In a Daily Money Shot first, I’ve swapped posts with So Over Debt. I’m honored to have a guest post from So Over Debt, who writes about money matters as a single mom getting out of debt, and I’m thrilled to have a guest post over on her site. In fact, her site is one of the ones that prompted me to start blogging (you can either send her either thank you notes or hate mail. I’m sure she’d appreciate it).
About this time two years ago, I made the decision to file for divorce. (Don’t worry – it’s a “Congratulations!” divorce, not an “Oh, I’m so sorry!” divorce.) If I ignore all the emotions and drama involved, I look back to see several months of utter chaos – looking for a place to live, finding a house that needed updating, coming home from work to stay up half the night remodeling, and finally moving in December 2009. Other than a dining room table, I moved with only my clothes and personal items, my son’s clothes, furniture, and personal items, and my dogs.
During the months of remodeling, I developed a strategic decorating plan for my new house. I didn’t want it to look anything like the home I had when I was married, and I wanted it to reflect my style instead of its previous look (little old lady). I spent hours bookmarking specific accessories and pieces of furniture I needed to complete the transformation. I watched HGTV shows on my DVR every weekend and took notes. I ignored my dad’s skepticism when I chose paint colors (for the record, he loves the house now that it’s nearly finished).
I had the hardest time finding table lamps for my living room. I needed to bring more orange into the room, but I didn’t want clown orange – it needed to be subtle and modern. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay a per-search rate for my internet access, because I burned Google up trying to find the perfect lamps.
I finally found exactly what I needed – the Hoopla table lamp from Crate and Barrel. It was the right shade of orange, it was modern, it was awesome! It was also $79 plus tax and shipping, and I needed three of them. At a time in my life when I was using my closet door across two sawhorses for a computer desk, it didn’t make a lot of sense to spend that kind of money on lamps. So I bought a couple of seriously ugly (but cheap!) lamps from Walmart, bookmarked the Hoopla lamp, and gazed at it longingly several times a week.
Time passed and I moved on to other rooms in the house. I still looked at the Hoopla lamp periodically, even squealing a bit when it was discounted to $59. I planned to buy the lamps as soon as I got my Christmas money last year. But then Christmas came and I decided to put all my money in savings. I would just wait for my tax return. But then tax time came and I decided to pay off two credit cards instead. I began blogging about my finances and getting out of debt. I got busy at work. I stopped buying stuff I didn’t need (for the most part).
I forgot all about buying those lamps. The ones I have, while definitely not my favorites, do the job and kind of fade into the background. They definitely don’t make the statement the Hoopla lamps would have made, but they’re good enough. And wouldn’t you know it? When I went searching for a picture of the Hoopla lamp on Crate and Barrel’s website for this post, it isn’t even available anymore. I may buy new lamps at some point, but it’s not a priority in my life right now.
What does this story say about personal finance? A lot of things, actually.
First, this story demonstrates how easy it is to become obsessed with material things. Lamps are such an insignificant part of life, especially if you don’t even have furniture, but I was convinced I needed them to make my home (and my new life) complete. No one pressured me into it; I did it all on my own, sitting at my computer looking around. And I didn’t even realize it was happening. That’s often how it goes – you start looking around for something, and before you know it you’re on a mission. A mission that generally includes a lot of extra things. I try to keep this in mind when I want something – do I really need it, or have I just convinced myself that I need it?
Second, my search for the perfect lamp is a great example of emotional spending. Why was I so intent on planning every detail of my new home, down to the table lamps? Because I was going through one of the most stressful times in my life. Focusing on making my house look amazing gave me a much-needed escape from what was going on in the real world. It gave me a sense of control – I couldn’t make my marriage work, but I could make my house perfect. Realizing this has helped me look out for other examples of emotional spending in my life.
Finally, did you notice how I was better able to resist buying the lamps as time passed? At first it was simply a matter of not having the money, but by the time I could actually afford to buy them, I’d already moved on to something else. This is why so many personal finance bloggers recommend waiting 30 days before making a large purchase – the incredible urge to buy something usually goes away with time. The longer you wait, the more money you can keep in your bank account.
I can’t adequately express how important it was to me at the time to get the perfect lamps for my house. I also can’t put into words how unimportant those lamps are to me now. I’m not saying I wouldn’t buy them if I found them for sale, but I’ve finally learned (two years later) that there are more important things to do, like get the heck out of debt.
Have you ever wanted something so badly you would have traded a limb for it? Did you buy it on impulse, or did you resist? Was it a planned purchase? Tell me about it in the comments!