We’ve been in a quiet spot financially for about a year and a half now: not having to make a bunch of major purchases after having mostly made our 100-year-old house liveable through repairs, having gotten reliable transportation, and having stable health. We try to save, and we’ve automated both retirement and some short-term savings, but I have been able to watch as little luxuries creep into our lives: buying books when we set out to just get a gift card for a friend, ignoring the fact that going out of town for a weekend typically costs us $150 in gas and eating at restaurants, that kind of thing.
Those of us who have been in tight financial spots know that it can become all you think about, and that’s no good. However, being in such a roomy financial spot that you don’t think about finances can really make you miss out. I imagined the other day what it’d be like if every luxurious purchase was labeled with a “now” price and a “money you’d have if you put this in an investment account and waited 20 years” price. I wonder if we’d buy less, or if we’d just grow to ignore the larger number over time.
Lately, however, my husband and I have discovered a new dream, and possibly the most expensive dream we’ve ever had. We want to adopt an infant domestically. The agency we’ve talked to most quoted us at $25,000 to adopt in our area of the country. Once we took the tiny mental step from “considering” adoption to “pursuing” adoption, we realized quickly that we aren’t in a financial place to be able to shell out $25,000. There are a few things working in our favor (adoption tax credits, for example, will help us “pay ourselves back” a large percentage of that total), but what it all boils down to is a pretty big out-of-pocket expense. What’s more, once we officially apply and are accepted, we could get a call at any time to go meet a mom or a mom and child; that money needs to be liquid and accessible.
What I’ve realized now that we are filling out applications and comparing agencies and really getting into this adoption thing is that I’ve created my own mental warnings before I pick up a new purchase. Sure, I’m happy to splurge on a bag of pistachios or some nice cheese when the only thing I’m giving up is a tiny boost to my retirement accounts. However, if any dollar or cent will push me closer to being able to click “send” on our application knowing we have the money, that is really motivating. Technically, there are loans that could get us to adopt a little faster, but we’re trying to avoid relying on one, since there are many reasons why we might have to take out a loan if an unexpected expense takes some of our savings.
So, I’ve noticed some nice pockets of expenses that I’m happy to get rid of, and the tipping point is imagining that savings going toward adoption. We’ve held onto a $60/month gym membership despite never going for too long; we’re quitting this month because that money can go straight into savings. We’ve stopped testing out meal kit delivery services; I enjoy them, but I can experiment with recipes much more cheaply during this time of saving money. Bigger changes have come from making sure that we move over all of our checking buffer to savings as soon as the next paycheck hits (I wrote about this strategy on TFD before!), so that we don’t ever get enough in the checking account to feel easy about buying big things on impulse.
All of this to say that I think it’s a good idea to identify that next big short-term want. It might still be a year or two away, but if you automate your long-term savings, it’s valuable to have a short-term goal to save toward above that. The scale of this can be MUCH smaller than an adoption fee; if you don’t have an emergency fund, that may be the first short-term goal you need. After that, being able to take a long-weekend vacation, send a kid to camp, or purchase a laptop might be other expenses that make sense as short-term goals. I’m realizing that I need to mentally place an “or” under each price tag: “13 dollars for dinner OR 13 dollars toward my business,” “100 dollars for gas to drive home for a weekend OR 100 dollars toward a longer visit with them next year.” The hard part about reaching financial balance is that it seems like there is no clear “or” for purchases, and it gets easier to overspend. Adding that “or” doesn’t mean you never enjoy life; it just means that you are choosing something over something else.
Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She blogs about the stories behind family recipes at Recipe In A Bottle.
Image via Unsplash