Last week my husband surprised me by taking me to Best Buy. He wanted to get me a new laptop. It was my birthday, but also he wanted me to have something smaller and lighter. I was so surprised and didn’t know how to feel. It was so sweet and so there was the good surprise, but I was also taken aback and maybe even put off because a laptop is a lot of money and I don’t spend a lot of money impulsively or even because I want to – it’s out of necessity. (For the record, it was not impulsive for my husband who had researched models and done all the legwork, but since it was a surprise, it felt impulsive on my end.)
I’ve never purchased a computer unless my previous computer died. Not on its way out, but actually dead, meaning I would go a few weeks without one – period. And my current laptop is not dead, and while it’s four years old, hopefully it’s not even on its way out. Some of the computers we were considering were nearly two grand (though I have found other options a couple hundred dollars cheaper). It’s not because we were looking at anything fancy (I’m not a gamer, my computer use is basic and practical) but because nowadays it’s the light and small that drive up the cost – not the hardware size and graphics capabilities. I just kept thinking, “Is this really necessary?” As alluring as a new computer is, the practical, frugal part of me is pumping the brakes hard. I just don’t know.
Technically, there is a very practical reason for a light and small computer. My current laptop is huge and heavy and I travel with it a lot, so lugging it back and forth on my back – it certainly isn’t ideal. And lately this not ideal situation has kind of had a spotlight due to some medical stuff that has come up. Kind of evasive, I know, but that’s as good as it’s going to get in this post. Point is, while my husband thinks this is a smart idea and important, I am struggling with the question, “How important is it?”
I think I’m this way because everything I have, I have had to work my ass off to get. I was on my own since I was a teenager, still in high school. I started working at age ten at the church rectory answering phones. (Of course, now I see how awful the Catholic Church was, putting ten-year-olds to work answering phones for five hours for only twenty bucks a shift – exploitive much?) I pet sat, I tutored – whatever it took. In high school, I wrote love letters and poems (mostly sonnets) for guys who wanted to do something “mushy” for their girlfriends. At ten bucks a pop – I was doing okay. Because I had to afford food, and shelter and high school costs, because even public school is never really free. I had to survive.
And that’s just it. I know how to survive on three dollars a week. I know how to hustle. I know how to save money. I know how (not) to spend.
Having someone spend money on me is… weird. It’s not that I’m not grateful, but it’s like I feel bad, or guilty. Even though feeling that way makes me a hypocrite because consider myself generous to others – I’ve even purchased a new laptop for my husband before as a surprise (but you know, his computer was dead!). I’m trying to weigh the pros and cons and see if it’s really worth it. (Just realized what I did there, this whole thing is about a lighter computer. 😛 )
I’m already starting the – well, will my load actually be lighter because what about hearing aid devices, magazines I might bring with me, a book – the weight of the bag itself? (I don’t have any lightweight bags, so I’d have to get that too, which is more money. ) But the answer is clearly yes. Getting a new bag sheds eight pounds alone. A new computer – ten. With my new computer, I can load magazines and read it that way, which I’d be fine with since I only bring them in case my computer dies (the new laptop has a twelve-hour battery life). That’s twenty pounds lighter. Twenty pounds lighter, when I’m actually supposed to be on a ten-pound weight restriction. With a new computer I can follow the weight restriction while currently I am doing thirtyish pounds (conservative estimate).
The planner in me wants to get a computer that could actually take the place of my current computer when it dies. My husband had the same idea, saying he wants to get me the largest RAM and hard-drive options because it’s an investment and can’t be changed later. I keep debating on getting the most basic, cheapest lightweight thing as opposed to mostly upgraded because I worry I’ll get three more years out of my current laptop, while having this second computer and by that time I’ll want a new computer – again. I mean how much better of a machine could I get in three years because technology is always improving… Gah!
I’m the first to admit this is such a first world problem to have. Hell, it’s a privilege to call this a problem. But this is me thinking, processing – even if I’m sharing that here. It’s just a shift for me because I am ultra-cheap, thrifty – my mantra with money is to spend it as if I have none. That’s because I had to survive on almost nothing for nearly a decade starting from a time when parents should have been providing.
I would have never asked for these experiences, but having survived them, a part of me is actually proud of the experiences that shaped me. Why would someone be proud of once being homeless? Well, because I was homeless because of a violent home life (so not my fault) and still managed to put myself through high school, college and graduate school. I’ve worked since I was ten, often three or more jobs while juggling other things. I know what struggle is, and I know what it is to come out the other side. So yeah, I’m fucking proud of that. I worked my ass off, and I’ll never stop working my ass off. Everything I have in life, I’ve earned. There is no, “Do I really deserve this?” because I worked hard, and didn’t have a helping hand – I did it myself. How can a person like this be so torn up about the possibility of getting a second computer? I mean, I want to slap myself.
Honestly, something less heavy would be nice, as would something smaller and newer. But my life has never been about what’s nice, it’s been about what’s necessary. And while the smaller/lighter may be a little necessary (due to medical stuff) I’m just not sure if it’s necessary enough. So I asked myself why I feel this way. It’s because I can survive the heavier computer. I view big purchases like I view a trip to the ER. Is this ABSOLUTELY necessary? Will I die if I don’t… It’s extreme, but it’s just how my brain reconciles large purchases. I’m the person who is financially stable and yet is aware of every price match, cuts coupons, takes months to even get a coffee maker we need because I want to make to get the best one for the best price. It’s a part of who I am.
I like being frugal and smart with money, but sometimes I also wish I could lighten up and not worry about it all the time. That’s the takeaway from my experiences, I’m constantly saving and being cautious about spending because even though I know how to survive on a few dollars a week, that’s not a life – it’s survival. And who would want to go back to that, if they could help it?
Exactly. And as irrational as it is, that’s where my head is at.
It only takes one bad set of circumstances to make you scramble and with a mortgage, insurance costs etc. I can’t shake this mindset – it’s ingrained in me.
I keep trying to shift my thinking from “Is this necessary” to “Is this worth it”. It’s going to take time though, like any paradigm shift. I keep answering “Is this worth it” with “I don’t know, but it’s not necessary”. It’s the kneejerk response, but in this instance I think about how much the current laptop/bag hurts me – they even leave marks on my shoulders from carrying it. Easing that load, which I take on a few times a week – yes, it’s worth it. We can afford it and don’t do things like this regularly, so why not improve quality of life when we can?
Spending money like you don’t have it is a good practice to have and I’ll never think differently about that. But like most things, I shouldn’t lose sight of why that’s my practice and let it prevent me from accepting a gift or spending money that is worth it. On one hand, things were simpler when I couldn’t afford the option, but I’m super grateful it’s an option I have now. That’s what I worked for, the whole reason I spend money as if I don’t have it – so that I can have options. I never lose sight of how lucky I am to be in this position, or to have a spouse who is in that position and is sweet and thoughtful enough to want to do something to make my life easier.
So I’m going to just let it be. I’m going to do it and ignore that small part of me that is still saying, “Is this really worth it?” Because it is. I hate spending money or having money spent on me. But I know what I’m getting, got a good deal on it, checked consumer reports and my husband (and I) researched everything thoroughly. This is not an impulsive buy. It’s a smart one for the right reasons. Sure my current computer/load won’t kill me, but isn’t that a bit of an extreme standard to apply to something that would make my life better?
Paradigm shift. Work in progress. Processing aloud. Super grateful to have the option. To have a spouse who has the option, and wants to make my life better. I can be proud where I came from and the experiences that shaped me, as long as I understand that that isn’t my life anymore. I worked to have a better life, and now I have that. As long as I’m mindful, smart, and grateful – I can find a middle ground between past me and current me.
Work in progress.