Lauren Barack announces that, to her, non-necessities are necessities:

My mother would raise an eyebrow at my bimonthly $200 hair highlighting, my $28-per-week coffee fix and my new dependency on $10 organic, grapefruit-scented hand wipes. And, yes, they fall outside the category of true essentials — a place to live, food to eat, clothes to keep out the chill.

To her credit, she’s trying to keep her eye on the ball. She has even gone so far as forego a flat-screen TV! In all seriousness, we all have frivolities that we like to spend what money we have. As long as we recognize them as just that and are prepared to give them up as circumstances warrant, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I did get a kick out of this, though:

On a recent run to the drugstore (Band-Aids, paper towels, dental floss) Harper spied a battery-powered Hello Kitty toothbrush and brought it to me with a breathless catch in her voice that I recognized from my own.

“Mama, please!”

I took a close look at this candy-colored cartoon character, a dual-headed number that promised to clean my child’s teeth in a whirling vortex of bliss. It was $7.99. Then I glanced at the much more practical, soft-bristled, sad little substitute, which had the unfortunate luck of being stocked next to its superstar cousin. It was perfectly adequate and $2.99.

This seems like a very odd place to crimp. First, she’s sacrificing on behalf of her daughter. A whopping $5 for an instrument that’s going to last six months and might give her a little pleasure doing one of those unpleasant things that kids don’t want to do. She was doing better with the whole flat-screen TV bit. On the other hand, I think that it is good to look at the little things because they can add up. I got a kick out of it because of the part that came before, though:

I get that. I know I should put away as much money as possible — for my retirement and for my daughter Harper’s college years. By the time she’s a freshman, the cost of a bachelor’s degree at a private university could add up to nearly $300,000, according to the College Board, a nonprofit group of educational institutions. At the rate we’re saving, I am not sure we’ll have put away quite that much. We’re trying.

As my father is inclined to say… I have an idea!

I recognize that a degree from a public university in the northeast does not carry as much weight as one from anywhere else in the US might. Even so, I am willing to bet that for less money than that there is some public university that she could go to. Even out-of-state tuition would very likely be cheaper. If she goes off to the University of Florida, she’ll be well-positioned in the job market of a growing state. Now, if little Harper has a shot at Harvard or one of a couple other select universities, then you take a serious look at biting the bullet. But if her grades are good enough, a lot of universities will waive out-of-state tuition and if she can make National Merit Scholar Finalist a hundred or so universities nation-wide will give her a free ride.

Allowing her go to a good local private school would certainly be nice. But I find it bizarre that in an article about pinching pennies and seeking out unnecessary expenditures, that she would tout an expensive private school as a more responsible use of that money.

Of course, a degree from the University of Florida would make it less likely that her girl will be able to truck it on up to Manhattan and bust her way into the writing world like her mother did. Speaking of living in Manhattan, I have another idea…

Category: School

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5 Responses to Save Now, Spend Exorbantly Later

  1. Linus says:

    Articles like Barack’s make me want to shove an icepick in my ear. How can we all be so educated without having a lick of common sense? We freak out about terrorism when you’re far more likely to die in a car accident. We spend an extra $10-$15k buying fancy cars but go out of our way to find a gas station thats $0.03 cheaper per gallon. Where’s the PERSPECTIVE, people?!?

    -off soapbox-

  2. Peter says:

    I don’t know what’s more obnoxiously SWPL’ly:

    (a) $10 scented organic(!) hand wipes, or
    (b) naming your daughter “Harper.”

    My first inclination was to say (b), but Mom might have an excuse if she’s a big To Kill a Mockingbird fan.

  3. Kirk says:

    One of my brothers and his wife had no problem spending $50k/year on sending their daughters to a private college. They’ve also never lived in a house less than 4,000 square feet, even when their girls were little. But they then turn around and buy the cheapest napkins and paper plates you can imagine, as if it will make a difference.

    They’re fine financially, but I still think it’s a weird mindset.

  4. a_c says:

    It might be that people derive some fixed level of satisfaction from being frugal. Thus it makes sense for them to crimp on the little things; they’ll get almost as big a psychic bonus with less material sacrifice.

  5. trumwill says:

    That’s pretty much how I felt about the Swine Flu.

    There are worse names than Harper. At least it didn’t include a Mc/Mac in front of it, which means “Son of”…

    I don’t begrudge people their indulgences. I certainly have mine. But you know, we should actually see them as such.

    Sounds about right. Such a person has no business writing a piece on money management, though…

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