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Teach Me How to Splurge


As part of our month-long series dedicated to Women, Work & Money, Melissa Langsam Braunstein tells us about her struggles to splurge.

Not too long ago, I had lunch with a college friend. When we hung out in our 20s, we’d talk about politics, office politics, and the romantic entanglements of our friends. Now that we’re new parents, we kvelled about parenthood.

He loves being a father, and I love being a mother. We love it all–-except the cost. At some point, we found ourselves agreeing how surprisingly expensive baby gear is. “I just don’t buy things for myself anymore,” he said. I nodded, because while I hadn’t really thought about it, the same is true for me.

After college, I supported myself for the first time. I had several jobs, some of which I liked better than others, but they all had one glorious detail in common: a paycheck. I loved earning money because it meant I could take care of myself. There was something incredibly liberating about that.

I never bothered with a budget, though. That seemed too fussy. Rather, my 20-something money management philosophy was best summarized as: 1) Don’t buy it, and 2) If you must buy it, buy it on sale. It may sound a little kooky, but it worked for me. I always lived within my means and was even able to save a little.

The fun part of that was that after paying rent and groceries, I could buy myself treats, because well, I’d earned them. There were little treats like frappuccinos, and bigger splurges that required more time to save, like shoes and purses. Oh, how I loved shopping for accessories! The nice part of having jobs that required me to wear suits was that I could justify buying those lovely heels or that fabulous purse (on sale, of course). I needed them to look professional at work and keep the paychecks coming. On this, the Saver and Spender in me agreed.

Lila’s arrival changed all of that. For starters, my work uniform has evolved from dark suit to dark jeans. And while my wardrobe is crying out for an update–the last time I overhauled my casual clothes was college–finding the time to shop for my new Casual Yet Refined Mommy Look is tough. Amazingly though, spending on myself may actually be harder.

Last year, my husband and I wrote our first-ever, detailed household budget. Our spending habits are fairly similar, and we’d never worried about staying within our means, but this was the first time we’d have three people living on one salary (since Lila’s my primary job, and my freelance work is variable).

We apportioned money for various things, including part-time babysitting help. For various reasons, we underspent our 2011 babysitting budget. The biggest reason was that I was “the babysitter” during weeks our budget presumed someone else would be. (And now that Lila has learned to blow kisses, it’s fair to say that I do my mothering work pro kissy, which is decidedly below market rate.)

After I was on-call around the clock that first month (of what became several) with our then-infant, my husband suggested that I use some of the money we would have spent on a babysitter and buy myself something pretty. I loved that idea!

I hopped online to browse. Only, the more I looked, the tougher it felt to spend. The heels were beautiful, but impractical. I wear only flats now, so that I can chase my fast-moving toddler. I found a gorgeous purse that merits display in a museum of wearable art, but I passed, because where would I wear it? I stow my stuff in the functional canvas diaper bag I carry everywhere Lila and I venture.

At this point, nearly a year later, I’ve spent only a small chunk of my Me Money. I bought beautiful, feminine flats on sale last spring, but I’m still trying to spend the rest. Truthfully, it’d be easier to spend this money on Lila. There’s an endless list of practical things I need to buy for her, and as a shopper, it seems I’m now better at being pragmatic than frivolous. I suppose that’s what it means to be a parent.

This series was brought to you by a generous grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. For more information about the important work they do, go here.

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