A couple of days ago, my son bought a new mountain bike. It was marked down considerably below what he had expected to pay, and was extremely excited that he would be able to hold on to more of his cash. Don't we all love a bargain?
It got me to thinking, though, about how much money we spend out of our budgets on toys. A mountain bike is not a bad purchase...it is a means for him to enjoy time with friends, get exercise, and spend time outside. This is good, right?
With unemployment high, and with the economy so uncertain...I have been trimming the budget and thinking of what all we can do without. Other than the massive $17 a month I was spending on Netflix, it has been a little bit tough.
Eating out was the first to go...but then I realized that if you save money there but don't rein in your Costco addiction or grocery store trips...it is for naught. I was up to a once a week Costco habit that was costing about $75 a trip. I brought home a lot of interesting foods to try (and in bulk, naturally) because I'm a sucker for whatever they are sampling. The chicken, fish, and frozen foods are generally very good. But sometimes I get drawn in. The bizarre salad dressing (that I still have virtually unused in the refrigerator...along with its cousin in the pantry)...not so big of a bargain after all.
We don't drive new cars. Our oldest vehicle is my sister's old car...a 1991 Mazda Miata. Our newest is a 2006 Chevy Equinox that Jill drives...and we just bought it last May. We own no golf carts, go carts, motorcycles, minibikes, or anything other than a riding lawnmower. Granted, it is a pretty awesome lawnmower, but it is Big Dave's...and I can't even drive it. Not because I don't want to...but because it has a weird steering mechanism instead of a wheel like our old one.
Our money does not go to decorating. We love our home, but Martha Stewart? I am not. I have curtains in the kids' bedrooms. There are no other window treatments other than wooden blinds on any of the windows. Our house has hardwood floors...but we have no rugs. Okay, we DO have two $5 rugs that I snagged at Target on the clearance rack that were originally red and are now pink. Our furniture is primarily from the families...and that is fine by us. I love having pieces that were once enjoyed by people that I didn't even know...or those that I loved very much.
Vacation? We spend our time primarily at home. We do go to the beach for a few days every summer...but we have not paid more than $100 as it is a family-owned venue. We went to Cabo San Lucas in 2006 because David's company (at the time) paid for it. We also went to Europe in 2006 (a big travel year...obviously) and blew the travel budget to smithereens...for YEARS.
Last December (2008), we went to New York for three days...and in May 2009, we visited family in Pennsylvania. We just don't go on vacation a lot. Our kids went to Disney World for two days on our way to a family reunion in St. Augustine. There were no character breakfasts or monorail rides. In fact, we didn't even get out of the Magic Kingdom...but we had a great time just the same.
Football tickets are also not in our budget. We would love it if they were...but they aren't. We don't belong to any balls in town...or even do much entertaining at all. We don't have a lake house, beach house, mountain house, or time share. We do have a utility house out back...but we just purchased that. We also have a pool...but we haven't invested heavily in patio furniture, pool toys, or a cabana. I had an idea that I'd love to jazz up the outside a bit, but putting gravel in the driveway seems far more practical to me...and so it goes.
I will admit to being a little addicted to scrapbooking, photography, and books. But these seem mighty small in light of the fact that I don't get my nails done, I shop for clothes only when it is absolutely necessary, and I am completely lacking the "I must have cute shoes" gene.
I honestly do not believe that having toys is wrong. Buying toys are part of what brings us joy in this life. It is temporary joy...agreed...but it is what makes Christmas morning so much fun. In fact, Jill will probably be on Oprah one day lamenting the fact that we never bought her a pink Barbie car that she could ride in when she was five.
But I think I may have just inadvertently stumbled on why we may have so much fun with toys. We like the short term joy for ourselves...but we love even more watching the eyes of other people light up...especially children...or when we find the perfect gift for someone.
A lot of people are downsizing and finding that the toys that were charming, wonderful, and fun are now payments that have to be made on items that are nearly impossible to liquidate. It is also possible that the standard of living that we have known for the past twenty years or so will not be achieved again for a long time. There are so many unknowns right now...that it is easy to put off buying anything out of fear. I think that it is prudent to be careful...but don't let the fear of what might happen steal your joy.
Perhaps due to the days we are experiencing now...we will put more stock in the relationships we have instead of our possessions. We will remember to invest in people instead of in things that will rust, decay, and fade away. Memories of laughter and time spent together instead of huge displays of materialism gone wild will hopefully mark our holidays. I sincerely hope so.
If you have a lot of toys and can afford to have them...good for you! But me? I'm happy with the simple pleasures that I have been blessed with in abundance. And with the exception of that Barbie car, possibly...I'd be willing to bet that one day...my kids will feel that way too.
It is often said that "the best things in life are free." And to some extent, I suppose that's true. But every once in awhile...it is good to have a desire of your heart...a trip...a new puppy...or a new (or new to you) car. Sharing your joy with others...free tickets for someone to a game you cannot attend...the gift of a well maintained toy to someone younger who will enjoy it...or inviting guests to a weekend away in a place of beauty is extremely rewarding.
I hope that I am enjoying the good things that God has given me and have been able to keep the "toys" that I have in perepective. Although I would sometimes like to have more than enough...I find that in many ways...I already do. I have more people in my life and activities that bring me joy to keep me fully occupied...which is a bigger blessing than anything money can buy.