Spending money, difficult decisions

September 18, 2005, [MD]

Back\ So I am back in Toronto. It’s been a little over a week now, but it seems a lot longer. From the day I arrived here, tired and dirty, with a backpack full of laundry - to a room completely empty except for a dresser. I gradually assembled some second-hand and free furniture, got all my old stuff over from my friend, who had been storing it during the summer, and slowly assembled a livable space. Now it’s quite nice in here.

Economics Choices\ I am usually OK at handling money - although far from great at it. I do stupid stuff like spending five minutes trying to calculate which toilet paper is cheapest (based on the prize divided by meters of paper), and then buy a magazine that I could have just as well read in the library), and sometimes I run out and have to borrow from my friends (thank you). But generally, I end up spending more or less what I have. No credit card debts, no car loans… But of course a huge student loan.

Big Money Spending\ However, one thing that is really difficult for me is deciding when to spend “big money”… like flying somewhere to see a friend, buying a big ticket item, etc. This is all the more difficult because the money I have is mostly a loan that I will have to pay back when I get a job (hopefully), and I get my student loan in two big chunks, one each semester. So suddenly you have this big chunk of money, that you haven’t really earned or deserved, and that will one day have to be paid back. Spending money on decent living, food etc, is obvious. But deciding to fly to Mexico to see my friend for two weeks, even though I might “have the money” right now, is far harder. As is deciding whether to buy a digital camera or not. Especially because I don’t have any obvious sources of income, and even though I “have the money now” — if I didn’t use it, I might do something amazing with it next summer.

So I’ve been agonizing about this for a while. Which of course does not mean that I’ve never spent big money. But I always spend lots of time agonizing over it, and then in the end purchase things mostly on impulse, as in, I’ve thought about this too long, I’ll just do it.

At least I am independent from my family, which is an important thing in the culture that I come from. Since I turned 19 and graduated from high school, they’ve basically never given me any money (except for Christmas gifts and the like). This is of course made possible by the quite generous Norwegian state student loans/scholar ships. And even though I think I waste a lot of money, and buy useless things — looking back at my post-high school life, I have done an incredible amount of traveling and experiences.

New Computer\ Either way, I just bought an iBook and an iPod. That’s what prompted this entry. I am still not sure if it was a good decision (but sometimes you just have to accept your decisions and move on), and it was something I was thinking about for weeks. I had a lot of chance to play with Macs during the summer, and got to really like them. I also needed a new mp3 player since my trusted Creative Zen bit the grass, sadly. And Apple, deviously, gives a 225\$ mail-in rebate if you purchase an iBook and an iPod together. Thus - should I buy an iPod alone. What if I’d want to buy an iBook later (say before I went on placement in 8 months), then I’d loose the discount… Did I really need a laptop?

I thought about this, calculated my money, asked my friends. Finally, about half an hour before the campus bookstore was closing, I decided to only get an iPod. I didn’t need a laptop. I walked quickly down to the bookstore, hoping it would still be open, and entered. And in a split second, I decided to get the iBook too. 15 minutes later, I walked out of there, one 12″ iBook and a 60gb iPod richer, \$1900 poorer (although I’ll get \$225 back on the rebate). Excited, but very unsure. Then I had to pay the tuition and suddenly I have very little money to live for this term. Of course I’ll get by, especially if I get a job that I think I will get. And I might sell some of my old equipment. And it is an awesome piece of technology, and now that my house has broadband, it’s great. But… was it the right choice?

Alternatives\ And just chatting with one of my friends she characterized me as an amazing spendthrift, because I got a mattress from free off the street, and would rather walk 10km than take a cab. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it. I just spent a huge amount of money on something nice, but non-essential. Instead, I could have flown down to Mexico and seen my best friend again like three times this year, or I could probably single-handedly have build a school in a third world country. Or, or.

How are we supposed to make these decisions? What are the criteria? I might have to spend more time working in a job that I won’t enjoy now - so I just traded my spare time, for a computer… Am I that materialistic?

Still wondering,\ Stian

Stian Håklev September 18, 2005 Toronto, Canada
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