Reforming a Spender – a Work in Progress

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I bought a Roomba.

A robot vacuum cleaner.


I was on the floor trying to do stretching exercises with my personal trainer over Zoom and all I can see is dust, dust and more dust. And instead of stretching (in fact, I can’t quite see what my trainer is demonstrating because my phone screen is too small and I am too short sighted, but that is another story), I can’t stop thinking “I must vac, I must vac”

Plus I am sneezing uncontrollably due to the dust. Oops, forgot I was allergic to dust.

Roomba iRobot
Roomba resting

Recurring expenses

Just so you know, I hate vacuuming. Full stop.

Oh, and I HATE housework. BIG full stop.

About 3 years ago, while in my really stressful job and working long hours, I finally gave in and hired a cleaner. She would come fortnightly and work two hours – vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the whole downstairs area (where I live the majority of the time).

I did feel guilty about the expense. After all, I live alone. And I can’t even look after myself. So pathetic!  

I could afford it – it wasn’t as if I went into debt to pay her. And I love coming home after she’s been – everything tidied and the floor sparkling. A friend once remarked that I seem a lot less stressed on the weekends – I knew it was because I now no longer stress about the housework and cleaning chores.

Ever since embarking on the FIRE path, I have felt even more guilty about the expense. The recurring expense. As you know, one of the ways to arrive at the destination of Financial Independence in a timely manner is to increase the gap between your income and expenses and invest this gap wisely.

One of the easiest ways to reduce your expenses is to look at your recurring expenses – expenses that you pay every week, month, year. For example, your utility bills, subscriptions, gym membership etc. 

I cut out my daily takeaway coffee habit, Netflix subscription; stopped buying lunch and books; looked for ways to reduce my electricity and water bills, health and home insurance. I am currently working on my gas bill.

The one expense I cannot give up is my cleaner, a fortnightly expense. Even when I transitioned to my less stressed role with a lot less overtime hours – read pay cut – I chose to keep my cleaner. 

But of course, COVID 19 and shutdown occurred. My cleaner no longer comes every fortnight or at all. Once again, I am left to my own filth. My less stressed role becomes ultra stressful in an unprecedented (yes, that word again) way. For a few months, I was even more stressed than I ever was in my previous role. I slept a lot. Housework? You got to be kidding. 

Hence, my dusty floor. Do not worry – I continue to clean the kitchen, for as luck would have it, I cannot cook unless the kitchen is clean. And I continue to do the laundry – because I cannot possibly keep my job if I turn up in unwashed clothes. So I do do some housework, the very minimal to allow me to function as a human being.

Keeping up with the Joneses?

My friend sent me a video of her new Roomba doing its thing. And I thought – what a great idea. How wonderful if I too have one – my floor would always be clean (without me having to drag out the cumbersome hose? pipe? whatever you call it – the joy of central vacuuming)

I look it up online. And was crushed because of the cost. I cannot possibly justify spending more than a thousand dollars for this miraculous gadget. That is, the new me, the me that is pursuing FIRE. The old me would not have hesitated. After all, it’s not as if I cannot afford it – look at all the dollars sitting in the travel fund, that will certainly not be used in the foreseeable future.

So it’s back to central vacuuming.

Then a few weeks later, as I was eating dinner and morosely watching the nightly television news, a lightning bolt hit me. I wonder if Myer (a department store that sells lots of stuff) sells Roomba.

And lo and behold, it does! Oh, and they have a model that cost $649. Not as fancy pants as the other newer model I saw online earlier. I am a low tech kind of girl so really, the lower model is all I need. I text another friend to check what her model is. It’s the same and the good news is she loves it and it works very well.

I empty my purse of every Myer gift card I possess and guess what? The gift cards came to a grand total of $700!  I tell myself – this is your reward – for saving these cards over the last two years as you learn to eschew consumerism. No, really, it’s because I didn’t want for anything – I have enough clothes, shoes and stuff, I just haven’t spent the gift cards.  

And now, I’m going to blow the whole lot (with change of $51, mind you) on Roomba, a-Roomba. The euphoria! I was ecstatic. Not only am I getting a miracle gadget but I did not spend a single cent on it. 

How clever am I! 

This was two weeks ago. My floor has never been cleaner. It is such fun to set Roomba to work from my phone while I am at work. Ah, the entertainment is an added on value. I LOVE my Roomba.

That guilt again

But at the back of my mind, I still feel a twinge of guilt …  

You see, I have always considered myself a spender. All through my 20s and 30s, I spent money freely –  on clothes, shoes, kitchenware, food and travel mainly. The only saving grace was that I spent less than I earned.

But as I started pursuing FIRE in my late forties, I worked hard at changing my mindset from being a spender to that of a saver.

A spender has such bad connotations and in need of reform. You don’t care about the future, you live for the present. You have no qualms spending money to make today bearable, for tomorrow will take care of itself. You love shopping, buying things, experiences to make yourself feel and look good. You are generous in showering your friends and family with gifts, whether you can afford them or not.

A saver, on the other hand is looked upon as a saint. You think about your future, ensuring you save for a rainy day. You spend judiciously, only on what you can afford. You are frugal, spending only on what brings you joy. 

And so, once my euphoria subsided a little, I was a bit shocked (and felt a bit guilty) at just how good I felt buying Roomba. That dopamine hit! The excitement of finding a good deal, the sheer joy of spending my money (even though I used gift cards) … I don’t know, I haven’t felt this good in a while. Maybe it’s the recent stress and I’ve kind of emerged from it, happy to be still alive.

It seems I am still a spender at heart, after all.

There must be a spectrum …

As in, maybe it’s not so black and white, either or.

Maybe we can be both spenders and savers.

On this spectrum, I would probably still lean towards the spender side but just, I think.

I cannot deny the thrill of spending money on what I want, no matter how much I suppress it. Roomba was a big purchase. But I also spent $30 on a banneton and a jar for my new hobby of baking sourdough – luckily the proofing container was out of stock. Did I really need it? No. But my bread loaves look really good with the patterned rings. 

Left: dough resting in a banneton
Right: bread loaf baked with distinctive ring pattern of banneton

Old habits die hard.

But the fact that I am mindful of my wants and needs must mean that the spender in me is slowly but surely being reformed, right?

And if I delay that urge to buy – in both cases, I waited before finally purchasing – I’m learning how delay gratification works. With Roomba, I was thwarted by the price. With the banneton, I started baking without it and only after succeeding a few times, that I then looked for one. The old me would have bought one without establishing if my new hobby would survive past a few weeks.

I do get a quiet satisfaction and sense of achievement when I see my retirement nest egg grow (not lately, but it will grow again) or that my emergency fund is funded. I am thinking of the future and saving for a rainy day. So that means I am a saver, right?

But I will tell you I am most excited to see my travel fund grow … I’m not in the mood to plan any travels at the moment with the corona virus still alive and kicking but the time will come when I look at the fat balance and want to spend it! Ok, I’m not as reformed a spender as I’d like to think. 

Final thoughts

Is it even important to label ourselves as one or the other, a spender or a saver?

If we are saving for an emergency fund and our retirement nest egg, if we are frugal in every day expenses, surely, we can splurge on our hobbies or a Roomba occasionally. Or if travel is important to me and I save up for it, surely that’s ok. There must be a balance – I want to live today for tomorrow may never come. 

And lately, with Roomba working so well, I’m thinking maybe I can cut the cord with my cleaner … so maybe, another recurring expense can bite the dust.

Will I always be a spender, albeit a responsible spender?

Or am I deluding myself – that I can be both a spender and a saver?

What are your thoughts? Are you a spender or saver or both?


21 Replies to “Reforming a Spender – a Work in Progress”

  1. What a great post! I really relate and had a few chuckles too. I think we can be a mix of spender and saver, and I agree, behaviours run across a spectrum. As long as the weighting is on the saving side of the spectrum, I don’t think there is an issue. After all, if saving becomes too much of an obsession, that is going to present a whole new array of issues! You bought something you needed, after waiting for a good amount of time, using gift cards. You may trade this off against an ongoing expense. I would say winner winner chicken dinner. 🍗 Enjoy your Roomba!

    1. Thanks Kim! So glad you think we can be a bit of both, haha. I am definitely enjoying my Roomba – my floors have never been so clean, so often

  2. I think that it can help if you look at it in a couple of different ways.

    Firstly when the current situation is over and we go back to a more regular way of life, you would presumably have got your cleaner back in again. A quick google search tells me it’s roughly $25 an hour, if it takes them half an hour to vacuum then after 52 weeks you’ve broken even on the cost of the Roomba. Presumably it will last a lot longer than that, in which case happy days!

    Alternatively if you think about it in terms of making the most of your time, how much would you be willing to pay to take away having to spend half an hour each week of something that you hate doing? If the Roomba lasts 5 years then you’re paying $5 an hour to not have to do it, or one takeaway coffee a week. Sounds like a bargain to me! Obviously if the cost of the cleaner or the time taken change then it changes the math on this as well, more than likely in your favour though.

    FIRE to me isn’t about not spending money and saving as much as possible, it’s about thinking about what you’re spending money on and deciding if it’s worth it or not. If it is and you can afford it, then spend the money. If it’s not, save it!

  3. Are you enjoying the banneton? Is it worth it?
    (I KNOW you’re enjoying the Roomba – as I said on Twitter – I love mine. He’s called Dobby.)
    I’m wondering whether to go the extra mile and get some bannetons and permanent plastic covers for proving. I’m going through a LOT of Gladwrap, seeing as I’m baking a loaf a day!

    1. Hi Frogdancer, yes I am enjoying the banneton – mainly because my bowls are so big and the banneton is better suited for my dough size. I absolutely love the look of the rings.

      I don’t have plastic covers – just use tea towels … mmm … maybe I ought to cover it tightly.

      I love, love that your Roomba is called Dobby – so appropriate! Thought of you when my Roomba was stuck because of a sock

  4. OMG Latestarterfire, you are totally a woman after my own heart! I have a fridge magnet that says “Nature abhors a vacuum, loathes ironing and detests cooking” which sums me up pretty well (although I actually quite enjoy baking, as opposed to cooking which I’m not so fussed about).

    I think it worth spending money on things that add value to your life, and from what you’ve said, the Roomba definitely has. So don’t feel bad for spending on it – besides, you didn’t really spend the money, the people who gave you the gift cards did, so it’s their gift to you. 😀

    1. I detest housework because no matter how much you do, you have to do it all over again. Unfortunately, I’m not good with the ‘do a little bit each day’ philosophy – I let it pile up then it becomes overwhelming. Good thing Roomba isn’t overwhelmed, zooming around in his own pattern …

  5. Such a great post. Very relatable. Loved reading how your habits have changed as you are now more inclined to think of your future self rather than just what you can spend in the present.

    1. Thank you, Kylie – it is easier to think of my future self as that future is edging closer to the present. Retirement is looming once you are in your late forties and tend to focus the mind, haha

  6. I love your post! I feel like I’m a saver at heart but sometimes get in spending modes and splurge. Like last week I had an online clothes shopping mood and ordered way more than I should have! But now I’m back to my “normal” frugal habits. It’s funny how this can fluctuate depending on the day!

  7. Yes, it fluctuates for me too, especially when I haven’t spent any money on myself for a while. Learning my trigger points but really trying to be intentional – do I need this – helps a lot

  8. Great story LSF!

    I can feel the internal battle going on in your head, to spend or to save. Devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other. Then guilt sitting in the middle so that when you strike a balance, you feel more that you succumbed to the devil.

    I feel what you feel!

    Years ago I was talking to a friend of my then flatmate.
    She was into star signs.

    When she asked me what my star sign was, I told her I was on the cusp between Sagitarrius and Capricorn. She just burst out laughing.
    ‘I bet the Capricorn side of you has a budget and scrimps and saves all year round, getting that deposit together for your first house. Then suddenly the Sagittarius side of you decides you simply must go to Europe for a Month. Am I right?’

    She couldn’t have been more right.

    Coming home to clean floors cleaned by someone else, even if it is a round robot, is almost as good as going to Europe for 4 weeks. Almost. I’m sure the stress release benefits are identical.

    1. That’s a great visual – the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other! Yes, that’s how I feel – constant battle but hopefully, with practice, I will get better at making good spending decisions.

  9. A woman after my own heart. I also do not skimp on the cleaner in fact I am sad at the moment because I am temporarily Covid relocated and the cleaner who I love in all ways is doing a wonderful job and is no doubt much appreciated by the lodger and not me 🙁 🙁

    In fact apart from redundancy hanging over me my next biggest stress factor is living in a pit of filth I am unable to escape from. I simply am not willing to dedicate enough time to project house proud (at the best of times let alone now). In most other ways I am definitely a make do and mend type but in this specific way cleaning is super cheap compared to the immense positive value it adds to my life. I already know that if my retirement plan doesn’t include cleaning until the end of my days the plan is not right yet and needs refinement.

  10. Haha, I just feel that housework is never ending – no matter how much you do, you’ll have to do it again, and again! Roomba has made a big difference – I feel so smug at work when the message flashes up on my phone – Roomba has completed a job

  11. Great post. I also live alone and just started hiring a cleaner. It’s been amazing. I read this post because I was wondering about getting a Roomba, I mostly hear from people who love theirs, rarely do I hear people regretting getting one. I also only live in a 50 m2 place, so I have even less of an excuse to have a cleaner. I’m the opposite of you though, trying to reform being too frugal. Maybe we will meet each other somewhere in the middle 🙂

    1. One day I’d love having a cleaner again – even if it’s just to do a major clean every few months. Covid times as they are now – we’re in our sixth lockdown in Melbourne – it’ll be a while before I can have a cleaner again. In the meantime, Roomba is doing his job marvellously 🙂 I don’t regret getting Roomba but there is definitely a balance between being too frugal and willing to spend. Enjoy your cleaner while you can!

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