An Open Letter to Anyone

I want to talk to you about something because I care about you and I think it’s important.  Sorry.  Those were the words we used to tell people to use when talking to their families about making a will.  It’s a little cheesy, I guess, but it’s true.  I want to talk to you about something difficult.  I want to talk about money.

I’m not trying to judge where and how you spend.  I’m not trying to attack you or make you feel bad about it.  I know you’re doing the best you can, each and every day, which is all you can do.  But you and I both know that you’ve been spending more lately than you can afford.  You have goals that you want to achieve, and they won’t be possible without a little deeper thought and care.

It doesn’t seem like much, those few dollars here and there.  In the whole world of wealth, what’s an extra lunch out every week?  What’s one extra cocktail on a night out?  Why should you deprive yourself of those little luxuries that give you an extra little bit of excitement in an otherwise ordinary day?

And you’re right, on a small scale, it doesn’t really matter.  There should always be a little room for an extra luxury, if you’ve built that into your budget.  It’s just when all those little luxuries add up to more than your disposable income, when almost every day you’re finding a little something to pick up, one extra stop on the drive home.  It’s when you start using your credit card more than you used to, saying to yourself, “I’ll think about it later,” or “I could use the reward points,” as if you’ve ever thought about reward points in your life.

This is about more than the sum of a few brunches on patios or a couple of extra gin and tonics.   This is about that time you booked a hotel in the city for a night “just because,” and you wanted other people to think that was something you regularly afford, posting a photo on the Internet of your feet sticking out of the bathtub with a couple of candles burning in the background.

You hardly slept that night for worrying about paying your bills on time.  But that isn’t captured in your photo.

It’s when you start spending for status or because other people are doing it.  It’s when you justify your own behavior by comparing it to people who are worse off than you.  It’s when you use money to make yourself feel better.  It’s when you find yourself online shopping at your desk.  It’s when you think—if I had that, my life would be better. 

I want you to think about us, about our future, about our goals.  Whenever you take out your credit card, I want you to ask yourself if you’d rather have this now or if you’d rather take a vacation this year, if you’d rather come up against an unexpected difficulty and know that you had the cash to handle it. If you’d like to imagine a day where you didn’t worry about money.

I’m not saying you have to stop spending money at all.  There is good spending that invests in yourself and in your future, and there are plenty of times when you should spend it.  Money is a great tool for getting the things that you really want in life.  But when I see you spending just for the sake of it, I get worried.

Because I want us to retire somewhere on the coast; I want us to live a life free of financial worry.  Elegance is refusal, and I want you to have an elegant life, one that didn’t fall prey to marketing gimmicks, one that was spent in a bathtub in a fancy hotel but was followed be a sound sleep, knowing this was something you budgeted and could afford.

I’m saying this because I care.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but it’s going to be worthwhile.  You’re worth more than the balance in your checking account.

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