The Need to Spend

The Need to Spend

Maybe I should work for the Treasury Department.

When I get bored, I have a tendency to want to spend money. Not a lot of money, mind you, but just enough to keep me doing this mental calculation of how much cash I really need in my account to make it to payday. Enough food for dinner? Check. Bills all paid? Check. Grab your keys and head out the door!

Wanting to spend money when you’re bored is deadly, but there are any number of weird behaviors that you can engage in when you’ve reached the mid-afternoon hour and it’s taking forever to get to 5 p.m. So I’ve noticed that I’ve slid into a routine, where I find a reason to run to the bookstore or the 7-11 just to spend a bit of cash. Anyone who pays attention to their finances knows that it’s always the small charges that add up over time, but like I said, I’ve mastered the art of figuring out how low I can go before payday. (Oh, thank God for direct deposit!)

Things get worse when I actually take time off from work. I made a short but compelling laundry list of things I wanted to do when I decided to take a two week vacation; as I near the end of this period of relative freedom, I still have yet to really really clean the bathroom. But I have found myself sitting on the couch, looking at the clock and wondering, “Hmm, should I go the the bookstore? Or just head on over to Circuit City and think about buying that digital SLR camera I’ve been thinking about for some time?”

The desire to spend money on big ticket items intensifies when you don’t have meetings to go to or answer endless e-mails. The mind wanders. You know you want to tackle that book that is taking weeks longer than it should to read. Not to mention the magazine stack that is growing. And there’s the rub of going to the bookstore: I can drop $30 on two books but after a while, after having fed this need to spend money, I discover that I’ve been making a fortress of paperbacks. Right then and there, I make a resolution to plow through these tomes, become even more informed about the world and even clear out the magazines and put them into the recycle bin. Isn’t that the essence of being a good citizen? Well-informed and green!

Well, maybe, but the more pressing thing is: am I sick? Is really the urge to spend money just some desperate cry for help? I suppose that it could be worse: I could be eating every time I feel bored and really, there’s no cost benefit to that at all. I would be spending more money on incidental food I do not need to consume, and probably getting larger because of it. At least with the books, I can make a mental appeal to becoming more knowledgeable and who can argue with that?

Or maybe I can just take the advice of my father, who often told me that if you can afford it, then what’s the problem? If you are taking money out of your kids’ food budget to get a book, well, probably not a great idea. Or if you’re avoiding paying a bill just to grab that new novel that’s 20% off this week only!, well, you should just do without.

If you’re thinking that the real question is do you need it? well, I don’t think that matters too much if you can afford it. I mean after all, that’s the point of disposable income: you can spend it on whatever you want. But I know that very few people are in the position of being able to drop $30 after they’ve paid all the bills and are current with the necessities of life. Hmm, maybe that’s the real moral of this story: if you have the money, why not drop it on stuff that you want?

Well, that all makes perfect sense to me now. Off to the bookstore!