My spending moratorium while on vacation

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Kim and I are back from a week-long beach vacation with her brother and his family. We traveled to a luxury timeshare resort where it was super easy to practice social distancing because almost nobody was there. (The place was running at maybe 10% capacity because of COVID, and the level of cleanliness was mind-boggling. I felt safer there than at home! Sanitizer, mask, wipe your feet. Instant-read thermometers. Digital menus. Etc. Etc. Etc.)

This trip was a terrific early test of my spending moratorium resolve. I was mostly good.

The vacation itself cost money, of course, but I’m okay with that. We scheduled it months ago, long before I decided to take a year off from spending. I didn’t cancel it, and I’m not canceling the other trip we have planned for March. Instead, my aim is to keep my spending as low as possible for both trips. Plus, I have no plans to book other vacations this year.

Because of my spending moratorium, I deliberately altered my standard vacation behavior. I’m the kind of guy who likes to get small souvenirs wherever I go: pins, patches, t-shirts, and so on. I didn’t buy one this time. In fact, I only spent money on food. (On our first day, we stocked up on groceries so that we could eat most of our meals in our room.)

For the entire week, there were two purchases that violated the rules I’ve set for myself.

My Two Purchases

One night, Kim and I watched her two nephews (ages four and seven) so that her brother and his wife could enjoy a nice evening out. We goofed around for a while, then watched silly cartoons on the television. Before bed, the seven-year-old wanted to play Minecraft on my iPad.

“I don’t have Minecraft,” I said. You can guess how that went.

In the end, I made a calculated decision. I paid six bucks to download Minecraft so that he’d be content for an hour. (Then, ironically, he watched Minecraft videos on YouTube instead of actually playing the game. So, six dollars I didn’t need to spend if I’d simply stood my ground a little longer. This is why I am not a parent haha.)

As a sidenote, I don’t know how either boy finds videos on YouTube. Neither can read nor write. Yet, they do it. Somehow, they magically navigate to what they want. It’s like we live in a post-literate age. I am old.

That first purchase was intentional. My second purchase was a simple brain fart.

At the airport before our flight home (yes, we flew for this trip), I killed some time by going into a bookstore. I found the graphic-novel version of Sapiens, one of my favorite books! I had no idea such a thing existed. I bought it to read on the plane.

Eventually it occurred to me: I had just violated my “no spending” rules. Oops. The fact that I didn’t notice I was violating my rules as I was doing so is a pretty clear indication that, hard as I try, not all of my spending decisions are conscious. I still make some purchases out of habit.

Things Unbought

While I’ve made two purchases in the ten days since starting this project, I’ve mostly stuck to my plan. In fact, I’m thinking about it all of the time. (I’m thinking about it this very second while I have the Amazon page for Sapiens open as I write this article, and I see a couple of other interesting graphic novels…)

Let’s use movies as an example.

As I’ve shared many times before, I buy a lot of films off the iTunes store. Too many.

On the flight back from vacation, I watched Mission Impossible 2 (awful!) and Mission Impossible 3 (fun!) via American Airline’s in-flight entertainment system. The next day, I decided to watch the rest of the films in the series. I had previously purchased the fourth and fifth episodes on iTunes, so no problem. But I don’t own the most recent installment, Mission Impossible: Fallout.

Under normal circumstances, I’d just spend $13 to buy the movie from iTunes. Not during this spending moratorium. And I feel like paying $4 to rent it also violates the rules I’ve set for myself. Netflix didn’t have the movie in its library…but Amazon did. Whew!

True story: I am not even joking when I say this, but Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is now my favorite film of all time. For real. And it’s not even close. My other faves include Alien, Crouching Tiger, L.A. Confidential, and The Big Country. I was shocked at just how good MI5 actually is. Again, no joke: I’ve watched it three times in the past three days…and I plan to watch it again this afternoon, if I get my work done. I’ve heard about people who watch the same movie(s) over and over and over again. I never thought I could be one of those people — until now.

While we were at the beach, everyone — even the kids — bought stuff except for me. I wanted a t-shirt, but I knew that buying it would break my spending moratorium, so I didn’t. The only non-food item I bought was sunscreen.

In the meantime, I’ve deliberately been avoiding known spending traps. I’m not looking at Amazon. I’m not reading comic-book blogs. I’m planning ahead to read books I already own instead of trying to find books that I don’t.

Final Thoughts

As I said when I announced this project, it probably seems silly to many of you. I get that. You’re the folks who don’t have natural spending tendencies. But I am not one of you. I am one of those who has to force myself to make smart decisions.

And even when I’m deliberately trying to do the right thing, I still make mistakes. I buy $6 games for my nephew. I buy $26 books at the airport.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not going to beat myself up about these choices. For one, they’re very minor in the grand scheme of things. For another, the whole point here is to build awareness into my actions and to make use of the things I already own. I’m not expecting to achieve absolute zero spending.

Now that we’re home, the real work begins. It’s one thing to avoid spending in a novel environment. It’s something else entirely to stick to spending moratorium in day-to-day life while adhering to established habits! How will I do when I head to the grocery store this afternoon? Can I force myself to buy only what’s on my list?

Anyhow, I don’t intend to provide weekly updates on this project, but I do think it’d be fun (and useful for me) to update you on my progress now and then. So, that’s how it’s going after ten days. Let’s see what the next ten bring…



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