Spending vs. Saving: The Careful Balance

Spending vs. Saving: The Careful Balance

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In almost every relationship there is a spender and a saver. I can pretty much guarantee you already know which one is you and which one is your partner. Who clips the coupons and reads the store ads? Or fills a jar with loose change? Or rolls their eyes at the other’s latest purchase? Who has the instinctive reaction when they open Safari to type “amazon.com”? Or wants to remodel the bathroom and goes to Home Depot that night to buy materials? Or shows up with a pack of Oreos they picked up on the way home from work because they were hungry?

If you’re anything like me, you probably think saving is the virtue. But, honestly? I’ve come to realize neither is better than the other. Saving is not necessarily better than spending; it’s the balance of the two. 

Learning that balance took me a while to figure out and was most certainly a learning curve. 

I came from a family of seven and both my parents owned their own businesses; my dad did home repair and my mom taught piano — they worked hard, but trying to provide for a family of seven in itself is a feat. So before I can even remember, I was taught to pinch pennies. My dad would take me “dumpster diving” in the development behind our house, and we’d walk up and down the street collecting cans to recycle for money. My mom showed me how to find the best price on groceries based on how much of an item you got for the price; sales and clearance racks were our best friends. 

On the flip side, my husband started his own software company when he hit double digits. Might sound crazy, but he began earning money at a pretty young age. When I met him when he was 18, he pretty much had everything I’d want in a prospective husband — the looks (of course), nice clothes, a car, an iPhone. Anything he wanted, he could afford.

What happened when we got married, however, was pretty much the equivalent to a head-on collision. Our spending habits did not mesh. I repeat: did not mesh. I hoarded money and was an extreme cheapskate, while my husband pretty much threw his money in a garbage can — okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but surely you get the picture.

For the next several months, we worked on figuring out how to spend our money wisely, and we certainly had some tough lessons to learn from one another.

Quality vs. Quantity

I can remember plain as day the first time I went grocery shopping for the two of us. To be honest, I really enjoyed grocery shopping. I came right from my parents’ house to living with my husband, so the entire experience was so new to me. I felt like an adult,  which sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but I honestly thought it was a lot of fun!

As I was unpacking the bag of groceries I bought from Dollar Tree (because I’m cheap, guys), my husband stopped me and held up the pack of pepperoni.

“Uhhh, what is this?” 

“Pepperoni?”

“I know, but, like, where’d you buy it?”

“Dollar Tree!”

He looked at me like a deer in the headlights, absolutely dumbfounded. He spent the next several minutes trying desperately to explain why buying pepperoni from the dollar store was not okay. 

(Side note: If you buy pepperoni at the dollar store, I will not judge you, though I can’t promise the same from my husband.)

After going on and on about how the pepperoni wasn’t refrigerated even though it’s supposed to be “meat,” and how horrible the nitrites or nitrates or whatever’s in it is for the body, he walked to the garbage can and threw it away.

HE THREW IT AWAY.

I could not believe he did that. In front of my very eyes he wasted a whole dollar. I tried negotiating with him to take it back out, tried reasoning with him that if we would just eat it this one time I’d never buy it again, but he absolutely refused.

This is where lesson #1 came into play: quality is more important than quantity. 

It’s true, $1 for a pack of pepperoni is probably the cheapest you’ll find it, but although pepperoni isn’t the greatest thing for you, you can definitely get a higher quality pepperoni elsewhere — one that probably won’t knock off years of your life after consumption.

A tried and true example of this is my latest experience at Aldi. Now, I love Aldi. Do not think for a second that I am bashing Aldi. Aldi is my happy place, but sometimes their produce can be, let’s just say, sub-par. This week, Aldi had $1.29 strawberries. That’s a steal, so I went to pick some up, but those things were a sorry excuse for strawberries, let me tell you; barely ripe and definitely not the deep red you’d want them to be.

I must have come back to the spot with the strawberries at least three times, trying to convince myself to buy them because they were such a good deal, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. They were not worth it. 

Quality over quantity is so important. Don’t waste your money on pepperoni that can kill you or strawberries that don’t even taste good, even if it’s a good price.

Usefulness vs. Cost

My husband is multi-talented, especially when it comes to technology. He can build websites, install wifi, run a data center, and do a whole lot of other nerdy things I can’t explain. Not only that, but he can play Fur Elise on the piano better than anyone I know, remodel a bathroom that had been stripped down to the studs, and replace an entire frame on an F-150 (true story). 

So before I had even met him, he bought an acoustic guitar. Not just any acoustic guitar: a Taylor brand acoustic guitar. If you know anything about guitars, you know that’s a top-of-the-line brand. I don’t even know how much he spent on it, but considering I once encouraged my sister to buy a $50 guitar at a garage sale, I probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled with how much he paid.

But here’s the thing: he doesn’t know how to play the guitar. 

Yes, my husband is multi-talented. He knows how to do a lot of different things, and if he doesn’t know, he figures it out. But do you know how often we use that guitar? Occasionally. We both know how to strum a few chords, but honestly we are an insult to the Taylor brand — we are certainly not good enough to own a Taylor.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that guitar. When we do play, it’s awesome. But for an 18-year-old guy that didn’t even know how to play, or play well for that matter, to buy the most expensive guitar he could find probably wasn’t the best financial decision in the world. I’m definitely not saying he shouldn’t have bought a guitar at all, but it would have been wise to have done his research and found a guitar that was not only a great guitar, but where the cost weighed against the frequency he would play it aligned. So although he wanted and found the best guitar, the usefulness that high-quality guitar serves him is pretty low.

Lesson #2: Determine how much you’re willing to pay for something based on the quality of the item and how much use you’ll get out of it. 

When we were looking for a couch for our family room, we went on Craigslist. That would probably wig some of you out, but for us, we’d never pay full price for our family room couch. Why? Kids. We bought our first couch from La-Z-Boy for a pretty penny when we first got married and only realize now that, although we love it, it’s going to get destroyed by our children. So we paid $800 for a huge, comfy, used couch with a tear in one of the cushions because our desire to have a brand new couch was trumped by the realization that it will be very much abused by our wonderful, incredibly active children, and that’s okay. Besides, furniture has the highest mark-up of anything out there — never pay full price for a couch. 

Budgeting

The best thing we ever did as newlyweds was create a budget; I’m sure you hear that all the time. It took us a couple years to get a solid, accurate budget we could both agree on, but because money issues are such a common cause of tension in a marriage, we knew we’d be better off because we did it. There are so many ways to do a budget, and it can be really tough and stressful, but it’s totally worth it. To hopefully prevent any potential headaches, let me tell you what worked for us. 

Everyone’s heard of the envelope system: putting money in an envelope for each category of spending, like gas, groceries, eating out, vacation, car, etc. It is a super effective way of managing money, but who carries cash anymore? A lot of people will tell you that you spend less money when you use cash, but I honestly think I spend more because I just want to get rid of it! It is so much simpler to use your card. So how do you use the envelope system and your card simultaneously?

For a long time, we used Capital One 360. We had one checking account, and probably 10 to 15 savings accounts. The savings accounts were things like “Car Fund,” “Emergency Fund,” “Health Savings,” “Tax Savings,” “Maintenance,” “Groceries,” what we like to call “Toy Savings” (guilt-free spending), etc. So when we needed to buy cat food for example, we would transfer the amount from “Maintenance” into “Checking” and then swiped our card or clicked the order button. That way, we had to think about every transaction we were making before we made it, and essentially used our money as if the savings accounts were envelopes. The transfers are instantaneous which makes it super convenient. 

Just bear in mind, I believe it is the law that you can only make 6 transfers out of a savings account in a month. We alleviated this as an issue by changing the accounts we used the most into checking accounts, but still transferring into “Checking” for purchases. For us, that was groceries and gas. With every other savings account, we were able to stay below the six transfers limit.

Recently, we have switched over to a different online banking platform called Simple. As the name suggests, it’s simple! It’s a lot like what we were doing with Capital One 360, except we only have one checking account and we are able to separate all the funds by category (essentially the envelope) within the account. Again, it is really simple to use, and I highly recommend either platform for organizing your finances.

By keeping our spending habits in check and creating a budget, it is a lot easier to save and spend money wisely. I encourage you to learn from your frugal or frivolous partner, and create a budget together. Be on the lookout for good deals, not cheap things, and make sure to factor in how much use you’ll get out of something in order to justify the price. In regard to budgeting, knowing how much I had each month for every category gave me the ability to spend money without hoarding it or feeling guilty for spending, and for my husband, it helped him reign in his spending and budget for what he needed and wanted instead of buying it instantaneously. Whether you’re the spender or the saver, make it a priority to watch your spending (whether too much or too little) and your wallet will thank you for your efforts!

About the author

Leah is a wife, mom of two girls, avid writer, and frugal-living enthusiast. She currently lives in Brunswick and greatly enjoys her daughters Lily and Lacy, cooking and baking, typography and hand-lettering, and playing her baby grand. Her passion is to help others find great deals and save money with the ultimate goal of becoming debt-free and building wealth.

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