Buy What You Value

Kenyon Sayler

IN A RECENT BLOG post, I mentioned a coworker’s Lexus. One commenter—none other than fellow HumbleDollar contributor Dick Quinn—noted that, while “there is no logical reason” the coworker needed a Lexus, he might have motivations I didn’t know about.

I didn’t mean to imply my coworker had made an imprudent choice. I spent my career working with engineers and scientists. As a group, we were well paid. We could afford pretty much anything we wanted—just not everything we wanted.

I’ve had friends purchase $15,000 custom-made carbon bicycles, buy $1,000 bamboo flyfishing rods and spend thousands making a Christmas village that’s on display for two months a year. While I personally don’t value those items enough to spend that sort of money on them, my friends all earned enough that they could afford to do so. They enjoy their hobbies, and spend countless hours biking, fishing and modeling.

While I tend toward frugality, there are two expenditures I make that some of my friends would not choose to make. The first was our family vacations. Every year, our entire family took a vacation. Some years, it was camping in our western national parks. Some years, it was going to a warm southern state in the middle of our long Minnesota winters. But every few years, it would be outside the continental U.S. Our children have accompanied us on trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Quebec, Ireland, France and Italy.

While some friends would take their spouse or partner on an overseas trip, a few expressed surprise that we’d take our children, especially when they were younger. These friends would tell me that the kids wouldn’t appreciate the experience or that they’d never remember the trip. I don’t buy those arguments. But even if they’re true, it wouldn’t matter. I worked with my colleagues for 48 weeks a year. I wanted to spend vacation with the people I cared most about—my entire family.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t approve of couples who arrange for grandparents to watch the children while they take a holiday. It’s just something that I never felt I needed to do.

The second expense is even harder to justify.

Before retiring, I built it into our budget. Like buying a printer, the initial cost is reasonable, but the ongoing costs are much greater—perhaps $2,300 a year. A bike, car or boat will probably have some residual value at the end of 12 or 15 years. After 12 to 15 years, my expenditures will total in the neighborhood of $30,000 and have zero monetary value. I also know that there are numerous places where I could cut the associated cost, but don’t choose to do so.

What’s this expense? My dog. He isn’t a fancy show dog. We don’t hunt. He’s just a companion. I could try to justify him by telling you that by walking him, I save on gym memberships. But it would be a lie. I’ve always had a dog simply because they make me happy.

A dog loves you unconditionally, whether you’re a CEO or on the dole. There’s joy in a young dog chasing swallows skimming above the grass. There’s contentment in an old dog enjoying the sun on a cool autumn day.

People earn their money. They should spend it as they see fit.

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