I'm currently $11,000+ in credit card debt. As if that figure isn't embarrassing enough, I was more ashamed that I have nothing to show for it. Sure, I have a pair of diamond earrings and pretty decent wardrobe. But nothing like antiques or an extensive haute-couture shoe collection like Carrie Bradshaw.
And since I kept lousy records, I'm not exactly sure where all the money went. But I'm pretty sure that one of my top spendings was on food. I thought to myself, of all the stupid things I've done (which are many), going into debt for something I consume and literally piss away, takes the cake. (Oh goodness. I never thought I would use "piss" and "cake" in the same sentence. Sorry for the disgusting imagery.)
Last year, in my quest for financial responsibility and personal redemption, I implemented a pretty spartan food budget, which means I rarely eat out and my home-cooked meals generally consist of easy-to-make food. Admittedly, over the course of the year, I fell off the horse a few times, but I've done relatively well sticking to the budget. But somehow, there was always an under-current of feeling deprived.
In a recent MSN SmartSpending post, The Simple Dollar wrote:
In a way, I almost looked down on people who are frugal, particularly people who actively choose frugality over simply buying the best. I felt pride in my possessions and experiences -- and I looked at people who chose different paths as needlessly depriving themselves.
What I've learned is that a sense of being deprived -- provided, of course, that your basic needs are met -- is just a negative state of mind.
Frugality isn't choosing to be deprived. It's just a different way of looking at things.
I'm guessing that the point TSD wants to make is that money spent beyond obtaining basic necessities of life has a diminishing rate of return for happiness. And I agree.
But for every dollar we spend beyond providing for basic sustenance, aren't we all in varying degrees, buying some increased level of contentment, if not happiness? And what's so wrong about buying some fleeting moments of joy?
And what if some experiences can usually only be bought?
I come from a culture that places great importance on food as a spiritual and communal activity. In essence, my culture stresses the importance of appreciating food, not merely as a source of sustenance but also as a medium for appreciating nature and art.
As a result, I deeply appreciate food, and not just food from the old country -- all kinds of food, particularly ethnic foods. Give me a good hot piping bowl of Vietnamese Pho rather than chicken noodle soup. I'd rather clog my arteries with Phillipino deep fried lechon versus chicken-fried steak. And when someone says "barbecue", I immediately think "Korean".
Consuming good food and a variety of food gives me great joy. And this often means that I'd have to eat out since:
- Ingredients to make cuisines from the old country is expensive since much of it is imported;
- It is generally not cost-effective for me to cook for one;
- One of the downsides of a culture that places high-importance on food is that great emphasis is placed on not only the cooking method, preparation and taste, but also the aesthetics of the cuisine itself. I certainly cannot replicate some of the food that ethnic restaurant chefs have been trained to do.
And I'm not talking about restaurants like Joel Robuchon that serves a $385, 16-course meal, or a $150 omakase-meal at Nobu's.
I'm talking about enjoying a $1.50 taco made with cow-head meat from a street vendor. I'm talking about the joys of discovering that something as disgusting looking as a sea-cucumber can actually be very tasty. I'm talking about the joys of sharing a traditional, communal hot-pot meal with someone who has never eaten food from my native country.
Was it really that bad for me to feel deprived when I chose not to eat food that I truly love for the sake of frugalism? If that makes me a slave to consumerism, so be it. I'll just practice a more responsible form of consumerism-slavery. :-D