The Sweet Spot: Spending Joyfully on What Matters Most

The Sweet Spot: Joyfully Spending on What Matters Most |“It’s okay to want a Gucci purse. It’s okay to buy it if you love it.” Those were the first words I spoke to a group of women at a Wellness Conference. I let those words soak in and register as the women began to smile and lean forward in anticipation.

Now some of you may feel confused. Haven’t I been preaching about the importance of financial literacy all month? And shared some rather dismal statistics on our lack of financial knowledge with you? Have I lost my mind?

No, I haven’t, but I also meant what I told those women too.

Before you start calling me out in the comment section, please hear me out. Being financially literate does not mean you are never allowed to spend your money on something you want—even if it may seem frivolous to another person. It does mean finding YOUR sweet spot—where spending and frugality coexist.

A Father’s Lesson: Money is a Gift

My father taught me that money was gift. Something I could use to bring joy to myself and others. This was very different from my observations of how others felt about money or even my own experiences. In fact, money seemed to cause more pain than joy. People purchased many things under the guise of happiness. The problem is bought happiness rarely lasts long.

According to my father, their mistake was making fast decisions that weren’t in alignment with their goals and values. But if I took the time to figure out what I really wanted, then I would find joy in earning the money to purchase my goal, be able to say “no” to other distractions and experience long-term satisfaction when I achieved my goal. My coveted “want” would become a source of pride and inspiration.

Finding Your Spend Mindset

Many people struggle in the area. Reformed spenders need to be careful because they don’t want to undo all their hard work and slip back into old habits. Spending can be an addiction. So you have to ease back into it, and the best way to stay honest is to know what you want, so you can keep your eye on the prize and disregard everything else.

I also see reformed spenders who get a bit … shall we say, holier than thou. There are times when I see people being reckless with their money or demonstrating poor financial behavior to their kids and it makes me see red too. This is not what I talking about. I’m referring to those reformed spenders who get so caught up in their new frugal lifestyle and fed up with consumerism that they lash out and demean anyone who dares to want anything that isn’t a necessity or is too materialistic in their mind. Where people are made to feel bad for wanting nice things.

It’s Okay to Want Things

It can be frustrating watching people live beyond their means then complain about not having enough money. Sometimes I feel annoyed by their actions too, but mostly I feel sympathy. These are not bad people. Many of them are simply unaware their actions are crippling their financial well-being until they reach their own fiscal cliff.

Wanting things is not the problem—it’s spending beyond what you can afford. We need to help people recognize this and prioritize how they use their money, including understanding how wants fit into their overall financial life. We need to show them the joy of living within or below their means. But being consdescending towards the things they want isn’t the answer.

In fact, I think it can be incredibly hurtful. People become paralyzed trying to figure out what is “okay” to buy or what are “permissible wants” and now they are back to viewing money in a negative light. They may not be overspending, but money isn’t bringing joy into their lives either.

What Do You Want?

We all have different values, beliefs and financial situations and we need to respect other people’s goals, even when they differ greatly from our own. I’m giving you permission to want things, even things that make other people roll their eyes and grumble under their breath. These are YOUR goals, not theirs.

Just be sure you want it for the right reasons. Not to flaunt your wealth or to make others jealous. Not because you believe it will make you better than those around you or to super-size your ego. It should mean something to you. And not just when you purchase it. The joy you feel at achieving your “want” should last for a long time afterwards. And if what you really want is a Gucci purse, than so be it.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Of course, there is a caveat when it comes to the things you want. After you figure out what you truly want, a financially literate person doesn’t immediately run to the store and hand over her credit card to buy that lovely Gucci purse. No, you take your time to make sure the goal is truly worthy of your hard-earned money and effort. To ensure that you’re not feeding an emotion or your ego. Once you decide to move forward and make your “want” an official goal, you shop around, looking for the best price and most important—wait until you can afford to buy it.

When you find your sweet spot, you truly experience financial freedom. You allow yourself to buy what YOU want without guilt or debt. You no longer try to keep up with the Joneses or the UnJoneses. You figure what makes you happy—whether it is living ultra-frugal or enjoying the finer things in life within your means.

That is a sweet spot to live in and one I wish everyone has the opportunity to experience.


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April 29, 2013  •  68 Comments  •  Finance

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  1. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    While I have never yearned for a Gucci purse I think it is important to spend some of your money on things that you want. After all, what is the point of saving money if you never get anything that you want.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      What? You've never wanted a Gucci purse? Oh Glen, I could absolutely see you toting one around. Perhaps a nice diaper bag for your new son. :) Exactly, you work hard to save your money, so save it for something you truly want - whether it's a frugal or luxury item. It should mean something to you and it doesn't matter if it means little to others.
  2. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    "Wanting things is not the problem—it’s spending beyond what you can afford." I could not agree more Shannon. We're all consumers, whether we want to admit it or not, and a huge key is having the proper mindset and not giving in to every urge. I have been on both ends of the spectrum and am now happily in the middle...which means being able to buy something we want and doing it wisely. Life is meant to be fun and if done wisely there's nothing at all wrong with it.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Being in the middle is a great place to be, John. I want to use my "fun" money on things that bring joy to me and my family, but I don't want to second guess my decisions because I'm worried about how I'm being judged. As long as what I want isn't harmful to society, it should my choice. Life is meant to be enjoyed and we need to find that place where we can enjoy it without going into debt. And that place will be different for each of us, which we need to respect.
  3. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Of course it's not a bad thing; there has to be something you value, otherwise, what is all the saving for if not to prioritize and purchase now (or later) what we value? Maybe call it selective extravagance... or frugality with a purpose.

    If someone's financially literate to budget and knows how a splurge will affect their financial goals (and is ok with that), then why not?
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      should be "...financially literate *enough* to budget"
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Absolutely agree, Mario. I like frugality with a purpose, because I taught my girls that money always needs a purpose. We need to prioritize our needs first, but with the remaining money, we should be able to spend it on the things that matter to us, regardless of whether they matter to anyone else. A lot of people got into trying to keep with the Joneses and once they are debt-free, they need to follow their own heart.
  4. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    I might be the only gal on the planet who is not into designer purses ;)
    You are right Shannon, about finding a balance when it comes to spending. We are much better at doing that, but there are times when we slip a bit. But recognizing that, is a sign of just how far we've come and we know how to get back in balance.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      No you are not Mackenzie. I'm not into designer purses either :-)
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      I also could care less about purses or designer clothes, but as a reformed over spender, I do probably over think purchases. I decided I wanted a Kindle Fire before Christmas, but kept thinking the urge would go away until I finally got one a few weeks ago. I used reward points because I couldn't bear to spend money. I think I'll get there eventually and I'll know what will truly bring me value and joy, but I'd rather err on the side of caution because I am a bit afraid of falling back in the spending trap again. I'm sure it gets easier, but I've only been out of debt for a few months. Kind of like someone who just got out of jail, I'm still trying to assimilate to normal life.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      I think it's probably wise to err on the side of caution until you feel confident that you won't fall back into the spending cycle again. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and think you want something when in retrospect you don't. Time has a way of giving you perspective. I've heard lots of great things about the Kindle Fire and am sure you'll love having it. Plus, using reward points to buy it makes it even sweeter! :)
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      LOL! No, I think you have plenty of company, Mackenzie! There is absolutely a balance to saving and spending and it takes some time to find that place where you're able to enjoy your money without creating debt. It sounds like you guys are almost there without having to worry about feeding a designer purse addiction. :)
  5. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Great consideration of how the middle ground exists at different locations for each person, or each household.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Absolutely, Mike! Everyone wants different things and we need to respect each other desires. Certainly, we shouldn't put "wants" above "needs", but there is nothing wrong is "wanting" something that means something to you and saving your money to buy it. Some of the things I want and matter to me, probably mean little to others and vice versa. Neither of us are wrong as long as we honor what we want.
  6. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Great post! I like what you said about reformed spenders getting caught up in their frugal lifestyle. Although I don't fall in either a spender, nor the reformed spender category, I can completely relate with sometimes being locked into that frugal "can't spend" mindset. Although I always have some set aside for the fun stuff, there's definitely been some situations where I can sometimes research everything to death, till the point, that the very thing I wanted, no longer exists. Haha! What do you mean it was discontinued? As important as it is to control your spending, it's important to have fun as well and find that balance.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thank you, Anthony! It so easy to get caught up in research mode, thanks to the internet. :) It is all about balance and being comfortable spending within in your means on the things you want. Some people really struggle with this and feel a lot of guilt and anxiety. You shouldn't feel bad for wanting some high-end or even unnecessary (like a Gucci purse) nor should anyone feel bad for choosing an ultra-frugal life if that's what makes them happy or helps them achieve their ultimate goal of early retirement or whatever it may be.
  7. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    You spend and save depending on one's goals. The biggest thing to learn here is if you are correctly differentiating between wants and needs. If you know that it is a want, then you will be much better off than thinking everything is a need. Nice article Shannon!
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thanks, Grayson! Absolutely, it's important to understand the difference between "want" and "need" and how to properly prioritize them. Not everything is a need (no matter what we tell ourselves!), which is why it's so critical to understand how your "wants" fit into your overall financial well-being. And to be absolutely sure it's something you want - not what someone else wants for you!
  8. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Excellent post Shannon! I don't like it when people pass judgement on others based on what they do and do not buy either. Stuff like that happened a lot between my parents and their siblings when they were working and raising their families and it made things very uncomfortable.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thanks, Sicorra! I thought we were on the same wave-length when I read your post earlier this morning too. :) Sadly, I think judging others is something that is very easy for us to do and we definitely need to be mindful of it. What's right for me, may not be right for you. I've seem some bloggers be afraid to admit some of the things they want or spent money on (without creating debt) because they are fearful of being judged or attacked. My feelings are as long as you are meeting your financial obligations, not creating new debt, and not hurting anyone - then how you use your excess money is up to you. I have no quibbles with you if you chose to spend it on a big-screen TV or put it towards your retirement fund.
  9. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Is there ever a safe time to pass judgement on people who spend?

    I mean take for instance if a parent decides to spend money on junk food or cigarettes but not milk for their kids -- would that not be something unacceptable to you?
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      That would absolutely be unacceptable to me, although I'm not sure I would consider it a spending or financial problem, but more of a lack of good parenting skills/decisions. Those parents need some good guidance on parenting first and foremost.
  10. Greg@Thriftgenuity
    Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Finding the balance is key. It is all about what kind of quality of life you are looking for and being responsible enough to plan for it.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Spot on, Greg! I think we all want to live a happy and fulfilled life, but what constitutes that life is different for everyone, which we need to respect. And once we figure out what our ideal life looks like, then we absolutely need to put together plan to achieve the life we want. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate it!
  11. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Love and appreciate this very relate-able post. I'm reformed in the sense that I'm rectifying my debt mistakes from my past, but I do still appreciate things such as traveling... it's just a matter of practicing everyday frugality so I can save for and meet a long-term luxury goal!
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thank you, Anna! Traveling is something that is very important to me and my family too. :) And just because you're in the midst of cleaning up past debt mistakes doesn't mean you stop wanting. In fact, I think knowing what you want to save your money for is highly motivating. It can keep you focused on those days when you feel like giving up, which happens to everyone. Thanks for stopping and commenting! I really appreciate it.
  12. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Well put Shannon, it is not about what others have but what you really want. I have a big motorcycle but you won't see me with a Gucci bag!
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thanks, Pauline! And of course, you wouldn't have a Gucci bag, a Parisian would have a Chanel bag. :) Somehow I suspect you don't have one of those either. It wouldn't look right on your motorcycle! It is about what you want and not worrying about what other think and nobody does that better you. I hope you're having a wonderful time at home!
  13. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Really great explanation of how spending is okay, but smart spending is even better. I know some things I want long-term: to be able to provide my children and wife a wonderful home, to have debt paid off, to be able to travel, etc. The fact that I am recognizing I want that down the road is motivating me to start working - and working hard - towards those goals. It's not something that happens overnight!
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thanks, DC! Sometimes we think of "wants" as being superficial, but that's not always the case as demonstrated by your wants. Those are definitely things worth working for and will feel great to achieve. I know you'll achieve them, DC!
  14. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Great post Shannon.

    My husband is so good at this. Once he puts his mind on something he "wants" he finds out how much he needs and starts saving. He doesn't dip into our budget either. He'll either work extra hours or cut back on what he spends during the week like cutting back on his Red Bull :)

    He has definitely set a great example for the kids. They see what he's doing and I encourage them to follow in his foot steps.

    Have a great week Shannon!
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      Thanks, Corina! That's great your husband is a pro at this; he sounds like a good partner to help you stay on track too. I think it's one of the best things about figuring out what you want - now you can decide whether it's worth taking on extra hours at work or giving up something to help you achieve it. You know when you're willing to do those things - it's truly something you want! You have a wonderful week too!! :)
  15. Justin
    Monday, April 29th, 2013
    Thank you! So many people go from one extreme or another. Personal finance should also be about finding a balance. It's okay to have nice things, as long as you can afford them. Saving, giving and spending is what money is for. Not hoarding it over so you have a pile of gold when you meet your maker.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      You're welcome, Justin! It's true we sometimes see things black or white and very few things in life are that straightforward. It is about finding your balance and recognizing that your balance and desires may differ greatly from others and that's okay too.
  16. Monday, April 29th, 2013
    I think this is a great philosophy. There are definitely purchases I want to make, but I usually take some time to think about it and then act if I have the funds and realize I really want it.
    • Monday, April 29th, 2013
      And doesn't that make the purchase just a little bit sweeter? I know it does for me! No regret or buyer remorse, just the pleasure of being able to purchase something I love without creating debt - that's definitely a win in my book.
  17. Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
    There aren't a lot of things that I want, and I'm thankful for that. I do feel like I live in the "sweet spot" because I do buy things that I really need but don't take it overboard! =)
    • Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
      You're very fortunate, Holly! It sounds like you found a place where you can enjoy life while still being financially responsible. It's a great place to be. :)
  18. Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
    Love this, Shannon!!!! You've got the definition of the purpose of money right "on the money". :-) Thanks for a wonderfully inspiring post!
    • Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
      Thanks, Laurie! My father left behind a powerful legacy and it's an honor to share it with everyone. :) Money is a gift and I believe if more people viewed this way - they would treat it better and with more respect.
  19. Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
    Well said! I'm fortunate that my wife and I value the same things. The main thing we enjoy together is traveling.

    Warren Buffett once said he's the only man who can make an expensive suit look like it came from Walmart, and we're the same: we're the only people who can have a "non-budget" vacation staying in places like Motel 6 and Super 8. Like we hope to do next week as we follow our noses meandering through Northern California after taking care of some business there... :)

    But to do that we scrimp and save on other things. It's exactly as you say: spending in the sweet spot, saving where it doesn't matter that much. Good post!
    • Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
      Our family loves to travel too, William! might have said it more eloquently than me - "spending in the sweet spot, saving where it doesn’t matter that much". I'm going to borrow that phrase. :) If we all did that - we'd be in great shape. Northern California is beautiful, so enjoy your time meandering through it.
  20. Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
    I love this post Shannon! It's so true...I have felt very nervous about entering the purchasing world again now that my income has improved (so far) this year...but has changed is my thought process about a purchase. I spend a bit more time thinking about the purchase and weighing the pros and cons and digging deep to find out if I really want or need it. If I do and it seems like a purchase that wouldn't be for everyone, then so be it. I've done what is right for me! Great post!
    • Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
      Thanks, Tonya! It can be nerve-wracking. You've come so far and understandably don't want to fall back into old habits, but that doesn't seem likely given your new and improved shopping mindset! :) You have to do what's right for you and that includes what you chose to spend your money on.
  21. Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
    Love this Shannon! I like how you pointed out that money should be used to bring joy into our lives, not misery. That's how I see its use for our create memories, to reduce stress, and to give us freedom.
    • Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
      Thank you, Brian! I love how you're using your money to bring joy to your family - it's the same way I think too. It's important to figure out what brings YOU joy then use your money in way that supports those goals. Great lessons for you to be teaching your students too! They have a good role model in you.
  22. Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
    I've learned to prioritize what I want, what I need and of my wants, what I reallllly want. Haha. To keep with purses. I used to spend 20-30 on a new purse every, like, 3 months because what I realllly wanted was a Coach purse that would last but I refused to buy instead would fill my purse void with cheap purses never being happy with them. I finally decided to save enough money to buy one, that was 3 years ago and I still use that and my wallet everyday and I'm happy. I wanted it. I saved for it and I enjoy it. In the long run it's probably saved me money because I stopped with the cheap ones!
    • Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
      Love it, Catherine! I had a friend with a similar problem and she wasted a lot of money on purses she didn't like either. Great philosophy - " I wanted it. I saved for it and I enjoy it." - to live by. Too many people do the opposite. They want something, but it (even though they can't afford it) and don't enjoy it. Makes me sad. I'd much rather take the time to figure out what I want and work towards achieving it. You'll have lots of great things to teach your daughter.
  23. Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
    It seems like you had a great father. Making decisions that are aligned with your values and goals is fantastic advice and very well put. I think we do things that are aligned with our "purpose" we fell off track. Great post
    • Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
      Thanks, Kevin! I had a wonderful father and it's a great honor for me to share his lessons with my daughters and all of you. It makes so much easier to stay true to the things I truly want and not get distracted by other things. Nor feel deprived when I choose in favor of my goals, which I think is important. Feelings of deprivation cause too many people to buy things they really don't won't or need. Thank you for stopping by and commenting; I really appreciate it!
  24. Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
    What a wise and well written article. I like that you are promoting careful spending, not zero spending. This reminds me of the television show, "What Not to Wear." The two hosts of the show take women that have lost their way in life and give them a makeover. The women come out of the experience feeling empowered and beautiful. This in turn helps them live a more confident and meaningful life. This would be a great example of how a little spending can create meaning. (Disclaimer: I think that the women could get a makeover for a lot less money that would make them feel equally beautiful, but the moral still holds true.)
    • Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
      I know you, Vanessa. You could probably makeover someone with $50 at your favorite thrift shop and make them look fabulous! :) But as you said, the moral still holds true. Money is a gift and is meant to be used to bring joy to yourself and others. You need to be smart with your money whether you have a lot or a little. When you take the time to really figure out what you want then save your money to buy it - you'll look at with great satisfaction, rather than regret.
  25. Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
    Ooh I would have LOVED to hear this talk! I love my coach bags (must they always send me 65% off emails?) but of course, I save buying them for when the time is right. ;)
    • Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
      I would have loved to have you there, Cat! It was definitely a popular topic of discussion afterwards. Coach makes great purses and they last forever. They make a real nice treat, especially when you can use a coupon too!
  26. Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
    Love this post! I'm a reformed spendaholic, but I absolutely understand that it's different strokes for different folks when it comes to spending money. I value travel, so I spend my money freely when it comes to going somewhere (well as long as it fits in the budget that is!). I really like the idea of finding your sweet spot.
    • Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
      Thanks, Jen! We love to travel too, and it's something we happily spend money doing too. Too often we spend way too much time worrying about what others think and not enough time figuring out what we truly want. I say figure out what YOU want, don't worry whether others agree then save for it. It's a great place to make decisions from.
  27. Friday, May 3rd, 2013
    Such a great post. I love your perspective on spending!
    • Friday, May 3rd, 2013
      Thank you, Gary! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. :)
  28. Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
    Great Post! I've always said, do what you love. Just don't do what everyone else loves.
    • Shannon
      Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
      Thanks! I couldn't agree more. Too often we do things because others are doing it, not because we want to do it.
  • Meet Shannon

    "As a Certified Financial Planner, it is my passion to help individuals and families build a healthy relationship with money. I look forward to helping you raise financially confident kids.” - Shannon Ryan