I was 16 when I got my first job. I worked as a grease monkey in the local mechanic’s during the holidays. One of the perks of having my own money was that I began for the first time to buy my own clothes.
I had a great pair of shoes which were getting to the end of their life. I wouldn’t wear them now, but back then I thought they were nearly perfect. Smart enough to be worn in semi formal contexts. Comfortable and casual enough to work in the most casual of settings.
I liked them so much that I thought the best thing to do was to replace them with another pair of the same shoes. My inclination is to find a good thing and stick with it.
The shoes cost 100 dollars. That’s Eastern Caribbean dollars, about £20-25. I earned EC$50 per week so the shoes were about two weeks wages. I had about 3 weeks left of the hols so there was enough time left to get the money together.
So 3 weeks later at the end of the hols, after expenses, etc I had exactly EC$100 and was about to purchase the shoes. However, I realised that if I did that I would have the shoes but absolutely no money left. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to do that.
However, a solution presented itself. There was another pair of shoes in that shop, made by the same company, in a different colour and a subtly different style but for less money, only EC$80. I didn’t like them quite as much as the pair I was originally going to buy but that seemed a reasonable compromise; they didn’t cost as much either. So I went with the alternative.
That proved to be a mistake. The shoes were just as comfortable, but just didn’t have the same effect as the old ones. Every time I looked down at my feet I was mildly disappointed. The low point was when a few of my friends from my Sixth Form suggested (somewhat unkindly, I thought) that my new shoes looked like nurses shoes. However, every time I looked down after that I could see what they meant….. I can’t remember what happened to those shoes but I don’t think they lasted very long….
I learnt a lesson that day. Sometimes you are better going for what you really want rather than settling for something that’s nearly as good. I had been attempting to have the best of both worlds: to save some money and to get a great pair of shoes. In the end I ended up with neither. I didn’t have the money because I had spent it. But neither did I have the shoes I wanted. If I had gone with the original plan, I would have been skint but at least I would have had the great pair of shoes the I wanted.
Perhaps this is not true for others, but for recovering perfectionists like me I’ve worked out that if I’m going to spend my hard earned I am only prepared to do so if I’m going to get what I actually want. And if what I want, I can’t afford, then rather than settle for something not quite as good, I would prefer either not to get anything at all or decide that I will wait until I can afford what I really want. However long that takes. That’s where a 5-year project comes in handy….
Today that lesson remains one of my guiding principles. If I am going to spend my money I should be getting exactly what I want. Otherwise it would be better not to spend it.