I’ve realized that, like many Americans, shopping is a recreational activity to me. I don’t like going to the grocery store much, but give me free reign at Target and I can wander for a couple hours looking for “hidden bargains.” I know of people who have refined the process to the point that they keep detailed calendars with notes about when toys/outdoor furniture/electronics go to 75% off. (I’m not this bad, but I have to admit to following a couple websites where people share their information and list their great finds.)
It’s not all bad; I do try to stick to items I think I will actually use or give away. It’s nice to have a few things on hand for unexpected gift-giving occasions and it’s really nice not to be out with the crowds in December because I had my kids gifts finished off in July (at 75% off, even for the “big” gift).
But this year I noticed that I didn’t use a good percentage of my gift stash (I need to actually get to the Toys for Tots donation center this year) and I have more sets of Queen-sized sheets than I’ll put to good use.
I haven’t always been a recreational shopper. When Hubs was in grad school and we had no money, I actually made a sport of hitting the 4 local supermarkets to get the best possible deals on groceries. I seldom did any other shopping though because there wasn’t any money to spend; why torture myself with longing for things I wouldn’t otherwise want because I didn’t know what I was missing.
I was thinking about what I did to entertain myself during that period. I realized that that’s when I did the most writing. Any blocks of time that Hubs was busy with classes or meetings or whatever, I’d head to Barnes and Noble and read for inspiration, or get a cup of tea and take some editing to work on. It's funny to me that I wrote three books when we had the least money.
The shopping really started when the kids came along and I found myself needing to outfit a new being. I loved finding cute, new clothes for the same price I’d have to spend at a thrift store (without having to wade through racks of asthma-inducing musty old stuff to find the gems). It was also a good way to get out of the house and be among people for a bit even if I wasn’t going with anyone. My writing was already taking a back seat because I didn’t have enough brain cells left from the lack-of-sleep baby fog to form coherent sentences (I’m afraid I still suffer some residual effects of that condition!)
Recently I took a good look at our banking summary. You know, the one that tells you what percentage of your income goes to groceries, retail, eating out, bills, etc. It was not pretty. The “retail” category was as much as our monthly income our first couple years of marriage. And the “restaurant” column showed we spend more eating out than we do on groceries. That’s all really out of whack.
So, I’m newly committed to eating at home more often (which means making more effort to keep a variety of food in the house) and shopping for the fun it MUCH less. Funny that this new resolution comes at the same time that I’m newly committed to writing and was wondering where the writing time would come from. My plan is to revert to my old ways of claiming my writing time when Hubs takes the boys to play at the gym or on Sunday afternoons when they’re busy with naps and playing and sports.
So the joint benefit is that I’ll reconnect with my creative side and our budget will thank me (aside from the occasional splurge on books).
What about you? Is your budget balanced the way you want it to be? What do you think of the statement, “Is getting something you don’t need at a great price really a bargain?”
What do you do for “recreation?” Where/how do you claim those moments that refresh and recharge you?