The Joy of a Bare Bones Budget

the joy of a bare bones budget

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My friends still talk about the buffet to this day – raw oysters, fresh shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar, fresh carved prime rib. And all sorts of other foods that were delicious (and expensive). Beautiful ambiance.  It was cheaper than what we thought they could charge, but it wasn’t so cheap that we suspected something.

And it was all a bit too much.

When Being Cool Has a Downside

I have this same feeling whenever I do something obviously cool. Like getting free NFL or NHL tickets. Seeing an awesome concert. Going on vacation. Even traveling at all. I used to take the bus to New York, but now I only take the train (economy class). Once, my ex used his points to upgrade us to first class on the Acela and I thought, wow, this is WAY TOO NICE. In the timeless words of Wayne’s World: we are not worthy.

When the experience is way more luxurious than I am used to, I wonder if I’m deserving. I also start to wonder, am I really enjoying this as much as I should? And the weird thing is you feel a little guilty. Like here’s this amazing experience and you don’t know if you’re getting enough out of it. That guilt takes away part of the joy.

I imagine it’s the same if you had a perfect life. If you have the great job, the perfect spouse, adorable children, and beautiful house. I think you’d look around and think, ok this is as good as it gets. Am I enjoying it enough? Am I even happy? And then your perfect life is a little bit less perfect.

The Joy of Being Lame

I grew up in a middle class family of five on the East Coast. That meant that we couldn’t fly somewhere cool every summer. That meant we had some pretty boring vacations, because we would go to where we could drive. I mean Kitty Hawk, NC, Pigeon Forge, TN, Dayton, OH. Yep, we went to Dayton, Ohio on vacation and we don’t have any relatives there. My parents thought it would be nice to visit. (We also drove by Gary, Indiana, but we didn’t stick around.)

There’s nothing wrong with these places. (I grew up in a small town in New Jersey – I don’t judge). But they’re nothing to brag about.

I never disliked these vacations though. In fact, I look back at them fondly. Because the experience is so uncool, it takes the pressure off. Your expectations are so low that even when you’re mildly amused, it’s like a jet rocket of happiness. And if you’re disappointed, that’s ok too. When your circumstances are less than perfect, you are finally free to feel however you are meant to feel. You can complain a little sure. You can make fun of yourself and your ridiculous family vacations to Pigeon Forge.

You can also enjoy it.

And the best part of enjoying the weird, bizarre-o vacations is that you know that if you can enjoy yourself in the simplest of situations, you can enjoy yourself anywhere. The awesome place or the exhilirating situation becomes less a focus. You can focus on yourself or on family or friends. You don’t have the pressure to be having the best Instagrammable life ever. It’s nice to realize that your life is too lame to be on social media. Then your life becomes private and precious.

The Joy of a Bare Bones Budget

I like to practice this idea of, well I guess I could call it “being lame,” but also having a “bare bones” lifestyle. I don’t have a problem with lifestyle inflation – I spend roughly on par with my lifestyle from 13 years ago, when I made a fifth of what I do now. But even so, sometimes it still all seems excessive. Sometimes I still wonder if I’m enjoying this enough. I realize all the blessings I have – good food and drink, nice vacations – and I want to ensure that I can still be grateful without any of these things.

The beauty of a bare bones budget is that you don’t have to pretend that everything is great. You can live a not-so-great lifestyle, and somehow it’s still amazing and wonderful. Because you’re alive and you’re appreciative and you realize that all the luxuries and excess are fun – but they’re not what your life is about.

What this means is that sometimes I’ll have beans and rice (but if you season it well, it’s delicious). I’ll have ramen (actually I love ramen, so this is more of a treat). Wander around my city on a staycation. Spend the day organizing my apartment. Attend free events around my area (super easy to do in DC). I’ll use what I have. If you can derive joy and a feeling of wealth from free lame things, that’s real joy. And that’s real savings.

Conclusion

It’s fitting that I’m posting this at the end of Ramadan. I think the tradition of fasting for a month is so beautiful – as a reminder of those who do without. The joy of a bare bones budget is that you realize that you can appreciate what you have. The joy comes from knowing that you wouldn’t be any happier with more. The joy is that you can be happy with less. And the best part is that you know you have the freedom to choose if you’re happy or not – and you choose yes.

4 thoughts on “The Joy of a Bare Bones Budget

  1. Thanks for the article.

    I’ve had similar thoughts with regards to getting free luxury items and experiences. The example that comes to mind is getting flown in for a night to watch an NBA playoffs game with a law firm.

    We’re in a private box enjoying nice food and drink, great seats, the dessert cart comes around near the end of the game, pretty sweet right?

    But then I start to think that I’m not actually having the best time. The value that I’m getting out of this experience is significantly lower than the money being spent on me tonight. Would I be just as happy watching the game on TV at home?

    The more I go through experiences like that, the more I realize that I draw plenty of happiness from simple things. Which in and of itself, makes me quite happy 🙂

    Anyways, I’ll end this ramble. Thanks again for the post!

    1. Box seats are interesting. It’s all luxury but not that much fun. You’re literally closed off from the game and the fans. I’ve never been in a box but I did actually have a lot of joy sitting in our firm’s Redskins seats – being outside on a beautiful day, enjoying the beer and a winning game – perfection.

  2. Also grew up in a family of five on the East Coast and never flew for vacations. But Dayton, Ohio makes the Poconos and Niagara Falls look positively glamorous!

    I live in the land of free lame things. I enjoy the occasional good meal and a certain level of comfort on vacation, but on a day-to-day level, I try to keep it simple. Luxury freebies are nice, and they were really appealing in my broke student days, but I don’t miss them.

    1. Yeah, Dayton – I don’t know what my parents were thinking!

      I agree that luxury seems so magical when you’re broke. But when you have your life in order, and you like your simple life, it becomes much less necessary. Thanks for commenting!

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