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Love the One You’re With

The Lesson I'm Constantly Relearning About Priorities

You know that wind-up that happens just before a toddler starts wailing? You can see the telltale signs bubble up: uneasiness, then realization and, finally, the eruption of discontent into a full-on tantrum.

… that uneasiness bit? That’s how I feel when my apartment isn’t tidy and tastefully adorned. (I’m rolling my own eyes as I type this, so stick with me.)

Flashback to earlier this year. I’d just moved cross-country, from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, with only what fit in my bite-sized car—which seemed like quite a lot, once I unloaded it all. Piles of stuff and no furniture to hold it? I needed storage solutions …

I Need Ya, IKEA!

I sat on the floor, in the middle of my piles, and consulted YNAB to confirm what I already knew: my bank account was particularly depleted (weeping, actually), so I shuffled a few things around and settled on a seriously short list of essentials.

It was going to be tight but, as I drove to IKEA, I was comforted by (all things considered) the surprisingly reasonable amount of cash that I was able to scrape together for my “Furnish New Apartment” category. I felt a little smug, even, thinking about how I’d just buy the least expensive versions of the things I needed, and maybe have some cash leftover. (Haha.)

Throwing Money at Garbage?

Just an hour into my meandering hike through the IKEA maze, I’d already conceded that the economy desk options just weren’t it. I write for a living, and I felt like a good workspace was justified. (Or, I justified it? Actually, the word is “prioritize” … we’ll get to that in a sec.)

So, keeping in mind my love for function and style, imagine my face when I came upon a chubby, stubby, plastic, white kitchen trash can. It was more baby elephant than trash can, really. I wrinkled my nose and kept moving.

But after cruising the stores near my apartment (Target, Home Goods, Bed, Bath & Beyond, etc.), it was clear that I could either buy a cheap and not-at-all-cheerful trash can—the little elephant at IKEA was only $12—or upgrade considerably. My first choice, in stainless steel, was $179.99 at the triple B! Not happening. So, you can imagine the tug-of-war that went down in my head as I came to terms with my purchase: the IKEA trash can was ugly, but it was a measly 12 bucks. And wasn’t this a silly thing to be fretting about? It would do the job. But I’d have to look at it—daily. But it’ll be near a white cabinet, it’ll blend. But …

After a tense moment, my inner adult won. I took home the baby elephant IKEA trash can. As I write this a couple of months later, the truth is, I really don’t mind it—in fact, I barely notice my trash can. And the big lesson?

Always Trust Your Priorities

Now that I’m removed from the heat of the trash-can-shopping moment (and not behaving like a giant toddler), it’s clear that spending less is much more important to me than the aesthetics of my kitchen trash. There was a time, pre-YNAB, when that stainless steel trash can would have been in my kitchen with one swift trip to the store, no doubt. I’d have justified it, thinking, “That’s just how much they cost. I need one. It matches the appliances. The other one won’t look good, and this one will last forever!

… but I’d also feel a little queasy and pinched. Like I’d thrown my money away.

And how did this become a blog post? I realized, once I’d brought my jumbo, white trash can home, that I had exactly what I needed (even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted at the time), and I was $168 richer. The lesson? If you want to get ahead, financially, there’s a balance to strike between buying things you love and buying things you need …

You figure out the balance by being ferociously honest about how your stuff affects the quality of your life!

This takes practice (I’ve failed so many times). But, take my desk, for example. I’m so glad that I upgraded that purchase, even though it was a big bump in price. My workstation affects my quality of life for a big chunk of my week, and the option to stand improves my overall health, which benefits me even when I’m not using my desk.

If you struggle to stay within your budget—to identify the things that will absolutely support your best life—then I’ve got four words for you:

You Need A Budget

In the spring of 2017, my dollars had much bigger priorities than luxury waste receptacles. How did I know? My budget!

My budget is the blueprint that shows me exactly where I need and want to spend my money. Before I spent a dime on my new furnishings, I prioritized what was most important (a bed, dresser, cleaning supplies, desk, chair, dishes and bookshelf—in that order). A fancy trash can didn’t have a chance (and it paid for a good chunk of my upgraded desk!).

That’s why a budget is so liberating. Every purchase becomes an informed vote for my quality of life (now and in the future!). Store brand mustard? Sounds good. Generic paper towels? Get in my cart. Imitation Windex? NEVER. Yoga membership? How about a punchcard, Shan? Done and done. $180 trash can? I can, but no thanks.

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Love the One You’re With