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- Even though money was tight, my mom always budgeted for cheerful non-essentials.
- We went through so much stress related to my dad, happy spending was a lifesaver.
- As an adult, I always have a joy budget – it saved me when COVID-19 hit and I was worried about my health.
If you’re worried about saving money, buy yourself a snow cone. I only mean metaphorically.
When I was a kid, if I spotted carnival lights on the way to the races, my mom would always postpone our chores so we could tilt-a-whirl. We had no disposable income, but we played games until our arms were full of prizes and bought cotton candy that neither of us really liked – just for the sake of walking around with people. pretty pink and purple puffs.
Joy was the goal. My mom hid money for joy like our lives depended on it. And in a very real way, they did.
My mother made sacrifices so that we could treat each other to happy “non-essentials”
Much of my childhood was spent terrorized by my sociopathic father. My mother’s entire income went to fighting a justice system that handed me over easily, ripe for abuse. My mom was so determined to give my sister and me happy memories, like a trip to all McDonald’s on on both sides of the Canada-Michigan border to collect all Dalmatian from “101 Dalmatians” Happy Meals – this joy had its own category in our budget.
To afford to always say yes to impromptu games of skee-ball and rides, my mom’s breakfast and lunch consisted entirely of cut-price stale donuts from the grocery store. His philosophy—that spending money on “non-essential” pick-me-ups is actually pretty darn essential—has kept us mentally (and financially) afloat.
Any money guru will tell you to cut daily coffee and weekly movie nights from your spending. When budgeting, these happy “discretionary” expenses are usually the first to disappear. But when I regularly spend money on inexpensive things that bring me joy, I have no interest in expensive purchases — like vacations or renovations — that would put me in debt.
I still live by his lesson
My mom’s “joy is a staple” mindset is so intrinsically tied to my approach to finances that at the start of the pandemic (I’m talking about March 2020, when no one knew what was going on and that panic became my only emotion) I have daily smoothies, teas and pastries were delivered to my door.
I’m disabled and immunocompromised, so I started hiding before it was mandated by the state. If the world was ending, I was definitely going to share freshly baked croissants with my dog and cat while it was happening.
It was certainly more extravagant than a daily Starbucks. When I retrieved my treats from the porch, the neighbors looked at me like I was sticking my tongue out at them behind a first class curtain. I knew what they were thinking: “Most of us are out of work and she’s live it buy Danish (expletives).”
But I had also lost work. And I’ve had experience with trauma. I knew I needed a temporary boost of joy to get through this. I also knew I was going to save money in the long run because it wasn’t a stressful expense. I wasn’t mindlessly shopping for shoes in search of a fleeting adrenaline rush. I was indulging myself while I accepted being in the “high risk of dying” category of COVID-19 due to my autoimmune disease. And I could afford it in the short term due to changes in my expenses.
Some of the extra expenses were easy to absolve (no more going out except to walk my dog, wipe Uber trips, acupuncture, and hairdresser appointments off my budget) and the rest was made up for by consciously spending a little less each month. As long as I said yes to treating myself to the semi-regular ice cream sundae, I was more than happy to stick with my cheap old Android, rather than splurge on the latest iPhone.
I accept compromises to keep joy in my budget
Now I have a lot more in my savings account than before the pandemic. The excess of pastries lasted for a few months, but I never deprived myself of small uplifting purchases, such as stationery and stickers. The joy they gave me gave me the resolve to more than compensate for the temporary extra expenses. Soon I had additional income from exciting new signings, as well as a revised pandemic-specific budget.
The reason I deliberately put joy in my expenses is because I know what it’s like when you can’t afford it. I know full well that an emergency can leave you standing on a friend’s porch in the dark of night, gingerly accepting an envelope filled with $1,000 in cash so you can pay a rental deposit.
Being disabled is expensive. It takes 28% more income for a disabled adult to reach the same standard of living as a non-disabled person. I had to decide if I wanted to live paycheck to paycheck, like 61% of Americans do, or if I wanted to invest in joy. Like my mother, I chose joy.
I accepted compromises – like living in a smaller place and not owning a car – and my bank account and my sanity thanked me. I never have to deprive myself of vertigo joy to buy my dog a “Golden Girls” collar. And every time I come across a carnival, I grab my mom and we buy cotton candy, just so I can watch it flutter in the wind.