The True Cost of Love

It probably hasn’t escaped anybody’s attention that it’s been Valentine’s Day this week. Although with all the hype involved it seems like much more than a single day. Supermarkets all over the land have seen men desperately shopping for flowers and chocolates. Even the likes of Aldi have whacked their prices up on flowers in anticipation of the big day. I have a bit of an issue with the idea of throwing money at a day designed to show your love for someone. Although actually, was the whole point of Valentine’s Day originally that it was an anonymous way to show you were keen on someone? That seems to have gone out the window a bit now and it’s all about conspicuous consumption to demonstrate your love.

As this was my first Valentine’s Day in five years that I haven’t been a confirmed singleton, I wasn’t quite sure what the crack was in terms of what I should be doing. Some judicious enquiries at work amongst the guys in my team solicited the advice that as long as I got the boyfriend a card I was good to go. Apparently this particular holiday is all about the guy splashing the cash and the woman sitting back and enjoying the adoration. Hmmm. Not sure I’m crazy about the whole idea of that. I like to pay my way and am not all that keen on major discrepancies on spending based on gender.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. The boyfriend is a bit more imaginative that the average Joe (maybe my man picking abilities have improved with age). When I saw him last week he handed over two envelopes, one to be opened on Monday and one on Wednesday. These were not the usual red flashy envelopes, but ones recycled from other uses. Already he’s got brownie points from an environmental point of view, not to mention I’m totally intrigued and can’t wait to open them.

So 6am Monday when the alarm goes off I’m wide awake and ripping open that day’s envelope. Inside is a booklet he’s made up of the story of how we met. Cleverly he’s left out any Plenty of Fish references, but shown us having a hot chocolate up at Costa at the cinema. He’s even included a thought bubble of me hoping he wasn’t an axe murderer (much more of a genuine concern that you might think). Already he’s off to a fantastic start. When I get to work everyone wants to know what was in the envelope and there’s lots of chat about what might be in Wednesday’s envelope.

Tuesday I get home from work and I can’t figure out why there’s a beautiful plant on my doorstep. I literally walk right past it and go inside. It’s only when I talk to the kids about it that one of them suggests it could be for me from the boyfriend. Sure enough it is. So bonus points for a lovely plant, and bothering to drive out of his way to leave it at my front door.

Wednesday’s envelope has a book of coupons which he’s made up for me. Redeemable for home -made meals, bubble baths, support at one of my races etc etc. There was a very important disclaimer right at the back of the book. “Can’t be redeemed when the football is on”. That really made me laugh. It’s funny because it’s true.

Thursday I got an email through with a video card and he cooked for me on the night time. I didn’t even need to redeem a coupon for that! All in all it was a top week. I’m feeling somewhat bad that I just got him a card and baked him some Valentine’s cookies, but I think he’ll survive.

So the moral of this particular Valentine’s story is that there really isn’t any need to spend a fortune to show how much you care about someone. Let your actions and not your money do the talking. Coincidentally that’s really going to help with your FIRE aspirations too. So often in life I find that the best things in life really are free (or at the very least minimal cost).

I spent a lovely night in with the kids last night. We had games night, which was so much fun. We’re all majorly competitive, which can make playing games interesting to say the least. We do play Monopoly sometimes, but we have to lay out some pretty strict ground rules for ourselves, otherwise it ends badly. Total strops and meltdowns are not uncommon, and that’s just me. Last night was Kahoot, which was great fun. If you’ve not tried it I’d definitely recommend it. We hooked up a laptop to the TV and then you each use a phone or tablet. You select what sort of quizzes you want to do, load it up and off you go. We battle practically to the death. It’s so much fun. A totally free night’s entertainment. Well, some treats in the form of chocolate are usually required, but minimal cost anyway.      

I generally find that the things I seem to enjoy the most in life are either free or not got much cost involved. That’s not to say that I’m immune to the lure of spending. I’m a sucker for a nice sunny holiday, although I don’t think this necessarily has to break the bank. In terms of my day to day life though I’m pretty happy to live fairly frugally. I think I’ve been doing it so long that it just seems natural to me now.  

I do wonder sometimes if I maybe take things a bit too far. It’s not that I never spend any money, but I do seem to spend an awful lot of time thinking about money and how long I’ve got to go until I’m financially independent. Spoiler alert, it’s going to take me a while. For someone who genuinely believes that money really isn’t important, I do seem to somewhat obsessively count and think about the money that I do have. I tell myself that it’s not money for its own sake that’s important to me, but rather the options that it gives me in my life. Knowing the size of the mortgage that I still have to pay off is definitely one of the reasons that I feel tethered to my current job. The thought of leaving is majorly appealing, apart from the financial aspects. I feel that my job’s relatively secure, comes with a cheap mortgage, a pension and sharesave schemes that sucker me in to staying.

The jury is still out on whether I’ve got the balance right between saving and spending. I feel that I’m still quite close to the start of my FIRE journey, and that if I spend money that I don’t need to then it will take me even longer to get to where I want to be. Saying that, it’s all a balancing act. My kids won’t be at home forever, so will I regret not spending more money on experiences for us to all do together whilst they’re still living in the house? Maybe. I do worry that I’ll look back and wish that we’d done more as a family. Saying that, they’re teenage boys, so dragging them out of the house is not always the easiest thing in the world, or necessarily what they want to do. I guess the key is to spend money on things that genuinely add value to our lives, but not wasting money on things that don’t. So when they were younger it was a bit of a standing joke that we were always at Pizza Hut. The thing was though that it was a pretty cheap meal out, but we always had such a fantastic time. We’d go early evening mid-week and spend hours there just hanging out and having such a good time. Now that same trip out isn’t so much fun, so we don’t go out for meals quite so much.   

I’ve recently had an increase in the maintenance money that I receive from the ex hubby. I’ve always been of the opinion that a good relationship with my kids’ dad is much more important than screwing as much out of him as I can. So I never went down the CSA route. We’ve been divorced for 13 years, and we’ve only increased the amount he pays me once during that time. Teenage boys are not cheap to feed to say the least, so I thought it was about time that we had a wee chat about the amount he pays me. He’s doing really well for himself, so I knew he could afford to pay more. He agreed immediately and suggested that he give me more than I’d asked for. Best ex-husband ever! So I now have a bit more to play with each month. Well actually, that’s not strictly speaking true. I’m now able to balance my budgets again after a gas and electricity hike in my monthly payment played havoc with my finances. Anyway, there is now going to be a small amount left over at the end of each month, but I’ve decided to spend this on fun money for the family rather than save it. Hardly a great demonstration of working towards FIRE, but a good decision all the same I think. We’ll spend the extra money on experiences as a family, which I think will be money well spent.

I’ve been thinking about this saving versus spending on experiences dilemma quite a bit recently. I work with someone who’s in her mid- twenties. She’s been talking for a while about a school friend of hers who is ill with cancer. It was awful to hear of someone so young being so ill, but she had a large group of close friends who were all trying to take the positives from it and doing lots of fundraising for a cancer charity. The treatment seemed to be going well and the friend was managing to still see her friends. Then suddenly the friend got an infection and passed away. It seems so shocking when it’s a person who’s so young. Suddenly the thought of squirrelling money away for the future seems a bit ridiculous. The future is promised to no one. Now saying that, I don’t believe that spending money to buy a whole load of stuff is the route to happiness. If I suddenly discovered I only had a year left to live, the last thing I would be doing is hitting the shops. But would I be splashing a bit more cash on going out with the kids and creating memories? You bet your life I would. So why would I not do that now? So now I just need to work out what sorts of things my teenage boys want to do. It’s not quite as easy as it used to be. Pizza Hut and the cinema used to be the height of happiness for them. Now it’s more likely to be Maths lectures and Doctor Who based events. Although there is always games night.    

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that whilst the best things in life are most definitely free, sometimes it might be worthwhile to spend a little bit of money on experiences that will enhance your life and create memories with your friends and family. We’re only here for a finite period of time, so we need to make the most of it. For me, living life to the full is not about wasting my time buying stuff that will clutter up my house, but rather about spending time with the people I love doing things that will make us happy and give us things to talk about when we’re doddering around the nursing home. And if in a rather happy coincidence many of those things turn out to be free or good value, then all the better for this trip that we’re on working towards FIRE.

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