Almost every Sunday night, unless we are out of town or totally exhausted or something, my partner and I have people over for dinner.
It’s nothing fancy -- one of us usually makes a sauce, there is an interesting salad, some cheeses and olives and a few bottles of cheap wine. No superfluous trips to a fancy butcher, or artisanal hubbub up in here, just good, honest, simple food like your hip Brooklyn grandma used to make.
We love feeding people, and putting on the big show, and it’s a good excuse to clean the house and pick up some essentials we ran out of during the week (toilet paper, mostly). But it also adds up and turns out to be wicked expensive and time-consuming after all.
I mean, my meatballs are humanely raised, but they don’t come from golden cows, and we still manage to rack up an average $150 grocery tab on this event alone. One night, at home, $150. That sort of seems like a lot to me.
There have been times in my life, even recently, when I hardly had $150 to spend on an entire week’s existence, let alone one Sunday night. And yet I find myself justifying this expense because why? Because I love cooking? Because I love company? Because I love hosting and pretending I am a fancy queen? Ding Ding. I think it is mostly that last one.
The thing about all this staging -- yes, I buy fresh flowers in the bathroom and we use half a bottle of lemon-scented cleaner just to make sure that one corner of the house really doesn’t smell like cat pee -- is that we technically, by most people’s standards, can’t afford it. My partner is a social worker who just finished school, and I am a freelance writer, so we’re not exactly jumping into swimming pools of money. And yet, every week we justify this splurge simply because it makes us happy, and helps us feel like adults who have their shit together, even if we are worried about our careers and student loans every other day of the week.
When I read about how women are bad with money and don’t know how to save, it’s often based on a story about a girl who, just out of college, got her first credit card and blew it all on Kate Spade. I am not like that -- I don’t think I have ever been in a Kate Spade store even once. But I am also not a miser.
When I have it, I love to use it, but on things I have gone without or I really need or will make me happier in the long run (I have never found a purse that can do that, but if handbags are your thing, go for it!). I have all these financial websites barking at me to put that money away and “pay myself first,” but what about doing the stuff that makes me feel good? Like cooking a damn meal for my friends?
According to this July 18, 2012 LearnVest article “How To Avoid The 5 Most Common Financial Regrets,” I am ALL of these types of spenders:
• The Emotional Spender: You buy because it makes you feel better when you’re down.
• The Compulsive Spender: Buying gives you a high, so you spend money all the time.
• The Absentminded Spender: You don’t pay attention to all the little things, so when you get your credit card bill you have no idea how you spent so much.
• The Social Spender: You spend more when you’re with friends.
• The ‘It’s on Sale’ Spender: You can’t resist a sale, even if you don’t need (or particularly love) the item.
So I cycle through feeling like a failure for not having a ton of money, and then feeling guilty for spending it. According to financial planners and my friends with retirement plans (ha!), I should be stashing my cash for XYZ and not spending it on other people who can feed themselves.
If I cut off this Sunday night dinner nonsense I could save $7,200 a year. That is $7,200 to put away for a house I will never own because of my student loan situation, or a car I can’t drive because I don’t even have a license. It could go toward retirement, I guess, but I am sort of banking on a major book deal, a TV contract and becoming Beyonce’s best friend, so I think I will be all set with that.
And not to be that asshole, but I also love when people come over and remark on what a nice place we have, and what a great spread we put out. Doing all this set-up makes me happy, and when I am feeling low in other areas of my life, I like the reliability of doing something I know I am good at that people will congratulate me for. It makes me feel mature, and like I am a good planner who can treat her friends to nice things. It’s not just about keeping up with the Joneses, but feeding them, too.
So the thing is, I never know if I am being smart for doing something that makes me proud, fills my home with warmth and my 20s with fun, non-clubbing-related memories, or if I am being wasteful and living way outside my means.
What do you think? Do you have an odd thing you splurge on when you’re flush? Do you feel guilty about spending money on things that make you happy? Tell me all your secrets!