Nothing makes my way of thinking about it the one correct way, but I think of money spent as three different things: Assets, Experiences, and Indulgences. I do this because it helps me create rules and guidelines for how to spend my money so that I can do well in the long term without having to micromanage finances.
Assets are things that should be worth something significant in the future. Maybe more, maybe slightly less, but nothing consumable or with huge expected depreciation. Examples would be certain high-end watches, art, gold bars, or real estate. Even my motorcycle would count, only because I waited to get a really good price on a used one, and it’s still worth the same as when I bought it. I also count anything that will directly affect my productivity. I just sold my last laptop for a $900 loss, but I made a lot more than that with it over the two years I owned it.
Experiences are obvious things like travel and visits to museums, but I’d also count dinner with some good smart friends. My defining line is that an experience is something that has some reasonable potential to impact me long-term. I don’t expect that every time, just as I don’t expect every asset to increase in value.
And everything else is an indulgence. I choose this word intentionally because it has a negative connotation in my mind. I don’t think that any of us can or should go without indulgences, but as the lowest ROI spending, a bias against them can be helpful.
I will let myself buy pretty much any assets, especially if I think that they will appreciate. So I bought a relatively expensive painting by an artist I really like who I thought was undervalued. I also bought a fancier motorcycle than was absolutely necessary, but I knew I’d be able to sell it anytime for what I paid. But I’m really reluctant to spend $50 on a moderately fancy meal, because to me that’s an indulgence.
I’m also pretty liberal on experiences. I try to compare experiences to other experiences and get the best value on them (i.e., I won’t just spend $2000 on a trip when I know I could take an equally valuable trip for $500), but experiences have created such pivotal change in my life that I often give them the benefit of the doubt.
I do buy indulgences as well. Not many, but I bought some motorized shades for my place in Vegas. Hard to argue that’s anything but an indulgence.
These things are all subjective. If you’re a chef, maybe a $200 meal is an experience to you that has a good chance of becoming valuable. Or if you don’t make money using your laptop, losing $900 on it like I did would qualify as an indulgence.
The point, really, is to know what is what. My budget for assets is very large, my budget for experiences is medium, and for indulgences it’s very small. If I see those proportions going out of whack, I sit down and think about why that is, and adjust if necessary. Whether you use my categories or your own, it’s useful to think of spending in categories and have an idea of how you want that allocation to look. It’s an easy way to spend intelligently without a budget.
Photo is a cool corner in Messina, Sicily.