This weekend, I bought a bouquet of $8 peonies for my new apartment, a small celebration of sorts. The few dollars were tiny drops in the bucket of money I had just spent, considering the movers, increased rent, fees and everything else that comes with a move.
Unlike those costs, however, the flowers were rather impractical. Beautiful, yes, but purposeless. And so as I walked home with them in hand, I couldn't help feel a twinge of guilt. Sure, it was only $8, but with all the other money I had just spent, was it necessary?
I write often about the ways we trick ourselves into spending more money. In the often black-and-white world of personal finance, goal setting is good, and spending more is bad. You shouldn't buy coffee when you can brew it for less money. You should start contributing to a retirement account as soon as you're earning. You shouldn't buy something you don't need, no matter how small, when your emergency fund dips below the "expert approved" level.
Writing and thinking about these things every day means I don't just feel guilty about buying $8 bouquets of flowers. I live in a state of constant guilt because, and this may come as a shock, I do not follow all of those money "rules" I wrrite about. I make impulse purchases often, I'm certainly not saving 20 per cent of my income and I reside in one of the highest-cost of living areas in the country. In the game of financial responsibility, I struck out a long time ago.
Where does this guilt come from? I'm sure part of it can be explained by perfectionist tendencies that don't need to be examined further on a financial blog. And another part of it, I think, is a pervasive mentality on money message boards and in financial publications and comment sections that you need to do absolutely everything "correctly," as determined by a bunch of financial experts you've never met, and that there is only one way that is correct. Spend money on anything you don't absolutely need, and you're irresponsible and deserve to flounder.
But I don't buy that. We all deserve to treat ourselves. We all deserve to buy beautiful things, just because. We all deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour without worrying about maximizing every penny. We don't need financial writers to criticise our life choices.
If the end goal is to get rich, or at least reach financial independence, foregoing a cup of coffee on the way to work and $8 bouquets of flowers won't get you there, anyway. You need to be smart about your money, and educate yourself so you're not tricked and gouged, but know that you're not going to delay your retirement because you ordered dessert after a dinner out or paired it with an expensive bottle of wine.
Investing, paying off credit card and student loan debt, your holistic financial health - those are worth focusing on. Other things, like a bouquet of peonies or cup of coffee, simply aren't.