Feb 25, 2013

The List

The Triumph used to be heavily used, but lately spends a lot
of time sitting in the garage. Would a new bike be any different?
I'm currently recuperating from a cold that knocked me on my tail Friday afternoon and kept me in bed most of the weekend. I didn't get to do my Four Free Things, but I'm looking forward to doing them in the near future ... just as soon as walking to the kitchen no longer leaves me breathless.

Being out of commission for three days gives a girl plenty of time to think. Lately I have been spending some time thinking about the stuff that we don't yet have. There's this thing that happens to me and B on a regular basis. We will get it in our heads that we need something. We each have a running list in our brains of the items that we still need to make our collection of things complete. B's list includes a guitar and a motorcycle. On mine you'd find one of those infomercial nutritional extractors (or smoothie maker, as most of us would probably call it) and an old Travco motorhome, among other things. Our joint list consists of one thing, mainly: a 1970s turbo diesel Mercedes Benz station wagon.

It isn't like we lust after Porsches and yachts and mansions, or tons of clothes and shoes and collections. We have spent a good many years trying to whittle our possessions down to fit in a small house, and over that time have learned that we don't want a lot. But we still want. It is tricky, because a) we want those things we purchase to be good quality and long lasting and beautiful - which means the cheapest option is not an option we really want to consider, and b) any amount of money we spend on more stuff is more than we can currently afford. Need I remind you, we are trying to pay off some fairly hefty debts before we hit our forties. If we have anything left over at the end of the month after food and utilities are paid for, it should be going into paying down that debt monster. We should wait until our debt is completely gone to even consider buying anything other than what we need to survive. (This concept is really hit home by my new favorite inspirational live-below-your-means blogger, Mr. Money Mustache.) And yet, hours are spent perusing craigslist for those items we hope to acquire someday.

Sometimes on the surface, these things seem to make sense because they will help us reduce our expenses. Take that motorcycle on B's list for example. He actually already owns a motorcycle, but it is British and testy and takes more tinkering than he wants to spend with it. No, the Triumph is not the best motorcycle for my guy - he's got his eye set on an old Honda. These puppies are lovely - and run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500.

Our new apartment is a 20 minute drive from his workplace (although only a 20 minute bike ride from anything else we need). A motorcycle would get much better mpg than our two (yes, two) vehicles, both of which actually get pretty decent mileage in their own right. We don't owe any money on either - one was a very generous hand-me-down from my mom and stepdad, and one was an old truck purchased with cash from a friend years ago. Sure, the motorcycle would save us money in fuel, but it would take a long time to see savings equal to the cost of purchasing the bike. And there are other (less expensive) options. A coworker lives a few blocks away, and may be willing to consider carpooling in exchange for splitting the gas costs. And there is a transit bus (which I admit at times carries unpleasant drunk people) that would drop him off right at the doorstep of his workplace for $20 per month. These are excellent choices for green gazelles such as ourselves. But they are not nearly as fun as riding a motorcycle through the mountains to work each morning.

Each of the things on each of our lists has a similar story that ends with "We don't need it." Whether we can make do with what we have already, even if it isn't exactly what we lust after, or we can make do without it completely, the end result is the same: we do not need more stuff. I try to remind myself of the negatives that come with that stuff. I'll have to clean it, around it, and under it. It will likely clutter up our small space. It will break, and we will have to spend money to fix it or maintain it. It is almost never as awesome in real life as it is in my daydreams. And we will be farther away from debt-free than we could have been.

It is hard to see how $50, $100, or even $3500 will make much of a dent in our debt at this point, but we are slowly deciding to believe that every little bit helps. Will we never again purchase something on our wants list? That would be highly unlikely. We are still new to this self-control thing! (And I really want that damn smoothie maker.) But we've talked ourselves away from the motorcycle, at least for the time being, and the Travco and Benz are pretty much off the table until a time when we owe nothing and have actual cash to pay for them. And by then, I'm hoping our immediate gratification habit is broken and we will look at these items honestly. We simply don't need them.

Alright. Time to rest up. I'd like to be over this cold someday soon. Sniff.

What is on your list?


  1. A Tiny Tunbleweed House. The Lusby model, to be exact. That's it.
    You need the smoothie maker, or at least a good blender. Just sayin'. Get well, my friend!

  2. Now that is a pretty darn good list :)

  3. Have you ever come across The Tightwad Gazette by Amy D? It was a monthly newsletter that eventually was compiled into several books which themselves were later combined into one complete volume, full of wise and funny advice and philosophy for frugal, debt-free living. Very much recommended! Since you will of course want to purchase a copy used, if not available at your local library, here is a link to used listings!

  4. Sorry, Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced "Decision").

  5. Your Lists made me think of Amy because she believed in saving for the important things -- like a big farm house in New England, bought with cash. She had one good article comparing Person A, who bought things she wanted at a reasonable price and enjoyed them, to Person B, who bought things that were not only good value but saved expenses and/or could actually bring in income so that the value multiplied. I can't remember the specifics, but an example might be buying a used tiller, allowing for a larger garden where more food could be put by, selling some of the produce at a farmer's market, and charging a reasonable fee to till other people's gardens with it. Some of the money thus saved/earned allowed Person B to then invest in some other item (a used sewing machine, etc.) that would likewise lead to a multiplied benefit. And so on. That all depends on what else one has going on in one's life, of course, but it's an instructive approach.

  6. Penelopedia, thanks for the recommendation! I came across the Tightwad compilations a few years ago (at the public library) and devoured them. Haven't picked them up since - this is a perfectly timed reminder to me to revisit her billions of tips. I like your comments, too, about saving up for things and spending wisely. Purchasing something that will save or make money in the long run is wise. Our trouble is we use this as an excuse to get what we want, and don't always take into account the full cost of something or all of the alternatives. We are working on that!