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On spending money and being frugal

I’m a pretty frugal person.

I don’t think I’m cheap (though maybe some people might think otherwise?) but there are some things that I know I don’t want to spend money than necessary on. It’s not about depriving myself, or getting the last cent shaved off, or trying to be a bargain hunter.

(Here’s an interlude to acknowledge that I’m definitely speaking from a place of privilege, to be even able to have choices to be frugal. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had that kind of financial anxiety that only living paycheck to paycheck can gather, and now I can spend money without worrying too much.)

There are a few reasons why my spending habits are this way:

  1. I like being intentional with what I’m spending my money on, since there are other things I would rather spend my money on
  2. Having options with my money — bulking up my emergency savings, putting aside money for bigger ticket purchases like a new device or a vacation, or even just taking advantage of a bear market — brings me a sense of security
  3. I have a percentage in mind when it comes to my savings rate (and yes, this comes into the whole Financial Independence (and maybe Retire Early) thing, but the jury is still out on the latter)

And yet, in the past month, I found myself with a huge money decision to make: whether or not to sign up with a personal trainer so that I can really dial my fitness levels in. This is on top of the physiotherapy sessions I go to, because of my back betraying my body in general.

It’s not an insignificant sum of money: personal training would take up a huge percentage of my monthly expenses, and would set me back a bit of my target “retirement” age. It’s also a pretty huge cost upfront.

I’m doing it, though. As I’ve so rapidly found in the past couple of years, my health is worth more than the money I can afford to throw at it.

Believe me, it took a couple of days for me to come to this decision and reframe my position on it.

My initial thoughts: no way, I can just go to my cheap gym on my own, this is way too much, this is going to affect my spending by a whole lot.

Eventually, the combination of knowing exactly what my body fat percentage is right now (hint: way, way worse than I had always estimated) as well as wanting a professional to spot my form and fixing it where it’s hurting me won out.

Now, excuse me while I buy some gym shoes, because my Metcon 5s are literally breaking apart at the seams.

Lapse in mental fortitude, edition 539.

  • Money

I had a moment of intense FOMO earlier this week.

A new friend of mine had told me that she’d put in some money in AMC earlier this year, and she’s looking at a pretty big chunk of profit. Like, enough-for-a-downpayment, enough-to-pay-off-an-entire-student-loan, kind of big chunk.

For me, if I had done the same at the same time, it would have been enough-to-accelerate-my-financial-independence-plan-by-a-quarter. (I know, I know, I’ll stop with the dashes.)

In a near moment of weakness, I looked up r/wallstreetbets.

I opened up my trading app and typed in $BB.

I placed a (pretty sizeable) bid at market rate.

This was around 6:30 PM here, which was several hours before the market opens.

And thank goodness for that. Five minutes later, I decided I was out of my fucking mind, and canceled it before it could go through.

Guess I’ll continue on my slow path.

When is it time to upgrade a device?

I love gadgets, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love Apple and its products. I have: an iPhone X; the AirPods with a wireless charging case, and I’m typing this from a MacBook Pro. For a while, I was contemplating buying an iPad, or an Apple Watch.

I got neither. Instead, as with a lot of things, I took too long to decide and lost interest in getting them. 1For now.

Fun little side story: In 2006, when I was but an impressionable freshman, I came up with a pitch in 15 minutes for an ‘MacPhone’. This is pre-iPhone, and you can see a speech outline I drafted. Everything about it, from the features to the price point, makes me laugh now.

More than being an Apple fan, though, I also generally love technology and the gadgets it demands. Considering that my day job almost entirely relies on my skills and expertise in designing apps and experiences on these devices, keeping up ahead of the curve is almost mandatory.

The upgrading dilemma

Then there is the minimalist and fiscally-conscious part of me.

To that end, I have a framework for when I upgrade my devices:

  • Is the device is on the verge of death?
  • Are there workarounds to pull the device back from the brink?
  • Is there is a feature on the upgrade I absolutely can’t not have?

In March 2017, when my iPhone 6 fell with me into the water while I was kayaking and died an instant death, I used a loaner Android unit until the iPhone X got released. And even then! I waited a whole month and a half to actually get the device, if my receipt trails are to be believed, since I only got it on December 21 of that same year. 2It was released on November 3.

Why I’m thinking of upgrading

Recently, my iPhone X has been giving me plenty of usage problems — It goes from 100% to 10% in about 20 minutes when all I’m doing is listening to a podcast, or have the Libby app open. It also overheats, sometimes for no reason at all.

The most worrying incident happened about two weeks ago, when it died almost instantly as I unplugged it from its cable. When I eventually – harrowingly – got it to switch on again, a service notice tells me that the phone “experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power”.

I’m not sure what it meant technically, but it also assured me it would not happen again.

So, my interest was piqued when Apple announced the new lineup of the phones.

Another story! When the iPhone 8 and iPhone X was released, I was part of the team at work who had to be in the office at 3 in the morning to receive the specs and images from Apple, when we then updated our page – typically the page with the most traffic all year round. Fun times.

But here’s the brief rundown: My initial reaction was one of overwhelm, at the similar sounding model names.

Then I’m just underwhelmed.

And… that’s why I’m not upgrading

To make things easier for myself, let’s go back to my framework of upgrading my device.

Is the device is on the verge of death?

Yes, very much so. I can’t keep relying on my external power bank, especially if I’m just going out for a quick grocery run or an actual walk, so this is mission critical for me.

Are there workarounds to pull the device back from the brink?

Two, actually: I can get a new battery replacement for $99, or I can get a smart battery case for $199. Compared to $1,299 for the base iPhone 12 model, those seem like a steal.

Is there is a feature on the upgrade I absolutely can’t not have?

Some of the biggest updates on the new iPhones are a little exciting, I won’t pretend they aren’t — Higher quality photos and videos are always appreciated; I like the sound of 5G speeds, but I’m hooked up to my wifi anyway while working from home; and more efficient charging so I can find new ways to fuck up my new battery, probably. (I kid.)

At the end of the day, though, my iPhone X still serves all my needs. I’m content with the speed that I can use my apps to read, listen to music and podcasts, and play my games. I’m still largely a content consumer than a content creator, much less one who needs the latest and greatest photo and video taking abilities — and even then, I would assume I’ll need more specific tools for those at a more advanced stage, and that the iPhone X still has the capacity for that at my basic entry level!

Yeah. I guess I’ll hold on for a few more cycles.

(There’s also a metaphor here, about my own mental battery and my own surge capacity being so messed up. Can someone replace my battery? Anyone?)