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Money Talk: How We Decide Where to Spend

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How exactly do we decide where to spend our money? What are our weaknesses when it comes to money, and how do we deal with them?  The following is a conversation between the co-editors of the personal finance site TheBillfold.com, about the mysterious inner-workings of the mind, and how it affects their daily money decisions.

Mike: So: I am a generally responsible person when it comes to money, but do you want to know how I’m sometimes not good with money? I do this thing every now and then where I’ll settle instead of just walking away.

Logan: I don’t know what that means! Tell me more!

Mike: Like, I’ll go to the drugstore to buy a snack, and then they’ll be out of stock of the thing that I want, so I’ll settle for something else. And then when I get home, I’m not into it so it’ll sit in my cupboard uneaten.

Logan: Wait this is your money vice. That sometimes you buy your second favorite snack when you want your favorite snack? I feel like I need to know what snacks we’re talking about here.

Mike: I mean, like over the weekend, I really wanted cookies and cream ice cream (or frozen yogurt with cookies mixed in), and I waited in this long line for it. But when it was my turn, they said, “Sorry, the frozen yogurt machine is broken right now, but we can make you a fruit smoothie.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” And I wasn’t into it. And I later ended up walking to the grocery store and buying a pint of Ben and Jerry’s “Cookies and Milk” which was amazing. But this vice is really just a small extension of a bigger problem of not being able to say no and walk away from things.

Logan: Oooh I see. But Mike. When they said no ice cream, did you get the smoothie so as not to disappoint the person? Or so not to be embarrassed? Or because you were like, ugh I waited in this line anyway may as well get something? Or what? Talk me through your feelings. Also did you drink the smoothie or throw it away? And also what kind of smoothie was it?

Mike: Yes, it was because I waited for 10 minutes in the line, and also I don’t know, I just didn’t want to walk out of there empty handed. And I mean, this is $3.50 we’re talking about, but I still think about it (clearly this is part of some larger issue I have). And it was the opposite of cookies and cream—it was a strawberry banana smoothie. I drank half of it and threw it away. Would you have left? I’m guessing you would have had a backup ice cream store.

Logan: Yeah I would have left. Strawberry banana smoothie is an inappropriate substitute. I mean that’s practically a vegetable. That’s practically boiled broccoli. This scenario reminds me of another scenario, and that scenario is: When you walk into a restaurant and look at the menu or maybe even sit down and look at the menu and then decide it’s not for you or sit down and realize the atmosphere is terrible and then that awkward feeling of should I leave, should I not leave, ahhh. I used to stress about this a lot. But now I always leave. Big proponent of leaving.

Mike: Do you walk around and randomly choose restaurants? I’m such a planner that I like to know where I’m going before I get there, and I look at the menu before I leave the house/office/wherever I am and basically already know everything I’m going to order before I get there. And then when I’m handed the menu, it’s just basically to confirm that what I want is on the menu.

Logan: Uh that is the opposite of what I do. I … walk around and randomly choose restaurants. Based on a feeling. Very scientific. Though sometimes the feeling outside is different than the feeling inside, and that’s when you have to leave. And throw a few dollars on the table if possible. I mean, I don’t know if that’s required but I usually do it if they’ve already brought water? I don’t know. Atmosphere is so important. One time a friend was like, “You’re not one of those people that thinks lighting is really important are you?” And I said NO because he obviously meant it as a diss. But the thing is Mike, I am one of those people for whom lighting is really important! And background music choice! And air circulation! So now I am proud of that. Proud might be too strong a word. I won’t say I’m leaving because the lighting is all wrong or there aren’t enough plants. I’ll say I’m terribly sorry, I just realized I’m in the wrong restaurant.

Mike: Haha, I mean, atmosphere is important! But for me, the food is the most important. I guess I don’t go out to eat very often, and when I do, it’s because plans have been made in advance, which means the restaurant has been chosen. And we usually choose a restaurant based on recommendations from foodie friends, or because we’ve read a place is good. I won’t get up and leave if I get there and the lighting is wrong, though. Maybe if it’s too loud to have a conversation.

Logan: Yeah I don’t really care about food. I like eating good food and it’s always nice when I get to do that, but when I go to dinner it’s mostly by myself and mostly because I want to be in a really good feeling room full of people and listen to conversations and flirt with the bartenders and just like, enjoy life.

Mike: Ah, yes, and I think we’ve talked about this: I’m not an eat-in-a-restaurant-by-myself kind of person. But whenever we’ve gone out to dinner, we’ve always chosen where we were going to in advance. Is that just with me, or do you walk around with other friends feeling places out for dinner?

Logan: I don’t really go out to dinner with friends? Maybe one friend? And yeah, one of us will either pick a place or we’ll wander. Play a game. The first sushi place that doesn’t have fluorescent lighting. The first Thai place that doesn’t have white table cloths. I don’t plan ahead. I don’t like to plan ahead. And I also don’t make reservations. Part of my job at the restaurant where I’m working is confirming reservations, taking reservations. And I’m always amazed! People know not only THAT they’re going to dinner a week in advance, but WHERE they’re going to dinner a week in advance. Madness. Not my life.

Mike: I have made dinner reservations a month in advance. Some places are hard to get into! I guess that’s not your scene. I’m going to take you to a nice restaurant sometime where you need a reservation a month in advance. And maybe you’ll hate it and we’ll walk out and go to Shake Shack.

Logan: Oh I’ve been to nice restaurants where you need reservations! I just don’t make them, and sit at the bar. Same food! No planning. But there’s another thing, Mike, that we need to discuss: Is a fancy expensive dinner really ever better than cheeseburgers and milkshakes in the park?

Mike: That’s a question Anthony Bourdain asked recently on the Neil Degrasse Tyson podcast. Is an expensive truffle really better than a really good peach? No! They’re just different, and one is just rarer. So let’s get out of here and go get some cheeseburgers.

Image: iStockphoto

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