Subtraction Mode

Dennis Friedman

I’VE LATELY HAD THIS desire to spend money—not on big-ticket items like a car, boat or expensive watch, but on just about everything else.

When I go to the grocery store, I don’t look at prices anymore. If I want something, I just buy it. When eating out, I don’t look at the prices on the menu. I just order. I have a cable, internet and landline package that costs me $136 a month, and yet I’m only home one day a week. I don’t care about the cost. I want it and I’m keeping it.

You might say I’m irresponsible with my spending. And you might be right. What brought about this change in attitude? I blame it on my new financial advisor. When I look at my financial plan, I realize I’m not meeting my goal: I’m not spending enough. There’s a chance I will die with too much money. If I continue at my current spending level, I’m projected to have more money at age 100 than I have today.

I often thought I was too cautious about my spending. Now that I have a financial advisor who reaffirms my belief, I’m more confident about what I can spend.

At age 67, I feel like it’s time for me to reprioritize my life—to start doing the things I want to do and that’ll make my life more comfortable, easier and enjoyable. If spending more money will accomplish that goal, I’m going to do it. I’m in subtraction mode.

Rachel, my significant other, hasn’t fully bought into my new way of thinking. She’s still working and won’t retire for another four years. She still has an accumulation mindset. She hasn’t made that transition from saver to spender. And I don’t see that happening until after she retires.

On important money issues, we’re on the same page. We don’t, however, always agree when it comes to spending. For instance, I love baseball stadiums. I want to go on a tour of Dodger Stadium. They have two different tours: One costs $40 for two people to take the 90-minute scaled-down tour. Meanwhile, the two-hour tour would cost us $110 and let us see the Dodgers’ clubhouse and bullpen, as well as other intriguing areas of the stadium.

I’m willing to spend the $110 to see most of the stadium. She wants us to go on the $40 tour, because it’s better value. She would be right—if we were buying laundry detergent. But we aren’t. We’re purchasing experiences and it’s hard to put a price tag on them.

You can lose your car, house and health. But memories of travel adventures and dinners with friends or family are among the last things that can be taken from you. Those types of life experiences can comfort you when you’re in your declining years. They remind you of the best parts of your life and why your life had meaning. That’s why I want us to spend our money to capture those precious memories. This baseball tour can be one of many experiences we share.

On his deathbed, one of the last things my father said was, “Honey, spend the money.” He was talking to my mother—but I think I’ll also follow his advice.

Dennis Friedman retired at age 58 from Boeing Aerospace Company. He enjoys reading and writing about personal finance. His previous articles include Time to ReflectBe Like Neil Young and First Impressions. Follow Dennis on Twitter @dmfrie.

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4 years ago

Of late I’ve been wavering in the justification of spending money on experiences over possessions, instead taking a step back (partially) from both. For quite a few years (~ 10?) I had been fully on board the “experiences” camp, as are most of my friends and neighbors who are fortunate enough to be able to make that choice. But what I’ve come to discover is that the accumulation of “experiences” for many has simply become a proxy for “possessions”. Instead of a new BMW, it’s a new exotic trip. I liken it to big game trophy hunting, another prize to mount on the wall, this time an exclusive passport stamp. True, I am in the position to be pretty price-insensitive to most choices, but as I straddle retirement I more strongly than ever want those choices to matter, both to myself and loved ones. So do I travel? Of course. Do I need to go to an Instagram-trendy location for the purposes of humblebragging on social media? No, that seems a waste of time and money. So “yes”, if I personally found it valuable, I would take the longer tour of Dodger Stadium. But not for any external reasons, or simply because I could afford it.

james mcglynn
james mcglynn
4 years ago

Great story. It was great to pennypinch when young as long as you enjoy it when you are not. Glad your advisor gave you the confidence to splurge. I did the VIP at Universal Studios once and paid the lux price. Well worth it.

4 years ago

I’m still working, but I’m taking the same approach. Between my wife and I, we make more income than we can spend, and our savings are more than on track. So if I see an opportunity to trade money for happiness, I take it. I make the occasional mistake, but one of my rules of thumb is that if you never make any mistakes, you aren’t taking enough risks.

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