Ask Yourself This One Question

by Katy on July 9, 2013 · 36 comments

Before each and every non-essential purchase, ask yourself this one question:

Does this purchase support my long term goals?

Does yet another night of takeout dinner equate forty fewer dollars in your son’s college account? Or forty more dollars of debt? Or forty more dollars farther away from early retirement?

It’s okay to eat scrambled eggs for dinner if that decision moves you closer to your long term financial goals.

Ask yourself this question. Get in the habit.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

SarahN July 10, 2013 at 1:11 am

Oh, this is the best advice ever (and helping me in my month of no eating out!)


Lynn July 10, 2013 at 1:58 am

Short & Sweet & to the point !! Sometimes we need a reminder. Thanks !


Karen July 10, 2013 at 2:07 am

More like a reality check!


Bonnie July 10, 2013 at 4:04 am

Scrambled eggs or “Empty out the Fridge” Night is always a good go-to dinner for us. $30-40 can always be used for better things.


Diane July 10, 2013 at 4:11 am

Ont he flip side, sometimes a dinner out, a vacation, a small splurge is just what the doctor ordered to renew yourself. The occasional expense to treat yourself is not always an indulgence, but more like self maintenance.


Violet July 10, 2013 at 4:17 am

I can appreciate your energy and looking at long term goals. There is a problem here though. I am now 70+ and find that the time comes when you have to have those times when you take that $40 and enjoy the minute. Always looking to the future can keep you from enjoying the present. Don’t miss out on those times.


Bonnie July 10, 2013 at 9:09 am

Thank you Violet for the way you put that…I took my 3.5 year old to his first movie theater last night and it was $15 w/o snacks and I was feeling a bit guilty of the spend, but we needed to “enjoy the present” as he’s not going to be 3.5 forever. xoxo.


Elizabeth July 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I think it’s good to ask the question, but sometimes the answer is yes 😉

A friend of mine reminded me that while it’s good to think of the future, we have to be present in our lives right now. (er… no pun intended!)


Katy July 13, 2013 at 7:17 am

I agree with you 100%, because my long term plans include living well in the present. Luckily, I know how to live inexpensively in the here and now. 🙂



Sharon July 10, 2013 at 7:20 am

Drat. The universe is trying to tell me something. I’m pouting, but I’m listening.


Cyndi July 10, 2013 at 7:23 am

I would just hope that most people have as a long-term goal something like: Enjoy the present and make fun now.

Sometimes, a meal out would support the goal.


dusty July 11, 2013 at 3:19 am

I totally agree with you. It’s ok to be frugal and plan for the future. I just attended my mother-in-law’s funeral. She never spent a dime unless she had to and of course left quite a bit of money to her children but at what cost? She never ate at a really nice restaurant, she never stayed in a beautiful hotel, never splurged. She and her husband once went on a trip to New Orleans. I asked where they stayed and wait for it, stayed in their van in an RV park. I asked if they tried any of the wonderful restaurants there and they didn’t. They walked to a sub shop and had dinner in the van. Why bother going there if you’re not going to enjoy what is there? I live very frugally but I also try to enjoy myself because you never know when life is going to end.


Reese July 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

It is, also, always possible that they thoroughly enjoyed that RV park. That they didn’t need to eat in the location to be able to enjoy the sandwich. Maybe the real enjoyment for them was the time spent together, alone, and not in a crowded restaurant with screaming kids, or service they have to wait on (not saying that there WAS screaming kids or bad service..but I know I don’t like going to restaurants because it’s unpleasant for me to deal with these distractions!).

It seems to me that it was an absolute bonus that your mother-in-law was able to leave some money to others!


Trish July 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

It really depends on the individual doesn’t it? I think some people just don’t have the mindset to spend a lot of money on themselves. My husbands uncle was a depression era baby. He has been gone over 10 years, but his wife recently died. The assets they left behind were substantial. I don’t think they would have been any happier had they spent that money. And Amy Dacyczyn still lives a frugal live, despite her earnings from The Tightwad Gazette. ‘A luxury once sampled becomes a necessity’. I think some people very much live by that creed. My own mother was the same.


dusty July 12, 2013 at 2:57 am

well, last year we took my mother in law to a beautiful resort for Christmas, (my father in law is gone). She looked at me and said that she wished they had stayed in a beautiful hotel at least once in their 60+ years together, so say what you want about it does not matter where you eat or stay, I beg to differ, everyone would like to be pampered at least once in their life. I’m sure they enjoyed their time together wherever there were and yes it is a nice bonus to have someone leave you a lot of money, but as my mother in law and I sat overlooking the ocean having a fabulous dinner I could see the regret in her eyes (I didn’t have to look to see it, she expressed it). The point is you can be frugal, I certainly am, but sometimes I really think you should splurge and just enjoy yourself.

Jenny July 10, 2013 at 9:00 am

Good one! That wold be a “yes” on the canning jar lids and the knee brace!


K D July 10, 2013 at 9:03 am


Have you ever read Your Money or Your Life? They make this point very clearly, reading the book made a difference in how I look at spending.


Stephanie July 10, 2013 at 9:13 am

for sure!! with a glass of scavenged milk on the side! it’s a good attitude to have!


Diane C July 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

Oh, I’m laughing and wincing at the same time. We are in the process of buying a staggeringly expensive house, so that my MIL, who has Alzheimer’s, can live with us. (New hubby and I both owned 2-story homes prior to our marriage. Neither one had a downstairs bedroom.) His college student son lives with us too. It would be cruel and unusual to make grandma (or anyone, for that matter) share a bathroom with a college-aged boy, so we ended up searching for a 4BD, 3 BA home with a little privacy and room to accomodate each of our cars. (Yes! The mini-van will be sold once the move is complete.) By selling both houses, we will be able to “afford” the new house, but the property taxes will be astronomical! They’re nearly as much as I made in my first “career” job!
We have been in escrow nearly six months (short sale – a whole other story) and I have asked myself this question every single day. Since my MIL is vigorously healthy and active, we want her to stay in a home environment as long as possible. So, I guess the answer is -GULP- yes.
We are both naturally frugal and blogs like yours and TFG have sharpened our skills. We know we can make it work, but boy, is it ever a scary prospect.


Calico ginger July 11, 2013 at 11:15 am

Dear Diane, I have had to do something similar and it’s working out fine. Good luck for your future, I think you have exactly the right approach – the secret is everyone having their private space!


Sara July 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

You don’t have to go out to eat at a restaurant to splurge. Pack a sandwich, go for a walk or bike to your nearest best spot to watch the sunset and spot and enjoy!


Taylor-Made Ranch July 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I love it. Yes, occasionally the splurge *is* worth it and that’s ok. But it’s all about balance for me. I can often recharge & pamper myself by having an easy-to-prepare supper served on the back patio with my Love and a glass of wine as we watch the sun set. 🙂

~Taylor-Made Ranch~
Wolfe City, Texas


Mr. Everyday Dollar July 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm

My thought usually is, “every time I spend a dollar I’m a bit further away from early retirement”. But that goes along with the fact there’s a difference between being cheap and being frugal.


Karen July 11, 2013 at 2:47 am

I have read the term “frugal fatigue” a few times in various other blogs on the Internet. A study diet of constantly denying oneself gets wearing. Something out of the ordinary that you enjoy is a great break, and it does not have to cost much.


Diane July 12, 2013 at 9:50 am

Yes! I like that, Frugal Fatigue. I go out to eat once a moth with friends and occasionally with my family. It gives me a real lift and is money well spent.


sage July 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I’ve begun to ask myself this question with most everything. As I continue decluttering, the question keeps me from buying too much stuff–even if it’s a great price and my style. A change in employment means our new budget has to be super thrifty. Keeping the long-term goals in mind makes it worth it. This morning I avoided getting coffee out (came home for it instead). I also supported a friend’s daughter by listening to her presentation for cookware. She got paid for the demo, but I resisted buying anything. I don’t need more cookware, and the money can go to things that are a higher priority.

As an aside to other readers, I didn’t get the sense that Katy was advocating NEVER splurging or spending money. Instead, the suggestion is to ask yourself if the purchase or meal out supports your (long-term) goals.


Trish July 10, 2013 at 3:22 pm

completely on board with this. Sigh – how to get my husband to see this? He is 56, so change in attitude is almost impossible. He isn’t too bad, but I am definitely the author of our financial plan. He just doesn’t care. For instance: he bought me an expensive case for my laptop – which I completely didn’t need!! I don’t take it anywhere! I was fine with his discarded case which his company had paid for. But he was so proud of himself – it was a present for our anniversary. I didn’t say a word. except thank you.

He is a completely wonderful person, but without a frugal mindset. Not a complete spendthrift, but not what I would call frugal.


Paula in the UP July 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I could have written your comment, my husband has the same mindset as yours. He’s not interested in the long term effects of decisions we make today. He always says things like “you can’t spend it when your dead” or ” you can’t take it with you”. That said , no he isn’t a spendy guy but he will almost always choose the dinner out to putting the money away in a retirement acct. or to an extra house payment.

We balance each other nicely with our feelings about money.


LazyretirementgirlJackie July 12, 2013 at 7:40 am

Interesting discussion of goals vs. splurge. I am sixty and happily retired. I watch my pennies — out of lifelong habit. My goals, though, are different. I set six goals for retirement: domestic bliss, lifelong learning, world travel, give back, creative expression, and savor and appreciate. Every cent I spend goes toward one of those goals, although many free resources support me in my efforts as well. My father, just as he retired at 67, suffered a psychotic break, from which he never recovered. My parents were also depression kids, born in the mid 20s, and could defer gratification with the best. But, they allowed themselves some pleasures. My mom, who is now 86, has told me many times how thankful she is that they traveled together before he got sick. It is all a balance, and so personal to each individual what matters to her or him.


Trish July 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm

That is really tragic about your father. I have mental illness in my family and know what a sorrow it can be. Things like that, or the thought of my husband’s father, who died at 60, are what help me to keep my mouth shut about my husbands lack of frugality. He works really hard, and if he wants something I feel he deserves it. and, really, we are fine. I worry a little about retirement, but we will figure it out.


Jenny July 12, 2013 at 8:36 am

I wrote this on a label and stuck it to my wallet. We all need a reminder sometimes!

As for the splurge vs. save debate, it really all depends on your long term goals, doesn’t it? One of our goals is to give our children a memorable and happy childhood. Sometimes that requires splurging, sometimes it doesn’t. Before I take them to a restaurant, I need to ask will this achieve the childhood memories goal, or a would a surprise picnic in the nearby mountains achieve it better? The picnic wins this round. But when they had the chance to compete at Odyssey of the Mind world finals this spring, the splurge of $1,500 was more inline with this goal (and our education goals) than saving and staying home, so we splurged.

So, I guess I like this quote because it isn’t so much anti-spending, but more of a reminder to spend mindfully!


Paula in the UP July 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

My daughter was in Odyssey of the Minds in middle school, (that was about 15 years ago),we made it to our state finals every year but never beyond that. What a wonderful experience for your family.


amarie July 12, 2013 at 9:11 am

My long-term goals blur with my short term and/or decision to spend money in the present. We just decided that my son would fair better in a prep school for the next 3 years– this amounts to about one extra year of working and I would not hesitiate to do this. My husband is in a very high-risk profession and both of his parents died very young from cancer. We worry about his being in a high-risk category for an early demise. So, going out to dinner weekly and getting a 20 ounce steak (not me, I don’t eat meat) is a much more fulfilling experience than paying off all of our debt. We live comfortably. I would never subject my husband to eating pinto beans on a regular basis so he could get his protein and we could save money on groceries and not buy hambuger/pork roast etc. For me, and this is personal, it would border on being mean-spirited, not frugal. And last, but not least, we make decisions as a couple and as our decisions are made as such If I told him that we spend too much on groceries he would agree and maybe he would finally use our espresso machine and quit going to Dunn Bros. coffee for his mocha every morning. But, exchanging pinto beans for steak, he would laugh and it would not suprise me to hear him say, “are you F^&^^*ing kidding me…” I guess I am much happier working and going out to dinner and doing things we enjoy than worrying about every dime (or penny). My long term goals are to be happy, kind, and healthy- so, yes my purchases suport my long term goals.


patti July 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

Have just returned home from a wonderful vacation spent sitting in a very comfortable ocean front home enjoying bliss with four other girlfriends… yes, I am quite frugal all year just for weeks like this. We ate in and we ate out, we traveled to see enriching museums and art, we also sat like slugs on our balcony enjoying the sunsets. It was a lesson in balance – doing some things that are a splurge and doing others that are not. It refreshed me and made me come home willing to buckle down and save, save, save so I can have more times like this. I will also print out this phrase and keep it posted close by so I can remember to live every day in a meaningful way using my resources wisely.


Jennifer July 15, 2013 at 5:37 am

For us, some of the long-term goals include travel in the near future. So, I think we are a good example of a lot of the ideas shared here. In one respect, we are quite frugal. For example, last night my hubby asked if I wanted to go out to eat, and we agreed that this was unnecessary with the garden in full production. No need to spend $40 when food just as good is available right outside our back door.

On the other hand, we like to travel when the budget allows, so spending that $40 on a great meal in San Diego or Key West creates a memory we cherish. So we opt to have fewer “exhaustion take-out” dinners at home so we can enjoy more special moments on the road.

And it is fine that those moments come now, when we are relatively young and healthy. Long term goals don’t have to occur in your retirement years.


Katy July 15, 2013 at 8:59 am

I agree with you 100%!



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