Spending in the New Year

New year. New goals. New spending habits.

This week, I’ve been thinking about my spending habits, or more precisely, my non-spending habits. I’m a pretty frugal guy, generally squirreling away whatever teeny-tiny profit I make after paying rent and other monthly bills. I don’t go out a lot, I don’t buy new clothes very often…truth be told, the single item on which I spend the most money per month is probably coffee.

With that in mind, I received an opportunity this week to participate in a four-part class next month. Not to bore you by going into too much detail, the class essentially offers a highly structured environment in which to professionally “level up” by challenging and shifting my mindset in a number of ways.

Of course, this class isn’t free, and for an under-spender living on a freelancer’s budget, the $400 I would need to fork over seemed like an exorbitant amount. So much so that I let the first few emails notifying me about this class go by unanswered—until yesterday morning.

I had just read an article on Josh Spector’s For the Interested blog titled “18 Ideas about How to Make Smarter Decisions from the Book Thinking in Bets,” by Annie Duke. The book—and by extension, the article—discusses how poker is a much better metaphor for life than a strictly strategic game like chess, because of the level of uncertainty and luck—in addition to strategy—that is inherent in living:

“You could make the best possible decision at every point and still lose the hand, because you don’t know what new cards will be dealt and revealed.”

“Good decision makers are comfortable with uncertainty…[because] they understand that they can almost never know exactly how something will turn out.”

This got me thinking about my penny-pinching ways. I realized that, while saving a little each month and avoiding excessive spending are very good habits, the level to which I maintain frugality goes beyond healthy saving habits and into an unhealthy need for control. My reluctance to spend money on things that are actually important reflects a fear of uncertainty and a desire to have all the cards in my hand before making any major decisions.

Living, as I do, on a fairly volatile freelancer’s income, I feel the shadow of financial uncertainty hovering over my shoulder on a regular basis. So when I do actually have the money to spend on something important, I’m very hesitant to do so, because I tie that money to a sense of certainty for the future. Naturally, I’m very resistant to giving up that perceived sense of certainty.

So what do I do? Firstly, I want to stress that I am not advocating for using uncertainty as an excuse to wantonly spend in the New Year…because hey, if the future is uncertain, why save anything at all? Rather, I want to get curious about my own resistance to setting aside any amount of money for important things that will actually help me “level up”—classes, voice lessons, even tickets to important concerts and shows.

As I go into 2019, I want to confront this need for control and, rather than holding all my cards and refusing to play them, I want to lean into the uncertain nature of the future. I want to choose to invest in my own personal and professional growth, rather than resist spending because of fear.

And just in case you were wondering, I did end up signing up for the class. Happy 2019!

Has there been a time in your past when you resisted spending time or money on something important, because you weren’t sure of the outcome? I’d love to hear about your experience!