Dad and his brother on a regular basis, something they passed onto their children and something I share with my kids today. Normally, this is to emphasize taking care of something, but I think the “IF” is just as important. Spending our money is only one side of the equation. Taking our focus off the initial impulse, the comparison to others and, instead, reflect on whether or not a purchase aligns with what really matters to us and supports us as an individual or family is a much better approach.