I like nice things. I’m sure you probably like nice things, too – whether experiences or physical items, there’s something out there that brings you happiness to have or experience. Nice things in moderation is the way to go, but I didn’t start with that mindset.
Going from being a student with a minimal budget to working full-time with minimal expenses (no student loans, no car, meal plan through work), I welcomed lifestyle creep into my life like a long-lost friend. Frequently travelling within and between provinces each month, attending symphony concerts like I wrote for the Arts & Culture spread in a newspaper, and shopping bargains like it was a part time job was my life from 2018 to early 2020. Granted, I didn’t go so all out that I bought luxury goods like designer bags, shoes, and clothing and wound up in massive debt, but I was definitely buying and doing more than the average person could expect to do in a sustainable way (neither for my bank account nor for the planet).
After slowing down significantly last year, I had a look at what I’d been spending my money on the most – and what mattered the most to me. As much as I love clothing, I have more than enough at this point and I don’t need more (not to mention that I’m still decluttering). Tea, planner stickers, and craft materials are still abundant in supply and there’s no need to purchase anything more for this year at all. What I miss most about my pre-2020 life (other than seeing family) was the solo adventures to museums, concerts, events, restaurants, and festivals within eastern Canada (namely Montréal, sometimes Toronto). Sure, I’d ask friends to tag along when our schedules lined up, but I’ve never had an issue with doing my own thing if I was excited enough about whatever the experience was. I also miss travel and getting to visit somewhere new or even playing tourist in my own city. Museums for me are like 3-Michelin Star restaurants for foodies – I’m willing to go somewhere with the museum as the focus and fill out the rest of my day/stay around it.
There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.
Once it’s safer to do so, travel and experiences are my selected luxuries. I’m willing to forgo following trends and buying new clothing if that means I can see a Degas in person, get a lodge seat for the ballet, or watch a hockey game in person (go Habs go!). The amount of money I’ve spent on tea in the last 5 years could have covered a trip to Reykjavik, Edinburgh, or Toulouse. The craft supplies bought in 2019 are the equivalent to the premium table seats at the charity ball I attend. I’ve also fully given up buying granola bars since they eat up too much of the grocery budget and don’t last me long enough in my two-month grocery rotation, which I mention for the sake of pointing out the smaller decisions I make, too – as not everything is gala-level for luxury to me. There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.
Personal finance is by definition personal, and my selected luxuries will not be the same as yours – even if on paper, we seem to be at the same stage of life and have other overlapping qualities. Our selected luxuries may not overlap at all if you have a family to take care of, and what you count as your luxury is time to yourself or the ability to pay off your mortgage sooner (does that even count? I don’t know, I still rent). What I would encourage you to think about is where you’re unwilling to compromise on standard of quality, freedom/ease of access, and what is non-negotiable versus things that cause you undue stress or you feel external pressure to keep up with (whether FOMO or something internalised/self-imposed). Basically, how you spend your time, effort, and money should add to your quality of life rather than cause you more stress. It will take time to figure it out, but I’d wager it’s worth it in the long run to see what matters most to you – and you can always adjust and shift as necessary – as what you’re doing is going to serve you. For example, I use a silk pillow case to protect my curly hair from frizzing – it serves me but might not do anything for you, and that’s okay.
A final point I’d like to make is that I feel having a specific or category of selected luxuries allows you to be a bit less restrictive while working toward a specific financial goal. Whether that’s a sinking fund/line in your budget for the category for one major event or smaller experiences throughout the year, you have planned for it and can get hyped about it coming up (which is half the fun for me) – or you’ll be less likely to overdo it and go all out when the event or item comes up, which in turn could throw off your budget/lead to unplanned debt. In essence, being intentional about what brings you happiness and intentionally planning for it is what I’m trying to do, and I invite you to do so, too 🙂