Yesterday, I opened and read an article by Mindfully Spent about the power of habit. She talks about how, as a naturally erratic person, it’s taken her a while to build good habits and the impact those habits have had on her financial status. ‘A while’ was about 6 weeks. She successfully stopped paying for parking, cut back on buying coffee and started planning and prepping meals in advance. It apparently took her around 6 weeks to achieve these goals. She said, and I quote:
How did I know that I’d made a real change? My whole mindset about paid parking shifted. Now, the cost savings and the extra exercise I get when I use free parking feels like a reward. There have been one or two days when I thought I might have to pay, and I dreaded the idea. Once a mindless convenience, the expense of parking now feels like a horrible waste.
Now, I’ve been trying to develop good habits for well over a year now! I’ve tried to be healthier, exercise more, make more meals at home, stop buying rounds, socialise frugally, pay myself first etc The number of different methods I’ve tried is tremendous and yet I continue an endless cycle of moving in the right direction for a bit then going back several steps. This line from the Mindfully Spent blog post caught my eye “When it became a daily habit, the deliciousness of the soy latte lost its thrill.” This stuff just doesn’t happen to me. Things do not lose their thrill. Good habits on the other hand, do.
I am easily thrilled
The other day at lunch with my colleagues, I forget why we were talking about presents but I confessed that when we were kids my siblings and I used to get incredibly excited when my dad brought back a copy the Argos catalogue from trips to the UK. There were rarely accompanying gifts from Argos and certainly no promise that we’d get items from the catalogue. However, this catalogue with its incredible selection of clothes, toys and household item provided hours of fun and fantasising for me. I was extremely happy with the idea that I could get something someday from the catalogue. My colleagues were in stitches, some wiping tears from their eyes, thinking about how simple I was.
I got myself a pair of Vans from Vienna a couple of months ago. I was so excited I tweeted about it and sent pictures to a couple of my friends. I’ve also worn those shoes about 90% of the time since I got them and I still feel extremely joyful about them everyday.
I have eaten 2 variations of the same meal – 1/4 chicken (for the first 11/12 years and now boneless thighs), spicy rice and corn on the cob – for the 14 years that I’ve lived in the UK. I eat the variety box at KFC and the quarter-pounder with cheese at McDonald’s about 90% of the times I go. When I dine out, I tend to eat a carbonara at Italian restaurants (outside of Italy), lamb curries at Indian, Singapore fried rice from Chinese etc I’m famous at work for taking a rice dish in at least 75% of the time. You get the gist, I get a lot of joy from the same, simple, yet collectively detrimental (to my ultmiate goal) things.
I also have a mega addictive personality – addicted to thrill
I will get addicted to anything! I play songs I like on repeat for as long as it takes for me to ‘get sick’ of them (temporarily). The day I fell in love with Natureboy’s Blow to the Head I played it non-stop for 6 hours till I fell asleep.
I’ve read all of my favourite books at least 3 times, some even 10 times. I even bought shabby romance books, that were my favourites when I was a teenager, again a few years ago and read them a couple of times again. They’ve got pride of place in my downsized bookshelf. I’ve seen Pretty Woman and Love Actually at least 20 times each. I saw Grandma 3 times in the cinema, got the DVD and have watched it with at least 6 friends since. All in the last couple of years. I watched 6 seasons of Archer in a few days, 23 hours of Power in one session, and all 6 seasons of Game of Thrones in a 2-3 months with 3 jobs and several commitments.
I went to Amsterdam and Barcelona every year for 5 years. I’ve been to Madrid twice the last couple of years. I went to Budapest & Vienna for the first time this year and plan to go back next year.
I get addicted to people and things and places. I have no chill!
Convenience and people thrill me but both cost me money
Socialising and dating are the biggest drains on my discretionary income. I like to network with my colleagues and other professionals. I love to hang out with my friends and have a lot of FOMO. I play team sports and whenever I’m on the hunt for a new person of interest, I expand my social circles because I don’t care for online dating. I’ve documented in every single Spending Update how I continue to pay for rounds of drinks at the pub, get lunch with colleagues, love dining out etc. I spent £72.05 hanging with friends on Sunday, right after I’d moaned about a £58 night out with another group of friends the week before.
I buy far too many take away lunches. And takeaway dinners too. Sometimes it’s because I was lazy / didn’t prepare for my weak moments but sometimes it’s just because I have a craving for a cuisine I can’t cook e.g. Indian. I eat the McDonald’s double sausage and egg sandwich frequently because I love it and it’s a super quick way to lift me up on low mornings.
I am happy when I can help. It could be when my dad faced an unexpected $23,000 medical bill or when my brother totalled his girlfriend’s car and incurred £3,000 of damage. It could be helping the homeless with a quid or two. Or giving generous presents to my best mate. I never get tired of all the feelings I get from being there for others.
I cannot stem the desire for thrill enough
So, even though I know I should spend less because I have a lifestyle change that I want to enact, I can’t seem to figure out a way to cut back enough. Overall, I’m making some progress. I have savings and investments. I’m not living pay check to pay check. I have a baby emergency fund. I’m contributing to a pension properly for the first time in a decade.
Yet, I spent £526 more on discretionary expenses than I’d planned to last month. I wish I could say that this is rare (disclaimer: I did earn more than budgeted but this isn’t an excuse). In spite of many attempts and tactics, I haven’t figured out a way to get more joy from less spending. Permanently.
There’s a small glimmer of hope
I don’t want to stop doing all these joyful things. I want to give. I want to hang out with my friends. I want to eat the same 5 dishes everyday if I feel like it. I just want to figure out some way to optimise how much I spend but retain the same level of thrill.
Uber used to cost me a lot of money. In June I spent £62.47 on Uber rides. In May it was £79.38. In March when I was being good, I only spent £14.64 on this category. In July I spent £0, same as in August. I deleted the app off my phone. I haven’t regretted it and it hasn’t been difficult.
Why is that? I’m protesting Travis Kalanick’s poor decisions. Fairness and doing the right thing are pretty important to me. When I haven’t cycled, I’ve mostly walked to the tube and train stations near my house. When I’ve been lazy, I hopped on the bus. On the odd occasions that I’ve needed taxis, I jumped into black cabs – an unsustainable spending model. My principles have proved more thrilling than my laziness, the cheapness or convenience of Uber.
Therein lies the key to my seemingly unlimited capacity for thrill-seeking. I need to unlock some greater reason to stop spending. I need a few other thrilling reasons to change my mindset. Perhaps it will be a change to buying only from ethical companies. Or eating only organic food. I hope it’s the hope of a massive fuck you fund and a life lived wholly on my terms. Let’s hope I can get the balance right and get thrills from free stuff 80% of the time. Otherwise I’ll just have to throw in the towel and accept that I’ll never be frugal and should expect to work in some capacity till I’m 68.