The Mandatory Splurge There may be better ways to spend your money

It’s economics 101. Imagine a bouquet of flowers. A beau­tiful, nicely done piece. Now clone this bouquet into two iden­tical twins. One is bought on a street corner at the end of the day, by a man hurrying home to his wife. The other is sold to a bride for her upcoming nuptials, as the wedding bouquet. Which one of the two do you think will fetch a higher price? Exactly.

A human life is punc­tu­ated by events of special signif­i­cance, which are often surrounded by rituals. A birth, a grad­u­a­tion, a wedding, a retire­ment, a jubilee, a death. It’s aston­ishing how the rules of the market­place are rede­fined in the reality distor­tion zone that surrounds these events.

Mea Culpa

I too have done it. I’ve splurged, every time. I felt the itch and I scratched it. Up close, I’ve expe­ri­enced the birth of two chil­dren, two weddings and the death of one parent. On each occa­sion, two things happened.

First, the emotional magni­tude of the expe­ri­ences in those events makes mone­tary concerns temporarily seem less impor­tant. Second, a lot of utterly unnec­es­sary prod­ucts suddenly seem like perfectly reason­able purchases, and the price of every­thing asso­ci­ated with such events goes up, dramat­i­cally. Sound familiar?

The result is predictable. Do you really need that $400 pair of stilettos espe­cially for the purple-themed after-party on the yacht? Of course you do!

The logic supporting all of this seems iron-clad. These are often once-in-a-life­time events that have tremen­dous personal and social reso­nance and that feel deeply, inti­mately impor­tant. It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to get wrong. You don’t want your precious memo­ries spoiled by regrets, what-ifs and a whole host of coulda-woulda-shouldas. It makes perfect sense. Quite objec­tively, ratio­nally, sensibly, the Occasion warrants the Expenditure. After all, you really don’t want to look back at that baby shower and think, “Oh darn it, I wish I’d gotten those organic almond açaí prof­iteroles after all!” That’s the kind of trau­matic calamity a person never quite recovers from.

And so I did it. I gave in to the Mandatory Splurges. Every time.

Hold On a Second

Here’s the thing, though. As I get older, the more I think about it, the more I see that that iron-clad logic is wrong. Dead wrong. Why spend all that extra effort and money on taking some­thing that is already extra special and making it extra-extra special? Doesn’t it make much more sense to take some­thing that is humdrum and trans­form that into some­thing extra­or­di­nary?

Say you like tall trees. The tradi­tional Law of Mandatory Splurges says you should take the ten tallest trees in the forest and replant them on top of a newly-created hill, to make them stand even taller. That’s all very nice and dandy, but there is an alter­na­tive. Let’s call it the Suggestion of Well-chosen Microsplurges. Instead of raising up those ten already giant trees, you could spend the same amount of energy and put lights on a thou­sand smaller trees. Which choice would make the forest more enchanting?

Unboxing the Magic

Many may balk at the sugges­tion. What is a wedding without the dress, the cake, the bouquet, the band, the rings, the matching brides­maids’ outfits, the Silesian unicorns? It would lose all of its luster and become “just” a wedding.

But that’s the whole point—there is no such thing as “just a wedding”. The fact that you’re getting married in itself is already spec­tac­ular. All of those trap­pings in the reality distor­tion field are just the wrap­ping on the gift. Take away the wrap­ping and you still have the gift. If you unbox the magic, what do you get? Magic.

Better yet, you get a chance to add a whole new kind of magic into the mix. This goes back to the fact that in the realm of manda­tory splurges, every­thing gets a mark-up. In the regular world, that same money can go a long, long way indeed. For the price of one wedding bouquet, you can put a flower on her break­fast table every Saturday morning for years to come. For the price of that all-terrain carbon fiber baby carriage, you could have a whole series of romantic dinners on the town. For the price of that Silesian unicorn, you can—well, you know what I mean.

To Each Their Own

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to knock your­self out, knock your­self out. Say yes to the dress, say aye to the tie, say oui to the tree as you put it up on its hill. The Law of Mandatory Splurges evolved for a reason, and many will enjoy the thrill of giving in to it. I know I did.

But I suspect that what you do on that “once in a life­time” occa­sion does not outweigh what you do during the life­time. It’s the little things that end up making the biggest differ­ence. You can only spend your money once. Invest it in the right kind of magic.

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Image credit: Norman Rockwell (source)

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