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How Spending On “Necessities” Put Me $1,000 Over Budget This Month

My boyfriend, Drew, currently doesn’t have a desk top. He has two sets of Ikea drawers — you know the ones –- that are supposed to have a sturdy table top placed upon them, if you’re lucky enough to have acquired one. You’re probably thinking “He should have bought it when he bought the drawers!” –- I agree. But it was sold out, so he didn’t. We bought the drawers, then went home and waited for his desired table top to come back in stock.

Sometime between then and now, many expenses came up. Our dog got sick from eating rocks outside — $200. Drew needed expensive dental work — $600. I got my car tax bill for $250, and my student loans went into repayment at $127/month. Suffice it to say, in spite of my diligent budgeting, we have a little bit less money than a few weeks ago, when we thought we’d buy more furniture for our (still half-empty) apartment.

I knew before moving in that our “getting settled” would be a process. Moving is expensive on its own, but pairing that with the fact that I graduated just a week before we moved and was still searching for a way to earn enough money to help support my half of our apartment-upgrade, we definitely feel the strain. We’re not going into debt over it, but we’ve had to tighten up in a lot of places. Right when we moved, we decided that for the summer, we’d only spend money on necessities.

Then, as they tend to, the list of things we “needed” quickly grew, and somewhere over the course of the summer, our definition of “necessary” changed. What at first only included fixed monthly expenses, like rent, utilities, car payments, loan bills, food, dog supplies, and absolutely-necessary hygiene products eventually expanded to include extra food-related treats, décor items, personal/grooming products like makeup, and -– you guessed it –- furniture. Lots of furniture. Furniture is definitely a necessity. No one wants to live in an empty house. We did need it. So we bought it.

Now, a month later (with a lot less money, but a solid amount of furniture), I’m wondering if we actually did need to get all of that stuff when we did. When between jobs, did I really need to buy a new bottle of leave-in conditioner or a new eyebrow pencil even though I like to use those and had run out of mine? When extra-short on cash, did I need to get new end tables, even though they felt necessary because our lamps were sitting on the ground?

The answer: probably not. As much as I love and regularly use eyebrow pencils and hair products and end tables, they are, at the end of the day, extras. I could definitely consider them necessities if I had the budget for them, but during a time when so much was in limbo and I knew I needed to have as much extra padding in my account as possible, they are things I could have passed on for a couple weeks and purchased at a later date when the money situation felt less precarious. We didn’t need any of these things, but tricking ourselves into thinking that we did is what put us so far over budget this month when a thousand dollars worth of unexpected expenses came up.

I wish we figured this out earlier, and saved up instead of purchasing bits and pieces of furniture for our apartment knowing that if we waited a few more weeks we could buy the things we wanted without feeling any financial strain. This realization is why Drew’s desk remains only half-complete, as we now know that the “necessary” desk table top can be held off on until we can afford it without putting it on the credit card, and he can work at our dining room table instead.

This is a situation that is even more basic and simple than avoiding lifestyle inflation. Aside from ensuring that we didn’t begin to spend recklessly upgrading our lives once we moved to our new place, we actually had to go a bit further — we had to allow ourselves, temporarily, to just be a little uncomfortable. We should have had lamps without lampshades, fewer “necessary” takeout dinners from the pub across the street because we’d worked all day and didn’t want to cook, and less repurchasing of things we genuinely used and loved when we should have just held off and waited until times were less tight.

The things you need might not be necessary. At least not right now — and that is totally okay. Sometimes, a little patience is all you need to get to the place you want to be.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Katie Pelton

    I battle this mindset all the time of wants vs needs – it’s so easy to confuse the two when it comes with a little discomfort. I am working to slow down for each financial decision and figure out if I really need it, if I can find an alternative that I already have on hand/is more affordable, or if it can wait.

  • Guest

    Lifestyle inflation can be so sneaky. As I have started to earn a little more money, I have kept my biggest expenses in check but my budget has slowly inflated with slight more/more expensive hair and beauty products and more expensive clothing. These things start to feel like necessities.

  • Strange Girl

    This is exactly the kind of thing that I come across an it makes me ponder all of my monthly subscriptions. I justify my $10/month ipsy because it has saved me a $15-50 trip to makeup boutique/stores. $9.99/mth Spotify – music, I need it but do my boyfriend and I both need it? Thanks for the family plan Spotify. I love what you said at the end, “…what you need might not be necessary”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah Roberts

    This entire thing is how I ended up with a mysterious amount of debt after I moved into a flat by myself: the amount of stuff that constitutes a fully furnished house was incomprehensible to me. Now, nearly 2 years later, I’m tackling this debt, and still don’t have lampshades in the living room…