In Praise of the Impractical

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a practical person.  I have kind of an odd sense of fun and games; as a kid I found fun in things like making my own envelopes and as an adult I like making games out of finding a good deal and seeing how long we can make a tank of oil last.  When I was a stay at home mom with little kids, I read everything I could about how to stretch a dollar until I realized I had read so much I could write the articles myself.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with being frugal, but somewhere along the way it started to feel wrong to me to spend anything beyond what was absolutely necessary.  That kind of thinking can be as unhealthy as being too free with your spending.

I loosened up some as the years went on, in part because when I started working outside the home I had to trade money for time.  There are only so many hours in a day, and things like baking from scratch sadly were casualties of my rat race.  But it was a conversation I had with my husband about his commute that really changed my perspective.  My husband is one of the hardest working people I’ve known.  He works long hours  at a high stress job, and has a 3-4 hour daily commute, like so many others in our area.  For the longest time, Bill talked about how badly he wanted a pick up truck.  Being the penny pincher I am, our gas bill was already killing me, and there was NO WAY I was going to agree to that.  I tuned him out for a good long time, until one day he sat me down and asked me to stop being practical long enough to hear him out.  He explained how the commute wore on him, and how much it would mean to him to spend that time each day driving something he enjoyed.   For the first time, I could see this was more than a dollars and cents decision.  This was something that would greatly improve his quality of life and make the sacrifice of his commute a little easier to bear.  When he threw in that he’d sell his motorcycles to fund it, well, I couldn’t refuse.

I’ve come to realize over the years too, that paying for a service that I probably could do myself isn’t by definition foolish or wasteful.  We are happy to pay for our very reliable neighbor Richards Tree Farm to plow our formidably long driveway after a snowstorm; what takes him minutes used to take us hours.   We could clean our own gutters, but gladly defer that to Joe Alba, who has all the right ladders to get up to our scary roof and better balance than either of us have.  In the past those would have been low on my list of things to spend money on, but now I see it as money well spent, because it helps keep them in business, and allows us to get to our business (with the bonus of avoiding heart attacks and falls).

There’s more to being a good steward than spending as little as possible.  It’s using the resources you have in responsible ways, and that includes circulating it in our local economy and using it to enrich the lives of others.  What things do you spend money on that may seem impractical at first glance?

PS- After a couple of years of driving the truck, Bill decided to trade it in for a more practical car.  Now he makes a game out of how far he can go on a tank of gas.

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4 Responses to In Praise of the Impractical

  1. David September 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Hi Erin, not long after Bill got that truck, you and he donated money to buy supplies for the Garden from Lowe’s. Bill, using his brand new truck, put bags of compost in the back of the truck. We hauled hundreds of pounds that day, the first year of the Garden.Along the way he told me the story of getting that truck. He was so happy to have it.

  2. Erin Baehr, CFP® September 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I forgot all about that David! Looks like God had a bigger reason for that truck.
    Thanks for the reminder and reassurance that it did make Bill happy, and thank you for all the hard work you put into getting the garden started and keeping it going to bless so many others.

  3. anita September 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    thanks for another great post erin. we are so glad to use our hard earned money to work with you. you are not only a great financial planner but a great wholehearted person as well.
    i love the picture of the red truck and see my water property in the same way. (meaning even the impractical house on the river that might flood, might be worth the happiness it would bring me???!!!)

  4. Erin Baehr, CFP® September 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks Anita! It’s been a joy to work with you and Stan. I definitely see your water property that way too. There’s a balance between working hard and saving for the future and finding joy in life today. But let’s try to find one without flood waters included 🙂

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