What’s A Lot?

I love disc golf.

There's just something super peaceful about wandering around a park playing frisbee: sport edition.

Low start up cost, endless enjoyment (unless you chuck your disc in a stagnant creek full of goose poop), no fee to practice or play, a variety of different courses to play…… talk about a great first date activity. You get to wander and talk, and if you don't like the date all you have to do is quit after 9 holes. If you like the date, you can continue on to the back nine. If they don't like wandering around a park for free with a pretty lady, they're not worth dating.

Like I said, great date activity.

However, there's one thing about disc golf I don't like.

It's inherently unfair.

Whenever I play against guys, I invariably lose. Not because guys are just better at disc golf. Not the case. However they are stronger than me. Unless I throw the disc way better than them, which is possible, 9 times out of 10 their disc is going to go a lot further than mine. An ex boyfriend of mine and I played all the time and I lost every single time. We still had fun, but it got frustrating after a while.

“So Gwen,” you say, “that's cool and all….. but how does this relate to money?”

I'm so glad you asked.

Life is kind of like a disc golf course. Everyone gets the exact same course to play, but some might be limited from the get go and some might be better. To further the analogy, you could equate my lack of strength with a lack of parental support for things like cars and college. Someone who is strong and throws the disc far down the course is equivalent to someone who had everything paid for in life and got to leverage their parent's network for an entry level job.

What are you to do if you're not the strongest at playing frisbee golf?

You learn to play smarter.

Parents can't pay for college? Get scholarships, take classes that transfer in high school, and leverage the local community college during the summer where it's cheaper. Drive around a cheaper car and put the money you've saved on insurance and loan payments into a Roth IRA. Put as much as you can into your 401(k) from work to minimize taxes paid. Buy a house and rent out the other rooms to cover your mortgage.

These ‘hacks' will help you get ahead in a world that seems to keep wanting to push you down. I've found people take a very strong stance on things money related early in life.

“Of course she can do ___________, she has a good job/no debt/no kids/inheritance from her grandma.”

One of those strong stances I've discovered relates to what people consider to be a lot of money.

 

I'm not talking about this alot.

I signed up for Camp Mustache SE 2018 (weekend two) and once again, people complained about the cost. [sidenote: If you're going to either weekend, let me know in the comments!] It costs $300 plus travel to the camp. For me, coming from the Midwest, travel will run me a bit more than someone who lives in Florida and can drive to Gainesville.

Related: Read my recap from Camp Mustache Northwest 2016 and Southeast 2017 to find out why I keep going to these events!

I consider $300 a small amount to cover an entire weekend's worth of lodging, food, and activities at a beautiful camp. Just getting a hotel room in most places would cost you $300! Obviously this can be lessened by using credit card reward points for hotels, but we're going to disregard that angle for now.

I asked several people I knew both in real life and through the FIRE community. Every person, after asking what all that covered, said it was reasonable.

That being said, there were several people who just couldn't imagine anyone wasting Three Hundred Whole dollars on one weekend trip. If they went to this event, they wouldn't be able to go on any other trips.

Not only am I going to Camp Mustache SE in January 2018, I'm traveling to both FinCon and Ecuador for the Chautauqua this year.

As someone who both earns a decent salary and prioritizes travel, I have a hard time grasping spending $300 for one weekend could be considered a lot of money. I recognize that I am very blessed to be in such a fortunate position.

So it made me think….. what is a lot of money to me?

$5 was a lot of money to me when I was a little kid getting a $2 allowance each week.

$20 was a lot of money to me after I started to earn money here and there for odd jobs.

$100 was a lot of money to me when I started babysitting and working during the summers.

$2,000 was a lot of money to me when I was in the military and earning a low wage as an enlisted pog.

$6,500 is a ton of money to me now that I'm working at my full-time W2 career.

Why did my perception of “a lot” jump so much in just a few short years?

Easy.

I started earning more.

5, 10, 20, 50, 100 bucks doesn't seem much when you're routinely getting ten times that every other week.

However, I'm weird that I recognize I'm getting paid a lot, AND don't waste it. So many people see their income increase and inflate their lifestyle accordingly.

Fighting lifestyle inflation is the number one step to achieving financial independence. I know how hard it can be to see those direct deposits go up and not spend them.

I think it's also worth mentioning my perception of “a lot” changes depending on whether or not it was an expected expense. $500 for new tires that you've known you needed for awhile and have some money said aside for? A lot, but not unbearable. $500 for new tires that came out of the blue? A LOT, and STRESSFUL. Spending $6500 on my house exterior project doesn't make me happy by any means, but it's an easier pill to swallow since I knew it would need to be done from the get go. Also helpful is not paying it all at once. I coughed up $2275 to start and will pay the rest upon successful completion of the project.

Even though my definition of a lot of money keeps changing, I'll never forget what it was like to not be earning money. Much like those I've encountered recently, my stances on money were also ingrained in me early in life. I was lucky to have good money role models to give me solid stances in life!

So tell me friends, what's a lot of money to you?

 

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35 thoughts on “What’s A Lot?

  1. Great post! Its interesting how our perception of money’s value changes over time and as you may take a higher salary career.

    For example I am currently in my last day of a business trip to Germany, where I get a per diem of 102 dollars a day for food and incidentals.

    Even if I really try, it’s very difficult to spend that amount, but it also makes you feel like less that that each day is the equivalent of 0.

    It’s a habit I’ll have to nip in the bud tomorrow!

  2. Hey Gwen,
    I’ve been reading for a while, but don’t think I’ve commented before (either that or I just have a bad memory!!). But….the Camp Mustache…brought me into the comments! My wife and I will be at the Jan 12 weekend. First time for us at one of these events. And, I’m coming from the midwest, too (WI) – so January is a GREAT time to soak in a little extra warmth and whole lot of great money discussions and a bunch of fun! I think we’re there on the same weekend – looking forward to meeting!
    Lance recently posted…IHG Points Breaks Hotels March thru May 2015My Profile

  3. I LOVE THIS. I LOVE IT. Also, I love the Mew pics and the Alot. 🙂 Oh good lord, I love this. Anyway, yes, you’re so on point with the analogy. A lot of people get the upper hand in life; we can’t blame them for the advantages they have. We have to make the best with what we’ve been dealt and say “Good for you” to the people who have it a little easier.

    I’m a cheap person, so $200 is a lot of money to me. It depends on what it’s spent on. For something like Camp Mustache, I’d have no problem shelling out $300 because the value is so good to begin with.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…Stay Calm, Save MoneyMy Profile

  4. Alyssa and I have been trying to fight off lifestyle inflation since we started our careers a few years ago. It’s so tempting to see friends taking luxury vacations, driving shiny new cars, and living in nice houses until you remember that it’s all financed and the bill will come due soon enough. We’re very fortunate to have great income from our W-2 jobs, but we realize that we don’t want to work for the rest of our lives on someone else’s schedule. So we’re focused on using as much of our income as possible to pay down debt and build wealth.

    As it turns out, $600 is a lot of money to me right now. Six months ago, if my phone broke I’d have swiped the American Express and had a brand new $600 phone the same afternoon. Now that I’ve changed my mindset, when I dropped my phone a few weeks ago I opened our tech cabinet and pulled out my ‘old’ iPhone 5 and activated that; a new phone can wait until this credit card is paid off.
    Ryan @ Just Another Dollar recently posted…The only budget worksheet you need RIGHT NOW!My Profile

  5. There’s a certain element to getting used to hearing the value of things. I’ve found myself saying “the house is actually reasonable at $1.2MM” . No! Bad! But that’s where we are. I’ve found that as you make more the amounts become frivolous. But were breaking that habit, or trying. $1 is still a dollar, so we keep that in mind.

    Regardless, looking forward to Ecuador and Dallas. Will be amazing!

    • Yeah your housing costs are freaking insane!! The day I start thinking a tiny 900 sq ft house is reasonable at $1.2 million is the day you’ll know I’ve officially lost my mind!

  6. What is a lot to me has changed drastically since becoming debt free and paying off things in cash. What’s worse is it is all relative to how much is in savings.

    To me $300 is super cheap but that would also come from my allowance and not the savings.

    The time on the other hand is expensive right now because of a fresh new baby (that is sleeping on my shoulder right now).

    I hope I can get to fincon or camp mustache next year! Maybe I’ll have enough saved by then.

  7. I definitely notice the same thing happening to me, although I’ve never really thought about it until now. As I make more, “a lot” goes up and up. I’d say a couple thousand is “a lot” for me now.

    I wonder if this is related to lifestyle inflation where spending goes up as you make more, or if it’s something else entirely – like ‘psychological inflation’, where money loses it’s value mentally as your income goes up. Either way, something I’ll have to keep an eye on now.
    Matt Kuhn recently posted…4 Most Common Fears of Retiring Early and Why You Don’t Need to WorryMy Profile

    • Ooh I didn’t even think about what object money was being spent on. I’m definitely much more likely to drop money on experiences with friends as opposed to things for me.

  8. It’s funny, a couple of hundred bucks feels like a lot for me to spend but it depends… I just spent that getting my sewing machine and serger serviced and it’s totally worth it. I guess it still feels like a lot but I happily paid that because my hobby is such a big part of my life that it was hard to be without my tools for a whole week! On the other hand I’m slotting my extra paycheque (I’m paid biweekly) into savings and that doesn’t seem like much at all but objectively it’s way bigger. This feel of “a lot” or “enough” is so closely tied to what you value that it’s almost ridiculous when people define a sum in this way.

    • Brenna what kind of sewing do you do? I will happily drop $50 at the quilt shop to get some cute fabric for a quilt. It’s addicting!

    • I have about 20 frolf courses in my town. They’re everywhere! Then again, buildings are a lot denser in Seattle I guess… see you in a few months!

  9. Great post Gwen! Jason and I will be back at CMSE 2018 (weekend 2 – woohoo!). We had some trouble justifying the cost last year. Now that we have gone once we are hooked, just getting to be around like minded people and learning from them all was priceless. Can’t wait to see you again in January 🙂

  10. I think my mark for a lot changed as we started earning income but also as our net worth grew. In some ways it made it easier to be frugal. I just didn’t feel the need to prove with purchases that I was ok. And I have no idea how they could bring the cost down any more? An empty fields with dig out own toilette and baby wipe showers and MRE’s? I’ll happily pay $300. 🙂
    Ms. Montana recently posted…Summer Ready Party! Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessMy Profile

    • As someone who’s done the whole MRE live in the field thing, I’m not sure there’s any amount of money you could pay ME to do it!

  11. Great post Gwen, and great blog in general – I’ve been following along the past few months and enjoying it immensely, so thanks very much for putting yourself out there! For me determining what is “a lot” of money is very relative to what is being purchased… I’ve spent huge amounts of money through the years helping the people I care about, but I guess I’ve always leaned towards being frugal in other areas of my life. I think $300 for an inspiring weekend of travel would be well worth it , and am sure it will pay itself back through further grist for the mill in your blog writing, so enjoy!!

    • Thanks, Frosty FIRE! I’m glad you’re here! You hit the nail on the head……. inspiration for articles is worth the $300 easy for me!

  12. I signed on for Camp Mustache SE (both sessions) because connecting with like-minded people and learning a few financial hacks is worth far more than $300.

    Sure, we could camp under a freeway overpass and dumpster-dive for food, but somehow I suspect that the quality of the discourse (and the sleep) would suffer. The complaints about the expenses are coming from a perspective of scarcity instead of the abundant ROI on the investment. Even my spouse picked up a few tips from Camp Mustache in Seattle.

    After you’re FI, $10 can still seem like a lot of money. The frugal habits that get you there are hard to relinquish…

    • That brings up a great point, Doug. Is my definition of a lot going to change after FI and the money is no longer rolling in from my day job?

  13. i’ve been trying to figure out something I call the “Happy Meal Ratio” to capture the idea you’re discussing here. Let’s take the ratio of the price of a McDonalds’ Happy Meal versus the average net worth (or annual income???). If you multiply your net worth by that ratio, you get a dollar amount that constitutes not-a-lot in your household. Want to buy something unnecessary? Compare its price tag to the Happy Meal figure. Recently, FS advised limiting auto purchases to 1/10th of annual income. i think we should come up with multipliers like this for every routine non-trivial purchase.

  14. Aww Mew with money is adorable.

    A lot of money, to me, definitely depends on the category. I love travel too, but I prioritize trips to/with family, especially since I live at least halfway across the country (and at most halfway across the world) from my family. So I’m more willing to spend $5k on a week of scuba diving with my grandparents (cost for me + Fergus) than $300 on a camping weekend by myself (Fergus would not be up for an entire weekend of socialization XD).
    Felicity (@FelicityFFF) recently posted…Why Did We Just Spend $1150 Repairing Our $500 Car?My Profile

    • Yeah you also have to think of the quality of the things you’re spending money on. I don’t like to pay for trips by myself, but I will pay for trips with people in a heartbeat!

  15. A lot is relative to what I’m spending it on. A lot of money on something I don’t enjoy, like the theater, would be $20. For another person, who loves the theater, a lot might be $500+. It’s all relative. That’s why I find it funny when people complain about what things cost. Of course to them it might seem like a lot but to others it might seem like a steal.

    Spending $300 for a weekend like that doesn’t seem like a lot to me, but that’s probably because I’d enjoy it quite a bit.
    Owen @ PlanEasy recently posted…The Simple Retirement PlanMy Profile

  16. It is interesting how not only does your perception of what is a lot of money change over time but also how you value the items you can buy with your money once you have more available. I have always enjoyed taking pictures and capturing moments. It used to be that when I got a new camera, which was not all the often, I was so excited to try it out and see how great it was. At that point in time buying a camera meant saving up and a sense of accomplishment when I had enough saved. Being able to purchase it felt like an event in of itself. Recently we decided to get a new camera that would be good to take on a trip (small, waterproof, okay if it got dropped). This time around though there was no saving up for it. We already had the money and the biggest thing was just spending the time to figure out which one was a good buy for the features we wanted. While there is some excitement we will have it for our trip it just isn’t the same as when it “cost more”.

    Like Gwen I think what we value the most are experiences. Having kids drove that point home. While toys they have received quickly get pushed to the back of their closet and are rarely talked about they continue to bring up experiences they had and places we have visited in prior years and ask to do more stuff like that.

  17. A lot to me depends on the thing quite a lot – I can’t give a blanket number of “$500 is a lot” because it depends on the thing.

    Talking clothes, anything over $20 is a lot. I don’t go above $20 when I’m out for lunch / dinner unless it’s fancy – then I spend big ($100 steak is amazing!). I would drop $100 on safety gear for roller derby without a whimper, but I’ll also complain about spending $2 on a sticker to decorate that same safety gear.
    LadyFIRE recently posted…unF*ck your budgetMy Profile

  18. My a lot changes based on the value I think I’ll receive from it. Roughly $300 all in to spend the weekend with my now-long-distance girlfriend. Not a lot. $300 for a bag is definitely a lot. One brings me joy and furthers our relationship and one is just an item.
    ZJ Thorne recently posted…Net Worth Week 62My Profile

  19. Hey Gwen! Found your blog through Reddit (nice AMA btw).

    I think I’m in the same camp as Steve Poling — wondering what “a lot” would be as a ratio. Your definition of “a lot” grew over time, but maintained a ratio compared to your overall funds – I wonder how that impacts what a lot is defined as.

    My hypothesis is that for FI/frugal folks there is roof on what “a lot” is, where eventually that number stops growing. More consumer driven folks let this grow forever based on available funds.

    I feel like for myself, “a lot” is somewhere around $5k — enough to buy a chunk of a new car, to make an IRA contribution or fix a semi-major house issue in one swoop. Any more than that is a “whole lot” haha.

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