Can you really save by spending?
Sometimes -- but many other times, 'You've got to spend money to make money' is merely a justification.
Sometimes that makes sense. For example, in "Save by spending $5 more per week" I suggested using sales and coupons to build a stockpile of foods, toiletries and household items. That costs a little bit upfront but later on you'll save: fewer trips to the store, less temptation to eat out, no late-night runs to the mini-mart because you ran out of toilet paper.
As a rule, though? Telling someone to spend to save is like turning a middle-schooler loose at Best Buy with a credit card and a "Buy only what you need, OK?" When you see something you want, it can quickly morph into a need.
A certain amount of outlay is necessary in business or in your personal life. But the "spend to save" notion makes it a little too easy to justify getting anything you want. All you have to do is convince yourself that you're saving money by getting it.
A few object lessons
I've heard people refer to "investing" in clothing. Naturally you need to look presentable at work, and, if you pick the right items, they'll last for years. But clothes aren't an investment. They don't pay dividends or grow in value. You can't cash them in upon retirement (although they might bring a few bucks at a consignment shop).
What clothing does is cover you decently and convey an image ("business professional," "fashionista"). That's all. Calling it an investment makes it easy to convince yourself to buy more shares. (Post continues after video.)
One couple I know spent to save in the kitchen. They bought expensive pots and pans thinking it would make them want to cook at home. Had they been able to admit that they just don't want to cook, they'd have saved hundreds of dollars. For the amount of KP duty they put in, yard-sale or thrift-store pans would have done just fine.
What's the true cost?
Obviously it's your money and your call. But think critically about the cash you're delegating to recreational shopping, frequent meals out, unnecessary hardware or a dog-walking service.
What could that money do for you someplace else? Invested for the short or long term, say, or used to make extra payments on student loans or consumer debt?
Quality of life is important. But there are ways to keep the cost of that quality down: online discount codes, daily deal sites, thrift shops, consignment stores, cash-back shopping, grocery coupons and clothing swaps.
A little common sense helps, too. Yes, it's exciting to have your first house. But be honest with yourself: No one but you cares if a shelf isn't smothered in knickknacks, and the amount of tools you "need" tends to correspond to the square footage of pegboard you put up in your new garage.
More on MSN Money:
Wow, Donna, have to give you some credit: you've got balls to contradict the very article that was republished by your publisher MSN Money. I wonder if you knew that.
My bottom line is this: saying many of those 10 things are investments is not really different than your typical investments: some might pay off, others might not, and some might just cost you money. Take clothes: it's possible that spending money on a nice suit might just get you a promotion a year earlier than expected, a nice payoff. On the other hand, you might just rip a massive hole in that suit a couple of days later and have thrown that money away.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN
Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Which store penalizes you for too many returns? And which one will let you retroactively apply coupons?