How do you buy nice things?
August 23, 2019 4:22 AM   Subscribe

How do you (as in, what is your process to) buy nice things for yourself? Have you overcome an overly frugal mindset? How did you make the shift? Do you treat yoself when it's financially OK to do so? How do you choose to treat yourself without going overboard? Tell me your luxury-buying ways.

I was raised in a frugal family and I often just avoid big purchases (ex. furniture - - I have always had hand me downs, or bought used). OR, when I can’t avoid them, I can end up disappointed because I get so obsessive about the rare large purchase that I do make, that it doesn’t live up to my ideal of what a large purchase “should” be. (Ex. thoughts like, i “should” love a $2k bed set 40x as much as a $50 purchase of houseplants, and since that is impossible, I just avoid buying it and make do with my current bed, that’s smaller than I want.) Full disclosure: I have PTSD, and one of the lovely manifestations is that I hoard money in case of another set of traumas happens. Suffice it to say, I now have some self-denial and survivalist type tendencies now, that I would like to move past, without becoming too lax in my spending.

I am just interested in how real people rationalize large purchases, especially those items that aren’t functionally necessary for survival. Bonus points if you have specific purchasing insight around a bed set upgrade purchase. Thanks!
posted by seemoorglass to Shopping (28 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I find it helpful to use a spreadsheet to track things I am considering purchasing. I include the price, the rationale for the purchase, and the date I added the item to the list. I don’t buy anything before, say, 30 days have passed. If I look back at the spreadsheet and no longer feel the same urge to purchase, I might note that and the date, and maybe move it down the list (but never delete). If I still want it, I’d note that and maybe how my feelings have changed—e.g., other rationalizations, uses, etc.

If after that 30, or 45, or how many days I still want it, I buy it. I rarely make a purchase I regret, because I have a written record of how I convinced myself to buy it.

Never deleting allows the record to stand for both the purchases you make and the purchases you dodged by not buying in the heat of the moment.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:57 AM on August 23, 2019 [24 favorites]

I used to be you.

I have a direct deposit set up to put a small amount of money from every paycheck into a special savings account I just call "spending". This is specifically different from the direct deposits set up to my savings-savings account and to my checking account.

I don't really touch the spending account, it's just there collecting a little more money every paycheck.

What's good about this spending account is that I can see that friendly little balance smiling at me every time I look at Mint account summary. It's a reminder that I set aside that money specifically to spend on myself for wants. It makes me feel more *comfortable* making purchases, because I know if I did spend "too much" that I could always transfer that money out to cover it, even though I've never needed to* because even my purchases that feel extravagant to me have been reasonable in terms of what I actually make.

It's like an emergency account for treating myself.

(*Not precisely true: I emptied it once after I had a minor car accident and damaged my 20+ year old car. I decided I was just gonna by myself a new car instead of fixing the old one. I could have anyway, but that extra bump from the "spending" savings account made it psychologically easier for me. That was a pretty good example of this system at work.)
posted by phunniemee at 5:03 AM on August 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

One thing that helped me stop being this way (I'm coming from a very similar place and even into my 30s I made most of my furniture out of cardboard boxes and slept on an incredibly broken bed (like springs popping out broken) was to shift what it meant to "need" something in a large purchase. When you're being frugal, a "need" is something essential for the function of the item. By this definition, your current bed probably fulfills all the "needs" of a bed and so it makes it really hard to buy a new one because by that definition, you don't really need one. But when you're not being frugal a "need" is something that, when absent, makes you less happy.

So you can make a list of "needs" using the new definition to inform your purchases. For me that gets rid of a lot of the disappointment that used to come with big purchases because now I'm not spending a huge amount of money for something that is functional but that doesn't really make me happy, I'm spending a huge amount of money on something that is functional and does make me happy. Sometimes that means I spend more than I would if I just bought the functional item. I make a budget, save towards the budget and only spend what I have (i.e. I don't buy anything on credit) and as long as the cost of the item is in my budget then I am allowed to spend that on the perfect item.

Sometimes this takes an exhausting amount of work--when I recently purchased a new bed I looked at tons and tons and tons of beds and it was horrible, but that is what works for me. Once I found the bed I wanted I then waited and thought about it for maybe a month before actually purchasing. The longer I take to make the purchase, the more confident I am in it and the better I feel about making it. Also I don't buy from anywhere without a solid cancellation and return policy. I still feel panicky after making a large purchase sometimes and have had to panic-cancel a couple of times only to re-order the item the next day. But that's okay because then I feel more secure in the purchase.
posted by Polychrome at 5:20 AM on August 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think you might find this episode of Tim Ferriss' podcast with Ramit Sethi useful.

It's what got me to finally sign up for semi-private training at a gym, even though it was expensive. I realized that prioritizing certain things is worth it to me.
posted by pyro979 at 5:52 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I definitely have that mindset. What helped me was sitting in a financial planning and retirement workshop. It gave me a sense of how much I needed to live comfortably and also in case of health emergencies as I got older. I almost had a panic attack in that workshop. Health care costs in the US is just so awful.

That was actually what pushed me to buy a new bed, one in which I had since college. A woman at the workshop stressed taking advantage of preventative care as much as you can earlier to help minimize costs later. And preventative care takes many forms. So I realized my bed was killing my back. I justify my new expensive bed (which I can afford after budgeting) as preventative care. My back doesn’t hurt as much and I no longer need to see a doctor right now. I also sleep better and longer, which is good for my overall health and limits coffee intake.
posted by inevitability at 5:58 AM on August 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

I rationalise nice purchases by deciding to get as much joy out of them as possible, while preparing to lose them at any time. A couple of years ago I got a very nice set of dinner plates, the sort you might only use on special occasions, and I use them for everything. It makes me happy to add some beauty to otherwise mundane routines and it turns out that very nice plates are much harder-wearing than normal plates, so they still look brand new and have zero chips.
posted by adrianhon at 6:23 AM on August 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

Nicer things often last longer. Two purchases I have been particularly happy with are my Ghurka luggage and my Brown Jordan lawn furniture. Not only are they luxurious but I fully expect to pass them on to the next generation.

(No foolin’. My parent’s Brown Jordan furniture has been sitting outside since 1985 and is just now showing signs of wear and tear)

The other place I spend money freely is travel, which some people consider a luxury but I consider a necessity. I spend whatever it takes to get me there and stay comfortably enough that I’m not distracted by travel stress. Case in point: I’m headed off to New Zealand next month and a) frequent flyer miles are providing business class for the long hauls, and b) I’ve paid for business class for all domestic flights over two hours. I’m also paying $150 a night to stay a mile from where I want to be instead of $100 to stay ten miles away. Being able to walk rather than drive on the left is worth it.

So there you go. Things I expect to last and things I am uber-passionate about. Those are what money is _for_ as far as I’m concerned.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:23 AM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

I’m not going to suggest this as a strategy, for reasons that should be obvious, but what helped me was marrying someone who didn’t have this issue. I totally get where you’re coming from. I slept on the same bed (half of a bunk bed, even) that I got when I was 4 until I was 28, and after that I slept on an air mattress for five years. I once bought a 15-year-old car for $1000 and drove it for almost eight years. So I get it. It’s been a point of contention with my wife, whose father is an orthopedic surgeon and who grew up without worrying about spending money. At first my wife would get frustrated and just buy stuff herself because I couldn’t pull the trigger. This is obviously not a good idea. Gradually, though, as I grew to understand her mindset, I could put myself in her mind and think how she would. That’s been helpful to me, as is the desire to be a good partner. If we’re thinking about buying something big now, I can ask myself what she would do, and what would make her feel supported, and that guides my decision. It’s not perfect; you need a partner in the first place, and you’re relying on another person instead of yourself, but it has helped me.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I used to be this way, and still am somewhat. I think what helped me a lot was to begin to think of my time and the stress on my body as money and resources I am "spending" too. Yes, this product is cheaper, but it takes 20 minutes to cook dinner with, instead of the more expensive product where it will only take 5 minutes. My time and rest are valuable, so I should buy the more expensive product. It's not always such a clear exchange, but this way of framing things has helped me enormously. To me, realizing that this was tied into my self esteem was a lightbulb moment. I am valuable, and I am spending myself in order to save money. And I shouldn't do that.

Also, on a more pragmatic note, don't forget that you can get all kinds of "expensive" things secondhand on craigslist, ebay, etc. My house is filled with quality products that I purchased for bargain level prices. Figure out what products you want to buy, what will last you a good long while, and go bargain hunting!
posted by backwards compatible at 6:45 AM on August 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

I still am you in a way, so I'm following this with interest. However, one thing that's helped me keep that in check is this suggestion, which is something I also do:

I have a direct deposit set up to put a small amount of money from every paycheck into a special savings account I just call "spending". This is specifically different from the direct deposits set up to my savings-savings account and to my checking account.

I've been doing exactly this for 9 years now, at the behest of one of my BFFs who said it's what she did. She calls it her "I'm Worth It Fund", and I've adopted that name as it also helped me justify it to myself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on August 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

i “should” love a $2k bed set 40x as much as a $50 purchase of houseplants, and since that is impossible

Speaking as someone who switched from a crappy old bed to a brand new amazing bed about a week ago, unless you really, really, really love plants, I can assure you that this is entirely possible. Waking up in the morning not in pain is a magical fucking gift I just gave myself. Every minute of my day is better if I sleep better and wake up happier.

Plants are nice, but not that nice.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

Lots of good advice above, but specifically around bed sets, you should think about those on a per-use basis, hourly. You spent probably nearly a third of your entire life in bed! It makes logical sense, even if you skimp everywhere else, to invest more money on a bed than on other things. Where else are you spending a third of your life?!

This advice is often shared with people who have long commutes or frequently travel by car, when it comes to buying a car. Like, you're going to spend fully 20% of your life in that thing, it's important that it be comfortable and make you glad to be in it. This applies so much more to beds.
posted by juniperesque at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Lots of good advice above, but specifically around bed sets, you should think about those on a per-use basis, hourly. You spent probably nearly a third of your entire life in bed! It makes logical sense, even if you skimp everywhere else, to invest more money on a bed than on other things. Where else are you spending a third of your life?!

This works for some other things, too. I have a very expensive, very nice office chair at home, because I (used to) spend a lot of time sitting in it. I justified it based on the hours a day I would spend there and how that made it worth getting the right ergonomic fit.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:05 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the responses to my Ask from 2008(!) I had a similar "block," specifically in relation to spending on furniture, but I was coming at it from a less psychological point of view. I wish I could tell you that ten years on I've solved the problem and now have a beautiful home and no buyer's remorse, but... At least we have a nice, comfortable bed! (We invested in a mattress and saved on the frame, which was a compromise that worked for us.)
posted by libraryhead at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some scattered thoughts:

You might benefit from reading about maximisers vs satisficers. You sound like a maximiser to me - getting so caught up in getting the 'best' value from something that you don't enjoy the experience of having it.

Thirding the idea of a 'spending fund' - knowing that there is money specifically to be spent may ease some of your anxiety about it. I know therapy is a standard MeFi answer, but I encourage you to get help for your PTSD if you are not already.

Do you use You Need A Budget? If not, I highly recommend it - knowing exactly where each dollar is going is a wonderfully liberating feeling.

Re: the bed set. You spend eight hours a day - one third of your life - in bed. For fuck's sake, getting a decent bed set is a duty and a kindness to your body.

Story time: When I was in college, my aunt gave me the old mattress my cousin used before he went away to uni to use in my dorm room. Hey, free mattress, who's going to complain? Except that mattress fucked my back up so bad I could not move without crying for three days, and had to sleep on the bare frame (my bed came with just a flat piece of plywood rather than box springs, thank god) until I got better enough to be able to go and buy a good quality new mattress. Even now, my back makes sure to make its feelings clear when I sleep on a less-than-optimal surface.

Getting an adequate amount of good quality sleep is far and away the most important thing you can do for your overall health. And the difference a good mattress and pillows make is unbelievable. If you splurge on nothing else, splurge on them.

Regarding nice things in general: Honey, you have one life to live and one body to live it in. Sure, things may not be functionally necessary, but they're still a pleasure to have and use. As an example: Sure, I could get cheap-ass bras, but getting properly fitted ones, while they are more expensive, make me feel pretty, are more supportive, and ensure my clothes drape better. Nice shoes are less likely to fuck my back and knees up. I could live farther away from work, but a ten-minute bike ride is worth the extra rent money over an hour-long commute. So many things - fresh flowers, paper books, travel, a sit-down meal rather than a sandwich in the car - aren't necessary, but life would be a lot bleaker without them.
posted by Tamanna at 7:33 AM on August 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

"I hoard money in case of another set of traumas happens"

Clearly, having a comfortable amount of savings is a priority for you. You shouldn't spend on things that would jeopardize that.

But it sounds like you rationally know that your current assets and savings rate is sufficient, but you still aren't spending. If so, I think reframing it might help. That $2,000 on a furniture purchase is a lot, but if you have it for 20 years, that's 30 cents a day. And $2,000 is only X percent of your likely income over the next 20 years. Or X percent of your current savings.

I have the same issue with small purchases: $2 for a drink at a convenience store bothers me because at home I have a can of the same drink I bought for 50 cents at the grocery store. I can reframe that by realizing 1) (my savings - $2) is for all practical purposes equal to (my savings), and 2)I'd have to pay someone way more than $1.50 to go home and fetch a drink for me.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:39 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Plan and schedule. Look around eech room, decide how you want it to be, plan the spending. Not just I want a nice bed, but I'm going to have a bedroom I enjoy with good storage (dresser or closet system), curtains, a rug, and a comfortable bed with nice linens. Full length mirror. This may require hiring help to paint or move things. You'll make better purchases if they're integrated into a plan. You can identify stuff you like and wait for a sale, or buy it as you need it.

When you do your budget, do you have 6 months' expenses in your emergency fund? 6 months worth of rent/ mortgage, food, car insurance, gas, etc. Have you budgeted for a vacation, a well-deserved getaway to have fun and recharge? Budgeting is planned spending, not just saving. Having a budget can be very reassuring.

Being frugal means I have nice stuff, new or thrifted, fixed up, and pretty great. And it means I have no debt. It's not just being cheap, it's living simply, which includes living well.
posted by theora55 at 7:52 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have a general feeling that people who agonize over spending money before they spend it probably don't need to be worried about spending the money. If you're the kind of person who ruminates over whether to buy the nice handbag you want, it's OK to buy it - because you don't do it very often, you think about it beforehand, and you aren't likely to do it again if it turns out that purchase led to negative consequences down the road.

I'm thrifty but I like nice things, and I spend my money to buy them sometimes. And I'll tell you, sticking to the above frame of mind, I've never in my life regretted spending money to get the thing I really wanted.
posted by something something at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd have to pay someone way more than $1.50 to go home and fetch a drink for me.

This touches on something important, which is that *your time is valuable*. One of the most valuable assets that you have, but sadly a luxury for most people. I currently consider my time worth about $100 an hour, which nicely answers the question of whether to have a cleaner and gardener. I'm not just getting the house cleaned and the landscaping trimmed, I'm clearing up two hours on my schedule to do something I'll enjoy instead. Because I'm worth it. And you are too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

In the interest of full disclosure, I struggle with this too... As I see it, I have the relative privilege where I can consider other values besides money for many of my purchases. Do I want to support "cheaper" evil overlord corp or "more expensive" local store where the money I spend stays in my communitiy? I hate shopping for clothes, so I'd rather buy higher quality (but usually more expensive) clothing that lasts longer. Since I really hate shopping for clothes, thrift stores usually aren't worth it for me.

Since you aren't living pay check to paycheck, you do have resources to weather future economic storms. It's expensive to be poor, so you might as well buy the more expensive boots when you are able.
posted by oceano at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I feel like a lot of times, I balk at buying the more expensive item. Then if it's something I use every day, I find that every time I use that product, I enjoy using it or looking at it in a way that I never did with the cheaper item. The ease and experience of using the more high quality product ends up making me wonder why I didn't purchase it sooner.

Maybe thinking of it this way will help you to pull the trigger on buying a more expensive -- but more sturdy, beautiful, better made, more comfortable -- item you use every day.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:45 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

If a fear is what if future traumas happen would it be possible to plan for what a future trauma would cost and put that in a separate account somewhere that you know it's safe and available?
posted by raccoon409 at 9:48 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have AN AMAZING BED, and it is worth every damn penny (but wasn't too expensive!). The mattress was bought on Amazon mostly due to the recommendations found here on Metafilter. It's six years old and is easily as comfortable as my guy's jillion dollar SleepNumber. Got the heated mattress pad, down duvet and really nice sheets, too.

I'm happy and grateful literally every time I crawl into it. Make a good bed for yourself. You deserve it, and you will not regret it.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 9:54 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

With high cost items like a new bed it's helped me a lot to think about the time I'll spend using it. The bed may be X amount of dollars, but I'll use it every day for ten years. That's X$ a night, and consider how much use and enjoyment I'll get out of that, isn't it worth a few bucks a night to sleep feeling good and wake up well rested?

Also back problems can make life miserable, spending money to prevent being in pain is worth it.
posted by lepus at 10:22 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’m not going to suggest this as a strategy, for reasons that should be obvious, but what helped me was marrying someone who didn’t have this issue.

Truth. Here are a few things that have helped me.

I am frugal to a fault, have enough money so I don't have to be, have a partner who is what I would describe as "generous" even though he has significantly less money than me. I have learned from him how to not sweat the small stuff, and how frugality is a mindset, but not necessarily one based on reality. I have learned there is social grace in saying "Hey let me pay for your dinner/drink/coffee" that has value. This helps me get centered.

I have a sister who has a similar amount of money to me (comfortable) and lives a very different lifestyle because she is comfortable spending money. She has stuff at her house that is fun, attractive, matchy, comfortable, on-trend, whatever. I like going to her place because she always has tasty stuff in the fridge, or a fun magazine to read. I'd like to be more like that. when we bought a couch for my dad's place (where I spend the summer) I spent a month thinking "Aaaaaa it makes a weird noise when you sit on it!!" and it was a bad month. Other people liked the couch a lot. This was, partly, my money anxiety. I made a huge purchase! Now that I'm three years in, I can appreciate that this is a well-made couch and it functions well and we spend a lot of time one it. It did eventually stop making that noise.

I have friends who are frugal. Lovely people all of them. But sometimes their frugality makes them not fun to hang around with (again, these are people who are making choices about the money they have, not people who don't have money to begin with which is totally different). They skimp on the tip. They complain about the prices of things a lot. They're not reciprocal with "Hey let me pay for your coffee" social graces. I don't want to be that person. Again, I have friends who don't have a lot of money and this is not an issue I have with them.

I had a parent who was frugal (probably where i got it from) and I grew up thinking my family was poor because of it. It was embarrassing to realize we were not poor because all I knew how to do was hoard money, not learn how to spend it on things. All I learned was how to spend as little as possible, not how to budget and make choices. They're different skills.

I like to make choices that support my values. If I was just making frugal choices I'd do all my shopping at Dollar General and Walmart. I like to spend money at my local farmer's market and at the craft fair and other ways I can invest money in my community.

I ask other people for advice, especially on things like "Should I go to the doctor?" which my frugality often tells me I shouldn't do. It's really hard, sometimes, to decide to take care of yourself. Part of my frugality is an inner voice saying "You're not worth it" I work on that.

I do the math. When my dad died, he had an IRA that he left us which we (me and my sister) get some money from. I did the math to figure out how much money that was, over time (and it's free money, not money from my job, etc) and it helped me get a grip on my "aaaaa, I want to buy name brand cheese instead of generic cheese but it's another fifty cents"

I don't love expensive things. I often think I am getting ripped off by buying them. But I do like well-made things, ethically made things, lovely things. And I try to remember sometimes that those are the things you're spending the "extra" money on.
posted by jessamyn at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

I follow Elizabeth Warren's 50/20/30 budget plan. 50% of budget goes towards needs (rent, groceries, health insurance, etc) 20% goes to savings, and the 30% is to enjoy my life. As long as whatever nice thing I'm buying or doing fits into the 30% I have no reason to feel guilty. It's literally in the budget.
posted by COD at 2:09 PM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wow, these are all fascinating and helpful suggestions. I really identify with being a maximizer who finds it hard to think of my own ease and fun as worthwhile pursuits.

To help quantify those things when considering a purchase, I went ahead and created a "Purchasing and Decision Making Wishlist " spreadsheet with the following criteria :

Item Name
Fund source
Date first considered
Date of serious consideration
Motivation for purchase
How much / frequently will I use it?
Do I already own a version of it? If so, describe the current version
Would it make me happy to have it?
Will owning it save me time, stress, money, or energy?
Desire level / 10
Can I return it if need be?

I filled out my first row of it already for the bed set. And now I can already pretty much guarantee that by the end of September I will own a schmancy mattress, frame and sheets with maximum enjoyment and minimum regret. Thanks all!!! :)
posted by seemoorglass at 3:45 PM on August 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Oh, and, also thanks to MattressFilter for so many suggestions to go with a Costco mattress. I had to call them to really ascertain for myself that they have a 10 year, no questions asked return policy. WHAT?! that truly sold me, literally - I just bought Kirkland Signature by Stearns and Foster Hope Bay from them, and I am so very excited. It was a team MeFi effort, but I will have a nice new bed soon!
posted by seemoorglass at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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