If I were to make a list of all the things in my life that I need less of, money would not be one of them. Sure there are months when we see our net worth increase, but there are too many months when we spend more than we make. The first two months of this year are great examples of that. Post-holiday spending on credit cards, semi-annual car insurance payments, and all the “normal” spending makes the beginning of the year a perilous time for our finances. So far we have spent $3,000 more than we have earned for 2021.
I decided to join Mint, a finance tracking site, that is touted by financial bloggers as a resource to help me get a better handle on where our money is going. After taking some initial time to input all my account information and categorize expenses for January and February I realized pretty quickly that I spend too much money on extraneous items that are so random I can’t even recall what they are. Multiple Amazon, Target, Lowes, the Container Store and Homegoods purchases show up monthly on my credit card statements. Amazon purchases can be tracked easily on the app and I can see that those purchases weren’t ridiculously unnecessary, or at least I can justify them as such in the moment of purchase. But in-store purchases at local businesses that frequently show up on my bank statements have me scratching my head about what we actually bought and asking myself,
“If I can’t remember what I bought, did I really need it?”
When was the last time that I went into a store for one item and actually walked out of that store with one item? Probably never. It’s almost impossible to enter Target with a one item shopping list and exit it with just that one needed item. I’m not going to go into a long rant about ads or how stores set us up for failure so that the average shopper is incapable of resisting its temptations. It’s obvious that pressure from industry drives us to make purchases. Instagram and Pinterest are the new bullies that are seeking bigger profits than stealing your lunch money. They don’t want to shove you in a locker, they want to shove you in a farmhouse kitchen. They want you to believe that you will be a better wife and mother if your cabinets are white and your countertops are granite. Never mind that this causes you to remodel a perfectly functioning kitchen and makes you feel everything but gratitude for what you already own.
We know they are bullies. What I want to know is why am I falling for it? What am I seeking to gain from it all? What void in my life is that candle, the one I had no intention of buying, going to fill? Will it make my home look like it was styled by Joanna Gaines? And is that somehow going to signify that it’s a home that’s filled with love and belonging? Does having a perfectly organized and labeled pantry mean that I’ve got my shit together? Does my home represent me as a woman, a wife, a mother? Am I any less loving if my cabinets are, God forbid, ugly?
There’s nothing wrong with having pretty home decor. I’m the last person that’s going to challenge your desire to have the perfect front door wreath or entry way rug. I do question my need to buy these items when their expense puts us in the red for the month. And all this excessive mindless spending, it’s not making me any happier. In fact it’s causing me unnecessary stress. I’m stressed because I am clearly wasting our money and wasting my time shopping for items we don’t need. These items then lead to clutter, the clutter causes stress and that makes me feel unorganized, which now makes me want to buy organizers.
I’m in my 40’s and when I look at my financial situation I feel like a failure. If I add up our take home pay for the past 15 years and compare it to where we are now…we should have a hell of a lot more money in our retirement accounts. Our home should be paid for. Our child’s college fund should be fully funded, but it’s not. I should be saving more, not so I can be financially independent or pursue early retirement but so I can prevent my child from being strapped with taking care of her broke aging parents. I want to travel. I want to show my child the world and hopefully get her educated without college debt. I want the freedom to decide how I spend my days. But instead I buy candles…and cookware…and home decor that I will donate in a year or two because I no longer find it pretty. Why do I do this?!
There are often very simple explanations for why we buy what we buy. Sometimes the candle just smells nice, but sometimes there are bigger issues. Are you buying items because you want the world to see you in a certain way? Does the luxury car represent success to you even though you had to finance it for seven years? You can do a deep dive into why you do the things that you do. Trust me there are entire fields of study on this so you can get ample amounts of information on it.
Personally, when I think about my own behavior and I think I’m mindlessly spending for two reasons. The first is a very simple answer…credit cards. I am inclined to buy things on credit card because I get reward points. Credit card purchases don’t impact my bank account balance on a daily basis so I’m not watching my balance drop with every mindless purchase that could possibly alert me to what I’m doing. Instead I’m spending and then I get this whopper of a credit card statement 3-4 weeks later, which leads to panic and questioning what the hell I bought. So my first course of action is to remove the credit cards from my wallet, at least for a short time to allow me to further evaluate my spending habits.
I think the second reason I spend mindlessly is because I have this underlying belief that I will appear like I have my act together as a wife and mother if my home is finely decorated and I can cook elaborate yet healthy meals in my newly remodeled farmhouse kitchen…which will all lead me to eat better and have an amazing body. I know this is ridiculous.
My husband doesn’t care how our home is decorated. He seems to give very little thought to the color of our bath towels or whether I’ve labeled the pantry bins with the perfect farmhouse labels. What he cares about are if the towels are clean and did I buy his favorite cereal. My child also gives zero thought to how our mantle is arranged or if the clothes in her closet are hung on the perfect velvet hangers. These people I share a home with don’t seem to care one bit about how it’s decorated or designed, but they do care that mom is home and that she is happy. All the rest of it is fluff, stuff that should be ignored and thought little about.
Again there is nothing wrong with having these items if they bring value to your life. Does having a perfectly organized and labeled pantry make cooking an easier task? Perfect, then do it! But if it creates stress on you every time your kid puts the cereal in the wrong spot then you need to reevaluate you reasons for needing it. I’m pretty sure when I die my daughter isn’t going to remember how immaculate our pantry looked. She will remember if I left her with debt and a stressed childhood because I was constantly on a mission to appear perfect to the rest of the world.
What I need to remember, is that my people don’t need me to be perfect. They don’t need the world to see me as some amazing wife and mother. They need me to see myself that way, and to have the confidence in myself that I am enough and our home is enough just as it is. Purchasing another candle isn’t going to give me this confidence, but walking away from it will.