Sometimes You Have to Live a Little

Our family backgrounds shape our relationship with money in a number of ways—some of them conscious, many not so conscious.  Understanding how my own background shaped my attitude toward spending, and getting myself to shift to a healthier, more balanced attitude, has been a long-term project.

Growing up, my family really struggled financially.  My mom was a single parent with four kids and worked at Levi Strauss and Co. as a seamstress. Feeding four children with a low-paying job was impossible, so we relied on government assistance and family for food, utilities, rent, etc. Even when young, I recognized the difference in having money and not.  Money became security, stability, and safety for me from a very early age.

Security, stability, and safety are great things, but pursuing them turned me into something of a money hoarder as a young adult.  The more I had in my savings account, the more secure I felt. The less I spent, the more stable I felt.  This also seemed perfectly logical to me.  And saving and limiting spending are good practices.  But I’ve got some examples of how I carried them too far, to a point that, looking back, was not logical at all.

When I bought my first home in 2004, I tried to move my hand-me-down washer and dryer (one was green and one was yellow—that should give you an indication of the decade they were made) into my new townhouse. They were so dated and dinged up that my stepfather—no great spender himself—wouldn’t have any of it. Instead, I showed up to my new place after work to find a new washer and dryer in the laundry closet.  I was so grateful, of course, but a part of me thought his gift was an unneccessary extravagance.

I had very few personal items in the townhouse: no pictures on the walls, no curtains, just plain white blinds. Now that I look back at it, “institutional” is the term that comes to mind. I rationalized that it wasn’t worth it to spend the money to make it more comfortable.

I waited months to buy living room furniture. My friends finally invited themselves over, and I had to have a place for them to sit!  I had been hoping that someone would offer me hand-me-down furniture.

My bedroom furniture was older than I was and handed down from my husband’s grandmother. I used it for another ten years while I lived there.

The moment when I finally realized that my relationship with money was actually unhealthy came when I put my townhouse on the market. To entice a buyer, the walls badly needed an update to their ten year-old paint job. Nathan and I found a lovely, warm color for the entire house. He painted all the walls, and I realized immediately how much I had not enjoyed living there with stark white walls for all those years.  I could have afforded to paint them (especially with a husband that doesn’t charge me labor) all along.  I just didn’t want to spend the money. But I was beginning to understand that I had cost myself no small amount of happiness by reflexively deciding never to spend if at all possible.

I decided after that that I needed to loosen up a bit. I’m by no means a big spender now, but I’m closer to finding the right balance.  In 2014, Nathan and I built our first house together. Ten years of squirreling away savings while living in my little townhouse had let me accumulate 50% of the construction cost.  If I’m being honest, I was still scared to death when we bought new appliances, mattresses, and living room furniture for our home, even though I had carefully budgeted for all of these expenses.  But I had gotten to the point that I could see how irrational my fear was, and I let it go.

This story came to my mind this past weekend. My family was out of town getting some much needed rest and relaxation. I said, “Let’s go to Marble Slab Creamery and get ice cream!”  Nathan said, “Or, we could go buy ice cream at the grocery store and save $10.”  I said, “Nope, Marble Slab Creamery, here we come!”  Sometimes you have to live a little!


Any opinions are those of Jennifer Adams and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we don’t guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.