Where’s Your “White Line”

by mzumtaylor on October 12, 2010

in Budgeting,Frugality

I got a newsletter/blog update from INGDirect the other day (okay really a few weeks ago) asking the question, “Where’s your white line?” They have a thin white line painted in front of the main entrance to their building, representing “a physical reminder of why we [the people at INGDirect] show up for work each day, committed to helping Americans save their money.”

They offer this explanation for the meaning of the white line:

[Your] white line isn’t really about being cheap or frugal. It’s simply knowing when to spend and when not to spend, determining which purchases have real meaning and which are meaningless, and recognizing the things in life that matter most.

They say it’s not about being frugal, because for most of us “frugal” has become synonymous with “cheap,” which really isn’t true, but that’s what we all think. And because we associate “frugal” with “cheap” and no one wants to be seen as cheap, we often don’t want to think about ways to be frugal. This is a huge mistake if you’re trying to figure out ways to save money.

Frugality, really, is all about making conscious decisions about what to spend your money on — asking yourself the question, “Where’s your white line?”

Is a cup of coffee from Starbucks every morning meaningful to you? Does it make your life worth living, or are you just doing it out of habit?

Do your all your DVDs (and the entertainment system to go with them) bring you joy and happiness, or do you just have them because it seems like something someone in your position (whatever position that might be) should have?

Is having a new car really important to you, or would a (certified) used one done just as well?

If the answer is “It makes my life worth living” then keep on doing it. Just make sure that you’re not spending in some other areas that is less meaningful to you.

A good way to test this is to figure out the thing that you really enjoy spending money on, and whenever you’re thinking of buying something, ask yourself, “Would I rather have this than a cup of coffee from Starbucks?” or whatever your preferred thing is. If the answer is yes, then go for it. But if the answer is no, then put the thing down and save that money toward your cup of coffee or next DVD or next car or what-have-you.

And don’t let anyone tell you that the things that you want to spend money on are stupid, or that you shouldn’t be spending money on those things.

For example, my husband and I LOVE to go see movies on the big screen. It costs at least $20, and that’s before you even think about concessions (if you choose to go that route; we usually don’t). Some might consider it a foolish expense, but we love it, so we make sure that we have room in our budget to go see at least two movies a month.

On the other hand, one of the things we sacrifice is going out to eat. Dining out is not that important to us; most of the time we’d rather cook something together and hang out at home, so we spend almost nothing on eating out. Going to movies is on one side of our white line, eating out is on the other.

Even if it’s on the right side of your “white line,” it’s still important to remember to look for cost-effective ways to do the things you love, like going to a matinée showing of a movie, or joining a rewards program for your coffee shop, or whatever. But if you want to spend the money on the things you love and enjoy, go for it. Just make sure you’re not spending too much on anything on the other side of your white line.

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Amanda Pingel October 14, 2010 at 7:45 am

The standard I use (courtesy of my friend Wayne) is “Would I rather have this, or money?” my iPod Touch was a huge expense, but if you took it away and gave me $350, I would use that money to buy another iPod — I would rather have this than money. But many purchases, like novelty gifts or cheap toys or the third latte of the day … I’m pretty sure most people would happily sell back if they could. They would rather have money, but they’re stuck with the thing instead.

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