What do you splurge on?

I feel a confession coming on…

Since I joined The Compact and started writing this blog, I’ve learned so much about simple living and frugal living from visiting other blogs. But sometimes I feel a little hypocritical about associating myself with the frugal lifestyle, and I might hesitate in calling myself a Frugalista. I’m not really sure where I lie on the frugal/spendthrift continuum. Because there are some things I really splurge on (even while doing The Compact), they’re just mostly not STUFF.

For example, I’ve read on several frugal blogs that they don’t take vacations far from home. Well, travel is one of the passions of my life and I have always done without in order to have funds for my next adventure. When I finished graduate school, I sold my car so I could take a month-long train trip through England and Scotland. It was marvelous. And I never regretted getting rid of my pint-sized Toyota Tercel. It all worked out because when I came back from England, I moved to New York City, where I didn’t need a car. I don’t know if selling a car when you don’t even own a stereo system and using it to fund a European vacation would be considered frugal, but it certainly highlighted my priorities.

Another example is my spa habit. I’m a real water-lover: I love swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, wading, floating, and taking long showers and baths. I find water very calming, and at the same time invigorating. So one of my big splurges is going to the spa for a facial and using all the facilities beforehand: the sauna, the jacuzzi, and the wetroom. I only do this 3 or 4 times a year, but it’s not something I imagine some frugal lifestyle people would approve of. But for me, it’s part therapy, part indulgence, part beauty routine, and I wouldn’t give it up unless absolutely necessary. I’m also hoping those facials will save me money on skin care supplies in the future. Plus I rationalize this treat by reflecting on how spas and bathhouses are de rigueur in many parts of the world even for common folk, particularly in Asia and Eastern Europe.

I used to splurge on books and I honestly don’t think that needs any rationalization because reading is such a huge part of my life. But for the past 3 or 4 years I’ve mostly been buying them used or going to the library. I will buy a new book occasionally, especially if it’s by one of my favorite authors or I want to support a friend. But I still usually wait for the paperback.

Occasionally (pre-Compact) I’ll splurge on a gift for a friend or my husband if I see the perfect thing that I just know they’ll love. I don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money of gifts for anyone in my life, but I like to get a special treat now and then when it’s something I know they’ll particularly enjoy.

And I have been known to splurge on boots, because I’ve got a bit of a fixation, but I almost always find them on sale. This snazzy red pair in the photo, my current favorite, I bought on clearance for about $50. Their per-wear price will probably drop below a dollar eventually. But I won’t be buying any new boots this year. And I bought those red boots at least two years ago.

So those are my favorite splurges. Does traveling or going to the spa mean I’m a spendthrift? Getting back to the question of where I would place myself on the frugal/spendthrift continuum, if California represented frugality and Maine stood for spendthrift (might make more sense the other way around), I would probably fall somewhere between Arizona and New Mexico. But maybe this analogy is getting too complicated…

I think of myself as fairly frugal, and I have usually done pretty well living on very little money, mostly out of necessity. I think my family would agree: I remember some family lore where one of my brothers bought something for me and the other brother commented, “Well, you know when you buy something for her, she keeps it forever.” I think they were making fun of me a bit. I have one t-shirt that’s so comfortable and perfect for hiking that I’ve been wearing it almost ten years and we can never date a photo because I’m wearing it in nearly every hiking picture. And I remember my mom visiting me once and noticing that I still used some towels about ten or twelve years after she and I had bought them together while shopping for my first apartment. She said something like, “Oh honey, you’re so funny.” But from my perspective, she’s a real spendthrift. Who knows how many towels she’d gone through in that time.

So I think I’m fairly frugal, my family might think I’m extremely frugal (although not cheap because I’ve always given them nice gifts and I like to treat for meals and that type of thing), but I wonder what the frugal community would think of some of these expenditures. Would I have to hand in my membership card if they knew?

I’m trying to be honest about documenting my Buy Nothing New year, and this is something that’s been on my mind lately. Even the name of my blog caused me some immediate regret, when I realized it would be more accurate to call it “My Year Without Buying,” but it was really too late to change it at that point. The technical steps involved were beyond me, and I didn’t want to confuse anyone.

Please write and tell me what you think of my splurges, and I would love to hear what you splurge on. You can leave your thoughts, questions, ideas and opinions in the Comments section. Part of my reason for not buying anything new is to have more money to save, and to spend on things I care about, like travel. And soaking in a hot tub. But I probably already have enough boots.


  1. Kristen@TheFrugalGirl says

    I personally think that it’s good to be frugal for a purpose…some people live lean so they can have a large house on lots of land, some people live lean so they can travel, some people live lean so that they can give generous gifts, and so on.

    So, I think what you’re doing is fine. It’s not like you go out and spend money on useless stuff that you will just throw away, you know?

    I keep meaning to write a post about being frugal with a purpose, so that I can explain the motives behind my frugality too.

  2. Angela says

    Yes, I started going into my reasons for being frugal, but that would be a whole other post, because this one was getting too long! I think I’ll continue with WHY I’m frugal tomorrow…

    Frugal with a purpose, yes, I like that. Thanks Kristen!

  3. Alea says

    This might require a post rather than just a comment!

    I think it is import to budget with YOUR priorities in mind. I am frugal in some areas, so that I may indulge in others.

    Disclaimer: I might not qualify as frugal since we have horses;) My husband says that they are a very expensive source of fertilizer (but at least I do use the manure).

    We also indulge in travel, music and art lessons, musical instruments, and books. Some of my friends are shocked at how much I spend on lessons, but I believe that quality instruction is worth it. Still other friends are surprised to find that we only have one small t.v. and we use an antenna rather than pay for cable. For them that is just taking the whole frugality thing too far!

  4. hiptobeme says

    I agree with frugality for a purpose, such as saving money on everyday things so that travel becomes possible. I’m all for that! I especially love cooking for ourselves or hunting in thrift shops in a new place! I don’t think anyone wants to be known as a penny pincher or to deny themselves of life’s pleasures. I just think there is a lot of room to trim the every day expenses, especially in our house. My indulgences include footwear and books, but I don’t think I have ever really paid retail for books. Technically, I probably have more pairs of shoes than I actually need, but like you, I keep things in good shape and forever, if possible. I get used to my old things, they are a comfort to me. I also enjoy making things, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. No one is perfect in their quest for frugality in this modern era and western society with all manner of conveniances, but each has a different perpective that we all can learn and draw from. The fact that people strive for more simplicity is what I find so facinating. Keep it up, I love checking in over here :)

  5. Kate says

    Boots, travel, spas, and books…
    Hmmm – I think you can keep your frugalista card (IMHO). And please continue asking great thought provoking questions. :)

    Me: My splurges are music, plants, and books (sometimes technology – i.e. my Kindle).

  6. Kate Sommers says

    I LOVE those boots!
    I just spent $36 on 7 mangoes…it is outrageous.They were local, organically grown and $4.99 a pound at Whole Foods.
    They were incredibly expensive,but really were the best I have ever had so it was worth it.I rationalized it because I don’t spend on things like a daily coffee at Starbucks or go out for cocktails which I hear can be alot more than $36

  7. ksmedgirl says

    thank you so much for this post. I was directed to your blog by the Nonconsumer Advocate. I have been feeling guilty about going on a vacation this year, the honeymoon we never had. Which I have been saving to pay for. But I also felt guilty about having my hair highlighted every 2-3 months, a yearly pedicure, an occasional massage, vitamins, etc. I don’t think I spend money foolishly, and I haven’t joined the compact because I didn’t think I qualified. I felt like I was unsuccessful in being frugal because the “common tips” I read about in frugal blogs don’t seem to work for me. Now, I realize I am doing what DOES work for me, and I am satisfied with that. My “necessities” or things I buy new, are someone else’s indulgences, and vice versa. I realize now this is a very personal journey and there is no “one size fits all”. Thank you again!

  8. Debbie says

    We all have our own personal goals; I personally don’t consider most of your expenditures as being “non compact” — the compact is not about frugality or “simple” living, per se, but rather opting out of a consumerist mindset. (New boots purchased purely for fashion might be a tougher sell to me, but it’s none of my business. And I see you aren’t planning to this year.) I do see, however, that you identify with the frugal movement as well. I don’t believe being frugal means just “not spending,” but rather making choices on how to spend (or not spend) money in ways that support your own goals and values. Only you can answer that, and I think you have.

    I was a member of the compact group a couple of years ago* and one poster decided she really needed new underwear (which is acceptable to purchase under the compact “rules”). She agonized over the decision and went out and purchased underwear that was purely utilitarian (white cotton “granny panties”). She hated those panties. She resented that she had been “compelled” to buy ugly underwear by the compact. But finally she realized that she could have bought underwear she liked — nowhere in the compact does it say you have to do without things you like. It’s not a punishment; it’s a choice to live within the guidelines of your own values. If you want pretty panties, or travel, or spas, or whatever, then you need to weigh the “cost” (not just the monetary cost, either) of obtaining them against their value to you.

    You love travel, so you are, in part, frugal so that you can travel. You love going to the spa so you are, in part, frugal so you can go to the spa once in a while. What’s the point of being frugal if you aren’t doing it to support some goal that has meaning to you? On the other hand, if you practice frugality so you can buy a house or pay off your mortgage or retire early or put your kids through college or some other big life goal then maybe those things aren’t so frugal.

    *I left the group when it began to be overrun by discussions about peak oil and going off the grid in preparation for the coming apocalypse, and how to defend your survival supplies against starving, thieving hordes. I hope the group has changed since then.

  9. calimama @ compactbydesign says

    Frugal is as frugal does. Frugal for a purpose is a great way to look at how so many people are living their lives these days.

    Frugal and the Compact are not joined at the hip. What if you actually looked at them as two different goals? Frugal may be a mindset that allows you to reach certain goals. The Compact may be a challenge that allows you to look hard at your (and society’s) consumerist choices.

    I was just considering this all today when I realized the pants I was wearing were probably 10 years old. I was thinking it probably wouldn’t be considered very Compact (or frugal) to donate and replace them (with some other used pair of pants) but I don’t want to be the mom that has pictures wearing the same pants before a child’s birth and at his 10th birthday party. (Then again, I may be the only one who cares about that. I have boys, I don’t think they’re even going to notice!)

    Replace “frugal” with “resourceful”. You live a resourceful lifestyle. Somehow doesn’t seem like something you need to worry about so much, huh?

  10. Angela says

    So many interesting comments!
    I’m off to write another post. Calimama, I’m definitely going to use “resourceful”- that fits me. And I say don’t worry about the ten-year-old pants, if they still look good.

    Kristin- Yes, frugal with a purpose. But I won’t use that exact phrase, since you say you’ve been wanting to write about it. But this post has necessitated my addressing the issue.

    Alea- Yes, one person’s frugal is another person’s splurge. That is so true. I wholely agree with your thoughts about music lessons. And I love horses. It sounds like you have a great lifestyle.

    hiptobeme- Thanks for your thoughts and your compliments.

    ksmedgirl- yes, it’s a personal journey and there is no “one size fits all.” That’s a great way to put it. I’m so glad you found my blog and so glad the post was relevant for you. I think as humans it’s natural for us to want to fit in, and compare ourselves with others, and get competitive, so even something “positive” like a frugal lifestyle can become a way to measure ourselves against our peers.
    Kate- I want to talk to you about the Kindle! I still love to hold a book, but it seems great for trips. Of course, I can’t buy one until people start casting them off!

    Katie- The mangoes- hilarious! I actually think mangoes in Hawaii are my all-time favorite fruit. In fact, I can’t believe you even needed to buy them at the store- don’t you have your own trees? (half kidding)

    Debbie- fascinating! I had a feeling that was what the Compact would be like, but judging from the Yahoo Group I sometimes go to and the people I’ve met, it’s changed a lot since then. The panties- OMG! Imagine putting yourself through that kind of agony. Thank you SO much for commenting, I’m very interested in the history of The Compact. I think it’s much more user-friendly now. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t do it. I would just call myself a conscious consumer and be very careful with purchases (how I was before the Compact).

  11. Angela says

    I forgot to say I really like your thought about how we all have a different perspective that we each can learn and draw from. That is so true for me- I’m learning so much from other blogs and from everyone who makes comments and emails me. Thanks again.

  12. Betsy Talbot says

    I agree with most of the other commenters that being frugal is usually to support a life goal, not an endgame itself, and everyone’s goal is different. (Debbie, I’m with you – how sad to feel bad about something so basic as your panties!)

    I love to travel, and my whole lifestyle is set up to do that. Rarely do I shop for anything other than groceries, and because of that we have a healthy travel budget. We amped up our savings last year and are almost 50% toward our financial goal of taking a year off to travel the world. So yeah, being frugal and even sometimes cheap is serving a much bigger goal for me.

    As for splurges, I do still like to drink wine with dinner every night and I’m a sucker for the movies. Really, I would go twice a week and spend a fortune on buckets of soda and barrels of popcorn if I didn’t control the urges.

  13. Tamara says

    I love this post.
    I think the fact that you are *thinking* about your purchases, being conscious of what you spend your money on, makes you resourceful.
    For me, I splurge on good food (organic pizza), travel and, like you, a few spa days a year. When I buy clothes, I try to buy used and when I buy new, I try to buy organic/made in a sweatshop-free environment (even if I have to pay more).
    What I don’t spend money on: knicknacks, itunes, cheap plastic junk from Target/WalMart.
    Oh and Kate, just come to Miami in May. The mangoes are free on the trees, like in my backyard! :)

  14. Deb says

    Frugality does not have to mean austerity. Allowing yourself some small indulgences that you absolutely ADORE, that enrich your life and make your other sacrifices worthwhile, is simply getting your priorities straight. You don’t have to lead a life of deprivation or austerity in order to be frugal!

    We are fairly frugal, but like you, I love reading, and I do buy used paperbacks galore (I also trade them in at the local exchange). I don’t feel guilty about it because of our overall frugality. Guilt is a waste of time, girl! Don’t sweat that small stuff, you are doing great.

  15. simplyvarga says

    I think frugal means resourceful, not cheap. Being frugal is a tool to help us achieve what is meaningful to ourselves. I am willing to cut back on “stuff” to pay for experiences that will make a significant impact in the lives of our family members. I pay a lot of money for karate lessons and tournaments for my 9 year old because it is so important to him and has been such a benefit to him. My 6 year old is happy with rec league sports for now. I will pay more for items of clothing and shoes I love and will wear to death because I feel fabulous in them and for children’s clothes that hold up. But I still look for sales and used first. I’m happy to pay for my husband’s gym membership because it has made such a difference in his health. I will pay for a book if I think it will be a useful resource, or if I think it is a classic my children should read. Most fiction I’m happy to get from the library. The same goes for DVDs. We love to travel as well, and until recently were willing to spend quite a bit for our family adventures. These days we are adventuring closer to home (which still has so many great things to see and do)but still have plans for grander escapades down the line. Every so often I love to go out to someplace nice, order whatever I want and enjoy the company. For that I am willing to cook from scratch for my family every day. it’s all about balance and knowing what is important to you.

  16. Angela says

    Betsy- Yes, being frugal is usually to support a life goal (or it’s a necessity), and everyone’s goal is different. Wine with dinner- my kind of girl!

    Tamara- Thanks. Yes, I would agree that being conscious of our purchases is a big step. I’m jealous of your mangoes! Also the good Cuban food!

    Deb- I think you’re right that frugality isn’t synonymous with austerity and definitely not deprivation. I don’t think I really feel guilty, but I can see how it sounds like that. I’m sort of obsessive/neurotic/analytical.
    Thanks for commenting!

    simplyvarga- Yes, I am going to go back to a positive definition of frugal, and I’ll post about it soon. I agree that it doesn’t mean cheap, although I do think it has a bit of that connotation in our culture. Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

  17. WilliamB says

    Debbie wrote:
    On the other hand, if you practice frugality so you can buy a house or pay off your mortgage or retire early or put your kids through college or some other big life goal then maybe those things aren’t so frugal.Debbie, can you explain further? I’m not sure what you mean by this. The rest of your post was so interesting that I’d like to understand this sentence as well. I read this as your saying that having to save to buy a house means that house isn’t frugal – which doesn’t make sense to me.

    Calimama – I hear you about those pants. I was looking at old college photos and realized I still had many of those sweaters. So I took a closer look and realize some of them were getting ratty and replaced them. That was 5+ years ago and I still think of them as new purchases. Hate to shop – that’s me.

    A historical note for Angela: societies with bathhouses are usually ones where most people couldn’t afford to have them at home. The usual causes were no space (e.g., China) or not enough fuel (e.g. Russia).

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