Redefining “Worth It”

My friends and coworkers love to talk about how certain things are and aren’t “worth it.”

This phrase always makes me roll my eyes.  It’s typically used as a justification to spend more money.

It’s fine to spend more money on things you’ve decided are important.  However, there’s a second part of the equation; not everything can be important!  If you want to spend more on one thing, you consequently need to spend less on a different thing.  Or nothing at all.

Here’s a friend’s recent facebook post:

Wants vs Needs - the twix don't always twain. Or something...
Wants vs Needs – the twix don’t always twain. Or something…

This post generated 36 comments, plus ample sub-comment discussion.  TONS of well-meaning suggestions.  Everything from, “eat less meat” to “raise your own chickens and start a vegetable garden” to “buy a percentage of a cow and a chest freezer” to “eat more chicken thighs and less expensive cuts” to “I saw some folks on TV get 100% of her food from the grocery store dumpster for free” (ok, ok, that was one of my suggestions).

The poster – a lovely woman! – went on to explain that her family’s diet is strictly paleo.  Cutting down on meat was not an option she was willing to consider.  She also nixed dumpster diving.  Snob!

So herein lies the problem:  my girlfriend has declared that an expensive, meat-based diet, made even more expensive with organic, grass-fed ingredients, is “worth it” to her.  It is a priority.  That’s all well and good so long as she can afford it by cutting costs in different areas.  If she can’t afford it, and stick to her family’s budget, it’s no longer “worth it.”  It’s nuts!

Through this post, she’s trying to figure out how to have her cake and eat it too.  It’s like saying, “I only fly first class, and drive luxury cars, and live in a mansion, and eat at the best restaurants” and then complaining that you’re having trouble affording first class.

We can’t declare every single thing we want “worth it.”  It doesn’t work.

Scrolling back through the comments on this post – Costco!  meal planning!  boxed wine!  home-made cleaning supplies! – it strikes me that not one person suggested cutting back in a different area of the family’s spending to accommodate their diet preferences.

I have another girlfriend who gets her hair cut and colored every 8 weeks to the tune of $250 (including tip).  She was unemployed and living off her 401(k) for nearly a year (frankly, this was a choice – there was plenty of temporary, seasonal, and part-time work she could have picked up, had she wanted it).    When she moaned about depleting her 401(k) and I suggested she cut out the salon visits, she was horrified.  Her hair was “worth it.”

Another friend is looking for a way to cut back generally on spending.  I suggested he start bringing lunch to work.  He explained to me that bringing his lunches would only save him a few thousand dollars a year.  He needed to start saving much larger amounts.  The hassle of a brown bag lunch just wasn’t “worth it.”

I think the problem is that my friend group is a high-earning, professionally successful bunch.  We get married later, buy homes later, have kids later – and for a period of several years in our 20’s, we got used to “having it all.”  I certainly got used to it!  I had a great income for a single person with very few expenses.  If I wanted something, I bought it!

But then as I got older, and started planning for the future, and added a mortgage and health costs, and home expenses to the mix, I had to redefine what was “worth it.”

Now when I say things are “worth it,” there’s a new meaning.  Usually I’m justifying that things are worth a sacrifice.  Sometimes a big sacrifice, sometimes one that is hardly noticeable.

Our family’s $30/month Republic Wireless bill; is it an iPhone?  Nope!  But the plan is “worth it” to me.  Socking money away for retirement – worth it!  Trading in cable for Hulu – worth it!  Brown bag lunches – worth it!  $65 hotel rooms on vacation – worth it!

Small adjustments in day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month behaviors which facilitate the Big Picture goals – worth it.


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