The Hall Family Spending Hack

I’ve been a financial advisor for many years. In fact, it’s the only job I’ve had since graduating from college with a degree in finance in 1995. However, prior to that I wore many hats. During my teenage and college years I worked as a waiter in several restaurants, a salesman in a men’s clothing store, a clay tennis court caretaker, a golf cart attendant at a golf course, a landscaping assistant (see weed puller), a construction site cleaner and a baby sitter. I even had my own lawn care business for a while; Clean Cut Lawn Service – You Grow It, We Mow It.

The thing that most of those jobs had in common was that I was paid in cash. We didn’t have very much money when I was growing up but I can remember feeling like the richest man alive at 13 years old and when my hard earned stack of dollars would no longer fit in my brown corduroy, Ocean Pacific (OP) Velcro wallet. It wasn’t a lot of money in the grand scheme of things but I have fond memories of spending it on things that brought me a lot of joy.

One of my favorite memories was using my cash to buy skateboards from a skate shop in Palo Alto, California. It was the summer of 1985 and I’d spend hours pouring over the skateboard advertisements in Thrasher Magazine trying to come up with the perfect combination of skateboard deck, trucks (the things that connect the board to the wheels) and wheels.  At that time, there was no internet so I’d have to call the skate shop using the land line phone (which we rented from AT&T) hanging on the wall in our kitchen to place my order. I’d use my mom’s credit card to make the purchase and pay her back with the cash I’d earned. And, like magic, a few weeks later my new skateboard would arrive.

I’m no longer in the market for a new skateboard, but a couple weeks ago I wrote about how I’d spent way more than was necessary on a new mountain bike.  In the same paragraph I wrote about how my family has lots of things competing for our dollars. I mentioned how we want to be able to give generously while also being able to save enough to retire someday, help our kids pay for college, pay down our mortgage, go on family adventures together, etc, etc. I have to admit that I felt a little self conscious after making my public confession. After all, how does spending a bunch of money on a new bike fit with intentionally spending money on the things that are truly important to Crystal and me? And, how did Crystal feel about me dropping that kind of cash on a luxury item that was mine alone to enjoy? And what did it say to our kids?

On Tuesday, Crystal and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. As we reflected on our 9 years together we were thankful that we’re almost always on the same page on a lot of important topics, including money. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our moments when money issues get a little sticky but those tend to be relatively rare. One of the things that has helped make our money conversations a lot easier is how we handle our personal spending. We both have a certain amount we can spend each month on pretty much anything we want. We affectionately call it our Slush Fund but it’s really just a repeating line item in our family budget. Typical slush fund purchases include new clothes, dinner out with friends or a book we’ve been wanting to read, but sometimes we want something more expensive than our monthly allotment will cover. That’s why we’ve set it up so the balance in our Slush Funds can accumulate. Money we don’t spend one month rolls over to the next and we can “save up” to make larger purchases, like a new bike!

So, when it came time to make my bike purchase, I did spend hours pouring over bike company websites and online bike reviews trying to come up with the perfect combination of bike frame, shock absorbers and wheels. And I did call my local bike shop to place my order. However, I did not use my mom’s credit card for the purchase. I used my own and I paid it off with money that I’d intentionally saved in my Slush Fund for a year and a half.

Some of you reading this may think that my process was a bit much. Couldn’t I have simply bought the bike after a few back and forth conversations with Crystal about how my having a new bike would make me a better dad and husband? And how it would cause me to ride more often which would make me healthier, thereby lowering our healthcare costs and extending my my lifespan? Anything to justify my purchase. That would have worked, too, but here are 6 things I love about how I chose to do it…

-Working hard and patiently saving the money gave me a sense of satisfaction, just like when I used to buy skateboards when I was 13.

-I was able to buy a really nice bike without feeling like I was being extravagant.

-I didn’t have to wonder whether the money I was spending should be used for some other purpose. Those were already addressed via our other budget items.

-It reduced eliminated (I think, you’ll have to ask her) any potential friction in my relationship with Crystal. It can be tough to make big(ger) ticket purchases for yourself when you share finances with someone else. *This might have been the most important thing.

-I talked about my progress with our kids and let them see how excited I was when I could finally buy my new bike. I hope I modeled a bit of delayed gratification for them. *But this was a close second.

-I honestly think I enjoy my bike more after having to wait to buy it.

It feels funny to admit that I spent a year and a half saving up money to buy a bike. But I’ve had times during my life when money was tight and I had to watch every penny (before and during college) and times when I was making a lot and didn’t have many expenses (between college and marriage and kids.) I have to say that it’s during those times when money is scarce, when I’m really aware of the value of a dollar, that I enjoy my purchases the most.

How about you? Do you have a process for spending on big ticket personal items? As always, please let us know if we can help.

 

Geoff Hall, CFP®
[email protected]

My wife, Crystal, and I have been married for nine years and have two kids, Cooper (7) and Rhodes (5.) When I’m not spending time with them you might find me downtown serving at our church, pushing my limits during a mountain bike ride or having coffee with a friend in the Five Points area. I've been practicing wealth management for 25 years and I'm thankful for the privilege of shepherding my family of clients through the ups and down of the markets and of life for that matter.