I would like to talk about perfume a little bit, because I just made an exciting (for me) perfume purchase and so it is on my mind, but here is the thing I need to get out of the way right up front: perfume is one of my Startling Expenses. And it turns out THAT is what I actually want to talk about, so the subject of perfume will wait for another day.
I remember learning about Startling Expenses back in elementary school, when a friend's Christmas haul was ten times the value of mine. I was indignant and jealous and upset, and I think what I wanted was for my parents to make condemning remarks about how out of line the other family was to spoil her so badly, and maybe also to apologize for not doing the same to me, or at LEAST take a satisfyingly superior tone about how our family was Keeping Christmas Simple.
Instead I got a Reasonable Explanation about how different families make different decisions with their money: one family might love Christmas and really have fun going all-out, so they skimp on other things all year to save for it; another family might go light or medium on Christmas and spend on a vacation; another family might go medium on Christmas, skip vacations, but go out to dinner, or buy new school clothes, or pay for private school, or save for college, or have parties, or make home improvements, or donate to charity, or get their hair cut at salons, or have a housecleaner, or get portraits done, or buy organic food, or have smart phones, or have cable, or replace cars more frequently, or have a gaming system, or live in a more expensive area of the country, or take more time off, or go back to school, or take music lessons, or buy casually throughout the year the things Family #1 saves to give at Christmas---or do any number of things the next family was not doing and so would consider a Startling Expense.
The things WE don't prioritize almost ALWAYS seem like crazy things to spend money on. And at this point I have a flashback to my late mother-in-law, who would literally gasp when she saw me getting a can of Contadina tomato sauce ("*gasp* Oh! Swistle! Don't you want the STORE brand??"), but would express equal astonishment that someone WOULDN'T pay the extra hundred dollars for sheets with a DECENT thread count.
It's important to realize that although such things seem like RIDICULOUS CONTRADICTIONS, they are not: thoughtful consumers save money where they don't care, so that they can spend it where they do care. The annoying thing about my late mother-in-law is not that she'd spend $100 more on sheets while not wanting to pay 15 cents more on tomato sauce; the annoying thing is that she would think everyone who didn't make the same set of decisions must be an idiot.
It might seem like this would only apply to well-off families and luxury items, but in my experience it happens nearly across the board: even my verge-of-financial-crisis acquaintances will periodically startle me with what they will pay for a product or experience, and education and cars and foods and homes can qualify just as the purer luxuries (perfume, make-up, liquor) do. Even though my starting example of perfume puts us in the mindset of total unnecessaries, notice that to my late mother-in-law, my Startling Expense was a can of tomato sauce. Other people's Startling Expenses seem like a foolish waste of money whether you're poorer or richer than they are, whether the item in question is a pint of ice cream or a college degree; it's the way Startling Expenses ARE. The instant temptation is to think that WE would not squander money that way if WE were in their shoes, and GOODNESS what a waste that spending seems to us when we can barely afford to buy our own Item That is a Good Value and Certainly Not an Equally Startling Expense!
If it is hard for you to think of what your own Startling Expenses are, because they just make so much SENSE you don't notice them or think of them that way, you could ask a frank friend (a friend who doesn't spend money the same way you do) to tell you. Or, think of times when you've said "You should never skimp on _____!," or "Well, it COSTS more, but it's WORTH it," or "I'd rather spend money on ____ than on something that's gone in ten seconds!," or "Well, TIME is valuable, too," or "Well, I think it's important to TREAT yourself," or "But it's important for the kids to grow up where...," or "But you can use/wear it forever!," or "Well, the per-use price isn't really...," or "EXPERIENCES are the really valuable things!," or "Well, it's IMPORTANT to ____," or "It's an INVESTMENT," or really any expense-justifying remark.
Such reasons are often TRUE; they also helpfully mark the areas where we know we spend more, and/or where we are hoping to persuade other people that they should do so too. And such are the things I say about my perfumes. Which we can talk about later.
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