How can I spend more money?
A compulsive saver wants to relax and spend some of his money. The Expert suggests...having fun.
By Walter Updegrave, MONEY Magazine senior editor

NEW YORK ( - I'm 26 and I'm a compulsive saver. For the past five years I've saved over 70 percent of my net income, and I don't make that much. I track all my spending and have tried to budget "minimum" monthly spending levels, but I can't seem to meet them. I don't consider myself cheap, just frugal. And all my hobbies - music, games, sports - tend to be low-cost. Do you have any suggestions on how I can spend more money?

- Aaron, Seattle, Wash.

Your question reminds me of that old Monty Python skit where the announcer says "And now for something completely different - a man with a tape recorder up his nose."

Well, minus the tape recorder part, your query is indeed something completely different from what I'm used to hearing. I've gotten loads of people asking me to help them save more money. But I can't recall another plea from someone asking them how to spend. With most people, the spending comes naturally, too naturally.

My first instinct was to re-word the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to fit your situation. (Step 1: We've admitted we're powerless over the overpowering urge to save - that our saving had become unmanageable.) But then I realized that the last thing a guy like you needs is more rules or strictures.

No, what you need is a new way of thinking about spending, a totally new outlook on it. A reason to part with your cash. Most of all, you need motivation.

Have you considered fun?

That's right, fun. Get way from your spreadsheets for a minute, go to a coffee shop and buy an overpriced caf mocha, take out a pencil and paper and start listing some things you'd like to do or have always wanted to try. Daydream. Let your muse move you. Don't worry about cost, or whether you're going to hit your minimum spending target. Just think broadly, and think big.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

MUSIC: Okay, you say you're a music fan. How about building the best collection of recordings in some genre - Motown, jazz, rock, Gregorian chant, whatever. I know from my own modest experience of first buying the same records on vinyl albums, then cassettes, then CDs and now through iTunes that a recording collection can eat up a whole lot of cash.

Or why not learn to play a musical instrument or two, or, for that matter, collect unusual or vintage instruments. You could even combine playing and collecting. Won't your friends be amazed when you take them through Aboriginal rituals playing an authentic didgeridoo?

GAMES: I'm figuring that a guy your age is probably talking electronic games - PlayStation, X-box, GameBoy, that sort of thing. Again, based on my personal experience getting hit up by my 13-year-old son, it's hard for me to imagine how you can't spend a fortune what with buying the latest version of each of these systems, the latest versions of the various games, subscribing to services so you can compete with other players online, etc.

But maybe you need some "old school" games like shuffleboard, pinball, pool, air hockey and foosball. And since you've got all these games, why not convert a room in your house into your own personal Game Emporium. Don't own a house? There you go, another easy way to pry some bucks out of your wallet.

SPORTS: If you contend that sports is a low-cost hobby, you must be following your favorite teams in front of the TV with a can of Old Milwaukee and a 50-cent bag of potato chips. Get out to the old ballpark, man. And after you get settled in your box seat, slurp down a couple of those $6 beers and eat a few of those $5 dogs. And why limit yourself to Seattle's Safeco Field? Take a road trip to check out the Cubbies at Wrigley, the Red Sox at Fenway and, of course, the Yankees in the House that Ruth Built.

Seriously, I commend your saving discipline. And I hope your example makes other readers look for ways to start their own savings plan, or ramp it up a bit if they already have one.

But it's important to remember that life isn't all about scrimping and deferring gratification until the future. You want to grab some gusto along the way too. (And why not help others have a better life as well? Have you considered donating to some of the many worthy charities?)

After all, what good would it be to live a life so focused on saving that when you're older you look back to find you didn't really partake of life's pleasures or develop any interests that you can enjoy in retirement. What a downer that would be.

So loosen up, get a little crazy and start thinking about having some fun. And if you still come up dry, then come look me up in New York. We'll go out for a lavish dinner, take in a Broadway show and get a nightcap at the bar in the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center. Your treat, of course.


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