During one of my first international travels, it happened. I stood in a room full of people, wondering what to do next. My mind scurried over possibilities, anxious to make a decision. “What do you want to do?” one of my travel companions asked. I had no immediate answer. My indecision had begun as soon as I passed by a woman selling perfume in the Parisian mall Galeries Lafayette. She lightly sprayed the air and described the scent’s Middle Eastern and Asian accents. Spices with a hint of perfume tingled in my nose and I was instantly hooked . . . until I saw the price tag. Expensive, but I could afford one splurge, but the question was, should I? I went over the possibilities, trying to figure out fees after declaring it in customs. Second-guessing myself, I was finally convinced when one of my friends suggested searching for it online. Decision made. However, to my dismay, when I returned to the United States, I failed to find this exotic perfume. I never gave up, but eventually the novelty wore off. Retracing my steps, I wondered, “Why didn’t I trust my instincts to buy what I wanted? Is it OK to splurge? When should I spend on myself and when should I save?”
This isn’t the first time I’ve left feeling like I should have purchased what I wanted. During a trip to China I decided against buying a jade pendant of a Phoenix, only to wish I had forgotten about the money for once and made a purchase for myself. Luckily my mom sensed this desire and gifted it to me for Christmas. However, I don’t always want other people making me feel better by buying it for me for later. Unlike most people, I am strict with my money, constantly budgeting and aware of my expenditures. Most often I work more than one job, I received a full-ride scholarship for college and paid off student expenses before I graduated, I live with roommates, and most importantly, I live cheaply by shopping ads and putting every extra penny in savings. I work hard for my money, but why can’t I enjoy spending on myself without feeling guilty?
Most recently, I encountered this same situation in Mexico, determining whether or not I should buy a peacock pendant for myself. I wasn’t buying this to make a necklace to sale later, so was it worth it to spend money on myself? As I reasoned my decision, one element came into play that I would be supporting local artists, which I always strive for and encourage others to do. However, after reading “Do You Pity Shop?” by Alden Wicker of Ecocult, I began to see that making a pity purchase isn’t a good practice either since it promotes over-consumption and buying items you may not need. Further advice from Adventurous Kate in “Ask Kate: Dealing with Child Beggars” also convinces me that giving money to children selling or begging is just as harmful for encouraging the cycle of poverty. And, furthermore, how can I be sure the artist get the money directly? If there is a middleman involved the amount the artist receive is very small, or none at all.
Does this mean I shouldn’t buy when I’m on vacation? Should I not feel guilty for deciding against purchasing for myself? The only answer I can come up with is that I have to decide if I really want the item and what I’m willing to pay for it. Each purchase I make I’ll feel better if I determine how often I’ll wear it and be resolved to stick to that commitment. Even if it does benefit the local artists and economy and has quality characteristics, if I don’t see a purpose for it and don’t wear it, it will only stay shoved in my closet. What benefit is that to anyone? I’m still figuring out this fine balance, but I’m beginning to think I should trust my instincts. My instincts always immediately tell me if I need it, if the expense I’m willing to make is worth it, and if my decision not to buy will be something I wish I regret. I’m still learning, but if I find that exotic smell of perfume, I won’t second-guess myself again.
How do you decide whether or not to splurge on something for yourself? What advice would you give to those who are deciding whether to spend or not?