Six Words That Saved Me $17,893 – And Can Save You Even More

The following guest post is from one of my favorite writers, Neal Frankle of Wealth Pilgrim. After reading the post, head over to Neal’s site and check out his free subscription options.

“What is the purpose of this?”

Those are the six words. There you have it.

Next time you want to spend money on anything, ask yourself this question first.  I guarantee that if you do, your investing/spending intelligence will expand so much that you’ll put Einstein to shame.

This brainstorm didn’t come to me overnight.  As you’ll see, I developed it over many years of extremely painful research. But make no mistake.  This wisdom is powerful and transformative.

You might chuckle, but the idea came to me after sitting through countess Bar and Bat Mitzvah “celebrations”.

For those of you who don’t live in New York, Los Angeles or Miami, this is a celebration of a 12 or 13 year old Jewish child coming of age.  Usually, the parents throw an extravagant and ridiculous party for said offspring. The price tag for one of these shin-digs usually eclipses that of an automobile.  If you’re lucky – like me – it’s a used Kia.  If you aren’t so lucky, it’s a brand new Lamborghini.

I have 3 daughters and I’ve suffered through dozens of these very loud parties.

What happens is, all your kid’s friends’ parents invite you to the parties and you almost have to go.  It wasn’t so bad after my eldest put us through this grinder with all her friends’ parties.

But I have 3 daughters….remember?

It reminds me of  Michael Corleone’s famous quote, “Just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in.”

When my second child hit age 12 she put us back at the beginning of this process again.  Oh the humanity!

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy a good party as much as the next fellow.  Loud music doesn’t bother me all that much – even when the kids do the Macarena or “the Chicken Dance” to Madonna or Britney Spears at 200 decibels.

What I find intolerable is mindless extravagance and often times that’s what these events are.

Each of these parties was a replica of the other.  Sometimes I forgot which party I was at.  They were all exactly the same.  Same food.  Same games.  Same schtick.  Very very forgettable..

I can guarantee you, that if the parents who threw these parties had asked ,”What is the purpose of this?” they would have saved themselves a bundle and enjoyed a more meaningful celebration with their children.

If you’re completely honest, there is really only one reason why people spend the kind of money they do on weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.  They do it because everyone else does.

Sorry.

For me, that’s not a good enough reason to mortgage my right kidney.

If you want to celebrate a child’s coming of age, do something meaningful rather than mindless.

If you want to celebrate the joining of two people into one couple, follow the same advice.

The best way to insure that what you do is indeed meaningful is to ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this”.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for your two-year old’s Bar Mitzvah or wedding to start profiting from this concept.

Ask yourself the same question before you buy your next car or carton of milk.

This probably makes perfect sense to you but you may still encounter one or two problems when you try to implement it.

The first problem could be your spouse or life partner.  The second problem may be your children.

Let’s consider the later first because it’s a much easier hurdle to clear.

Let’s say your kids try to convince you they need one of the following:

  1. A gold-plated, ivy-league undergraduate degree in history when you could save 75% by going to a state school.
  2. A wedding that cost more than a Greek Island when they could have a wonderful and beautiful celebration in your backyard.

Whip out your 6 word Spend-0-Slayer and ask them, “What is the purpose of this?”

They might explain why they need a degree or a wedding but they won’t be able to justify why they need the priciest version of each.

This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where the corn leaves the husk.

Ask them “What is the purpose of the costlier version when the lower cost version seems to give you what you need?”

If your kids have watched too much “Law and Order”, they may be able to make a case.

Sometimes, the more expensive choice is indeed a better decision.

For example, if your six year old has outgrown her bike and really wants the spanky new red one with the streamers coming out the handle bars…..you might want to go for it.

Depending on the circumstances, it could be a small investment that will pay huge dividends in terms of self-esteem for your daughter.

But everyone has a limit.  I don’t think that spending $25,000 on a party for a kid who can’t even shave yet makes sense.  I also don’t think that spending that much (and more) on a wedding is particularly clever.  Tell you what…..if your child is having a Bar Mitzvah or wedding and you want to spend some dough to help build their self-esteem…..spring for the spanky red bike with the streamers.  That should do the trick.

If your child wants you to spend a ridiculous amount of money foolishly, look at this as a teachable moment.  Don’t tell them what you already know. Keep asking them the magic 6 words until they admit that they want what they want because everyone else has one or does it that way.

An undergraduate degree is meant to help you get a job so you can support yourself.

A wedding is meant to celebrate marriage.

None of these are meant to impress other people but that’s what many of us use them for. Explain to the kids that by making the more expensive choice, they may actually have less of what they ultimately want.  You’ll only get them to see that if you ask the question – what is the purpose of this?

Take the example of the undergraduate degree.  My middle daughter recently graduated high-school and after being accepted at some very pricey schools, we decided as a family that the best choice would be a lower cost state college.  She realized that by agreeing to this, she would graduate college with no debt and some money leftover to help fund an MBA.  She was clear about the purpose of her undergraduate degree – help her get a job or continue on to get her post-grad education.  If she would have gone to a pricey Ivy League school, she’d finish college in debt and with limited choices.

Let’s go on to the second more formidable problem – your spouse.

The best way I can help you deal with this is by way of example.

I wanted to have a small Bat Mitzvah for my daughters but my wife would have none of it.  While we didn’t go nuts, we spent a lot more than I wanted to.  Going back to my car analogy, my wife’s budget for the party was something along the lines of a new Camry and my budget was closer to that a used moped scooter.  We settled on a budget that was closer in line with that of a used-Kia. We compromised.

When it came to the Bat Mitzvah party, the answer to “what is the purpose of this” was clear – make my wife happy… stay out of bankruptcy and divorce court at the same time.

Pick your battles well.  But use the 6 word spend-o-slayer- it may turn out to be your most effective weapon to tame the extravagance beast.

Comments

  1. I was married twice. The first wedding was the big one, just like everyone else, very expensive and also very forgettable! The second marriage we got married at a mountain lake, found a minister who was out fishing for the weekend and agreed to marry us, called our friends & family with two days notice, and they all showed up! everyone chipped in to make us a cake and the groomsmen even bought my wedding dress as a wedding present. We were married at a crystal clear mountain lake as big fat snowflakes fell on our heads in August. That is the wedding everyone still talks about as the best wedding they have ever been to, still 20 years later. And it didn’t cost us a dime!

  2. I’d be willing to bet those 6 words have saved you more than that over the course of a few years! I’ve never understood the reasoning behind throwing a party that costs $100,000 for a 12 year old.

    Great post and great ideas for using a “Spend-o-Slayer”

  3. Great advice. I’m always looking for another reason to stop and think before I make a purchase or upgrade anything. I’ll add this to the list.

    Although, I must say that switching to cash for most everything has severly curtailed my spending. :-)

  4. This was such a fantastic article. I was laughing out loud the entire time. The things you mention are so very true. Such great advice!

  5. Great post! I have never understood how people can spend so much money on weddings and such. I think the “everybody is doing it” mindset flows over into other spending traps. Like Christmas gifting, 30 year mortgages, and consumer debt just to name a few.

    I know people who see frugality as hoarding. Besides that assumption being completely false, I think frugality is essential to providing balance and discipline.

    Personally, I feel the need to know my purpose before I waste my time, or in this case money. Great post…thanks!

  6. Good for you for compromising on the price of the party. These things are out of control.

    Regarding your comments about weddings, I believe there are plenty of weddings out there between the Greek Island and the backyard bash. I had a wedding that was large enough for all of my friends and family, at a destination, that wasn’t more than the cost of the scooter I ride to work every day.

    I guess I need to write up a blog on how to have a wedding that feels “Greek Island” but costs closer to “backyard bash”!

  7. What a great choice of a few words that make a big difference. I’ve never understood giant celebrations and the obscene amount of money spent for them. On top of the money spent, the environmental impact must be huge.
    Thanks for these words of wisdom!

  8. What a great idea, especially as it relates to working through some of the requests you get from kids. This is similar to the process I used when trying to trim excessive spending in my budget, (especially) in regard to the cable bill. There really didn’t seem to be a benefit to all those channels or the time we spent sitting in front of them. The only purpose I could identify was entertainment or diversion, and we have plenty of other more meaningful ways to entertain ourselves and use our time. Now that you’ve sharpened my focus, I’ll be using your six words a lot in the future!

  9. When I got married in 1992, I spent a total of $7,500.00 on my wedding with 65 guests. I printed the invites on my computer, wore an antique Victorian wedding dress that came cheap but looked great, kept the flowers simple, had a band playing 19th-19th century folk music, and a large buffet rather than a sit-down dinner. That was 17 years ago, and to this day I have people who attended still telling me it was one of the best weddings they had ever attended, that really stuck in their minds because of its uniqueness. Can’t count the weddings I’ve been to with deejays, YMCA/Macarena/Electric Slide, and like the bar/bat mitzvahs, they blend together like melting balls of vanilla ice cream. Wonder why people seem to be so afraid of putting the stamp of their personality on what should be a once-in-a-lifetime event, rather than just going with what they know?

  10. Very very true. I recently had an altercation with a financial advisor who was unable to adequately explain why an extra cost of 22bps was going to benefit me. I would’ve spent the money if it made sense, but it was like giving away money for nothing! WHY? And then I was pleasantly suprised when my father paid me out the difference between my bbq 21st and my sisters black-tie version. It was enough for me to be able to afford a down-payment on my first property (along with my savings)!
    I’m glad that you note that the non-monetary cost of preventing divorce is also important!

  11. Thanks everyone. Glad the “Spend-O-Slayer” resonates.

    Brad, you make an excellent point. Some folks do put a negative spin on frugality. As you bring it up, it occurs to me that advertisers love it when this happens. Nobody wants to be thought of as “cheap” so we spend spend spend. Again, nothing to do with “what is the purpose of this” and more to do with “what will other people think about me”. For Madison Avenue, it doesn’t matter – as long as they get our money.

    Concetta,

    You are right about the weddings. I am very biased because we spent $400 on our wedding and it’s still working….so I’m a big believer in “small”.

    Can’t wait for your post though…..I have 3 daughters!

  12. Excellent post! I just wrote “What is the purpose of this?” on a yellow sticky note and put it in my wallet. I want to see that before I spend any more money. Many thanks!

  13. I live on the gold coast of LI. Sweet sixteen parties here can mean something akin to the Bat Mitzvahs or weddings you mentioned. What a sigh of relief came over me when several of my daughter’s friends had parties at home, with the friends supplying most of the food and decor. We are on the lower economic spectrum here, and what a blessing it was that some of the more wealthy, and more sane parents broke the ice to more sensible parties! I thank the economy for that, partly. My daughter will have a budget of 300 for both gift and party. My husband is an amazing cook, and I can decorate a cake like Martha Stewart. And we normally have memorable parties just due to creative ideas-artists and musicians all. But by far, the best party purchase we ever made was a fire pit- it is instant entertainment for every party- s’mores and “manhunt” by flashlight never go out of style.

  14. Great post – especially the “answer to “what is the purpose of this” was clear – make my wife happy… stay out of bankruptcy and divorce court at the same time”
    Seems like the fine line I walk every once and a while as well – glad to see I am not alone!

  15. Fabulous! Have you seen Keeping Up with the Steins? It’s a little indie flick ’bout exactly this. The Fiedlers are in competition with another family to throw the most extravagant bar mitzvah celebration possible. (The Stein’s son enters his celebration on a replica of the Titanic and declares “I’m King of the Torah.”) I’ll save the ending, but it reinforces your message exactly – and really hits home for anyone who has ever felt pressured into “having” to have a budget-busting party.

    Because our wedding? Cost way too much. If we had it to do again, we’d do what my cousins and sister have done since – elope!

  16. Great post. This question applies to a lot of professional services (doctor, dentist, etc.) but many people often don’t ask or really don’t get a clear response.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society where some of us have been brainwashed/conditioned into believing we have to literally keep up with the rest of our peer group (whatever one we’re in), friends and family.

    Very few people escape the mentality of “more is better” and more expensive = the best. Even fewer are willing to admit that maybe such celebrations are NOT necessary. (Today’s sweet 16 blowouts are often sickening in the waste of money. I mean, come on. You want meaningful? Save for an education, a car, the family’s needs…What standard is set with these kind of things where kids, by the time they start working, have these huge expectations about how life should be.)

    Coming from limited resources, we never really had issues. We simply could not afford certain things and only did what we could. I can honestly say that it’s not how much you spend, but the thought and intention that goes into something. My sister in law has a tight budget and throws great parties for her family and friends.

    ironically, we have always had friends who had money, some of whom came from or made, really big bucks. Although they spend on quality items, etc., none is extravagant, and they actually have spent far less on these “big” events (weddings, etc.) than many folks with far less money.

    Because of course, since they HAVE the money, they’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. They don’t need to SHOW their wealth via blowouts, etc. Which is really, when you start looking at all this carefully, spending to impress. Not celebrate.

    Some of the best parties we ever attended were at the low end and middle of the price spectrum. What made them really great was the host/hostess. You can have a really good time without Champagne. Or a miserable time at a big-budget blowout.

    Everyone enjoys nice things and good stuff. But really, how do we help each other as friends, by allowing friends to get into debt over these things? Depending on where you live, you are literally forced into this truly conspicuous consumption. Whether or not you can afford it.

    You begin to understand why people go off the grid. And if you think saying No to a spouse is tough, try doing it with your kids! I’ve seen parents literally go into debt because their children made it next to impossible to NOT hold one of these big parties. (And we’re not talking ordinary whining and cajoling here. We’re talking kids threatening suicide, leaving home (to live with other parents), and lots of other serious stuff, that they mean, if they can’t have a party to fit in with their peers. It’s sad and sick.)

    Society as a whole just has to learn to say NO to a lot of stuff.

    And as you point out, much of it is truly meaningless as it’s all “surface” stuff and not based on any real meaning.

    We need to be more creative in how we celebrate milestones.

  17. This is one of the best financial articles I have ever read. I am posting a link to it on my blog as soon as I finish this comment. I really appreciate all of the advice and insight you share – I check your site every day, but this particular post is especially enlightening because of it’s simplicity. Thanks!

  18. I tend to think milestone celebrations have become a kind of (very real) social arms race to impress family, friends and neighbors.

    Bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings and now sweet 16 parties. As wealth has grown since WW2 the lavishness of these celebrations has grown to the proportions of Roman feasts. They’re no longer affordable for the average household to host, and if the truth were known, as guests it gets burdensome to be bringing gifts commesurate with the opulance of the party.

    Same things as with cars, houses and college educations, it’ll take some real self confidence to step off the merry go round, take a stand and say “no not me, not anymore”. But it might start a trend with others if you could!

    BTW, I’ve heard from different sources that lavish bar/bat mitzvahs are an American thing, that the celebrations are much more conservative outside the US.

  19. I can’t comment on coming-of-age parties but the wedding posts reminded me of something.

    Marriage has always been celebrated, and there’s an impression that over-the-top celebrations are related to the affluence of an overall region or people. But in some of the poorest nations of the world such as parts of Afghanistan and India, weddings are very elaborate and they cost several times a family’s yearly income. The tradition of the big wedding bash appears to come from the dowry tradition. One of Olwen Hufton’s books, “The Prospect Before Her”, discussed the dowry tradition as it appeared in different cultures. I’ll try to boil it down into a few talking points.

    Originally a dowry was essentially a woman’s share of her inheritance from her parents, which she generally received early when she married. There was a practical reason for this. When a woman married, she became part of her husband’s family and often left the immediate area. Getting in touch with her to distribute an inheritance many years later would have been nearly impossible before the Communications Age.

    Over time, people’s assets changed and so did the way they lived. Migrating herders settled into towns and built houses. So far more of a family’s wealth was tied up in the house and other necessities for urban life, and assets weren’t as liquid as they’d once been. Even among farmers, maintaining a homestead took more assets because of all the cultivation required, so daughters of farmers who were once dowered with a portion of their parents’ herds could no longer expect to receive a fair share of the inheritance, unless the family scraped together all its cash and negotiable goods, which created great hardship. You’ll notice in just about every society that as soon as a cultural renaissance occurred and started to draw people into the cities, the dowry tradition began to break down for this reason.

    The purpose of a dowry changed over time. Originally, after the wedding, the parents were no longer responsible for any of the adult woman’s expenses, nor was she entitled to an inheritance later even if she were legally allowed to own property in her own right, which she generally was not. As women began to become more economically independent, they fought for and earned the right to own property. At that point, dowries became embarrassing. Yet estate management didn’t keep pace. Parents who had businesses or similar assets generally left them to sons, not to daughters, who seldom had the training or skills to operate them. Yet fair-minded parents seldom intended to disinherit their daughters completely, so they channeled the “dowry” into a big gift, specifically the wedding celebration.

    So: the more affluent the family, the bigger the wedding celebration. Conspicuous consumption became a public indicator of family wealth.

    It’s funny because very few brides who let their parents pay for their weddings like to think of themselves as the beneficiaries of a very old, patriarchal dowry tradition.

    The origin of the wedding shower is even weirder.

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  21. I like to remind myself “will it matter 100 years from now” or “will I remember this 20 years from now”

    Helps me put things in perspective!

  22. ‘What is the purpose of this?’

    This is exactly right, no matter what you should always ask yourself this question. I have to admit, i’ve been a victim of not thinking before I buy in the past. As I grow older I grow wiser (as you do)

    Really interesting post.

    Bryan

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