Opening My Wallet

Nicholas Clements

SPENDING DIDN’T always come easy to me. As a child, I had a small weekly allowance, the spending of which I carefully controlled. In boarding school, a treat for me was a Mars bar from the school “tuck shop”—a British term for a small candy store.

As I entered my mid-teens and started to earn my own money, more often than not it went into my savings account. Only when I turned 16, and had my first car, did I have to start handing over some of that money, rather begrudgingly, to the car mechanic and insurance agent. Over time, I learned to loosen the grip that I had on money and to spend it on things that I really cared about and enjoyed—but it took a few decades.

There are basic necessities on which money has to be spent, such as rent or mortgage, groceries, house maintenance and utilities. In my 20s and 30s, even as I began to make a decent income, letting go of my hard-earned money on anything other than those basic necessities was difficult for me. Frugal by nature and not materialistic, it took the realization that I couldn’t take my savings with me when I left this earth. At some point, the money would indeed be spent. Why shouldn’t I do the spending?

To spend on things that I cared about and enjoyed was tricky. I had worked hard for the money—very hard. Exhausted by the end of the work week, I had little energy to develop interests and hobbies. It took close friends to help me uncover what it was that I found interesting, starting with antiques and collectibles. With their encouragement and enthusiasm, it wasn’t long before I was enjoying the hunt for collectibles that interested me and on which I was willing to spend.

As my company started to take up less time, another hobby—cycling—grabbed my interest. An impromptu visit to a bike shop started it all off. Sports had never been my forte in school and, because my work was physically demanding, I didn’t need it to maintain fitness. Still, soon enough, cycling developed into a passion on which I was happy to spend. Encouraged by my ability to do well at the sport, I found myself wanting the best equipment.

Traveling as much as I did as a child—we moved constantly between the U.S., England and Bangladesh—I didn’t have the urge to travel much during my three decades of working. I did, however, go to Mexico often, where many of my employees were from. My visits to Mexico City were primarily taken up with the management of seasonal work visas for those employees. During those trips, I relied on an employee to help me navigate the city. When we had time to spare, we would travel outside the city.

A suggestion of a road trip to the south of Mexico led to a memorable vacation with him and members of his family—a family I now consider to be part of my own. The trip to areas relatively untouched by tourism cemented my love for the country and its people. Now, on an annual basis, we continue to enjoy similar vacations around Mexico, which I happily fund. Exploring Mexico and bonding with my travel companions makes every dollar spent on these vacations worthwhile.

Spending money comes a little easier to me these days, whether it’s for a memorable experience or an interest or hobby that I have a passion for. But while travel, cycling and collectibles can now prompt me to open my wallet, and I no longer begrudgingly pay the insurance agent or the IRS, there are expenses that I still balk at—that expensive cup of coffee, the overpriced glass of wine, the cost of a hotel room, the taxi from the airport. It isn’t that I can’t afford them—but I get little joy in paying unreasonable amounts for such things.

Nicholas Clements is one of Jonathan’s older brothers. An avid cyclist, Nick is retired and lives just outside Washington, DC. His previous articles include My Generation and Retire to What?

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