How Much Do You Suffer Today To Help Yourself Tomorrow?

Your future self – the one that hikes his pants above his belly and whines about the good old days – will thank you for sacrificing today to save as much money as possible for retirement. Or maybe he’ll resent you for not having more fun with your funds before opportunities passed you by.

Well Heeled Blog asks whether ultra-savers go too far to deprive themselves of the finer things. After all, if you can’t enjoy your money now, there’s little reason to believe you’ll be able to do so when you’re older. On the other hand, the prospect of nearing retirement with too little in the bank is terrifying.

How do you strike the balance between saving and spending while the spending is good?

Saving and Self-Deprivation, Do They Go Hand in Hand? [Well Heeled Blog]


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  1. leprechaunshawn says:

    Save as little as possible. You can’t take it with you.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Invest in a few tin cups so that you can have something for your old age.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      In the words of Sol from Ocean’s 12:

      “I want the last check I write to bounce.”

    • whitecat says:

      “Your future self – the one that hikes his pants above his belly”

      Pardon me, but did you really intend to address this only to the minority of people who need to plan for retirement – men? You’re missing more than half your audience.

      • hotcocoa says:

        I didn’t really notice that until you mentioned it…and now that I do, it’s a little annoying. Eh, assumptions, assumptions. But do women really make up more than half the readership here?

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        Am I the only person who was amused by this and didn’t take it quite so literally?

  2. momtimestwo says:

    We are saving for our kids college education, after that we will save for ourselves.

    • billybob9280 says:

      Please tell me you are kidding… They can borrow for college, you cannot borrow for retirement.

      • momtimestwo says:

        Not kidding. DH has 401K at work, which is fine until the kids are in school. Plus his work pays 70% of college tuition for our kids. I could not enjoy my “senior years” in 35 years knowing my kids were paying off college debt. We want them to start off their life educated and debt free. If they f up after that, they are on their own.

        • regenerator says:

          Oh, what a genius move! I don’t think there are any respected financial advisers out there who would say you should save for your kids’ college education before your own retirement. That is a bad, bad plan. Please do a little research on this. Seriously, as billybob9280 said above, your children can take out loans for college, but you cannot do the same for retirement. Save for retirement, then put anything extra toward a college savings plan. Do not do the inverse, or you will be in for a rude awakening at retirement age.
          Also keep in mind that you may think you’re relieving your children of the burden of debt by making sure they don’t have student loans, but instead they’ll have the burden of paying the living expenses of you and your husband in old age.

          • jeepguy57 says:

            Well said.

            My parents weren’t able to save enough to pay for my college, so I took out loans. Sure, I pay $235/month on those loans but I don’t have to worry about taking care of my parents one day. They are set for retirement. My in-laws, on the other hand, have little to nothing in retirement funds and my wife and I are worried that they will become our financial burden one day.

            • TonyK says:

              This will sound heartless, but my parents spent everything they ever got. Saving was not something I learned from them. Thus, I will not bear their financial problems.

              It is not a lot but I contribute to the company’s 401K. If profits are good we get matches up to 3% and sometimes they double the amount of the match.

          • Snaptastic says:

            This. I would have felt like crap if my parents had to sacrifice for me after I was old enough to take care of myself. They did enough by just raising me well until I left the house at 17.

            When I was in high school my Dad told me that I could go to any school I wanted to and he would find a way to pay for it. He was enlisted military–I knew he couldn’t afford it and it broke my heart to think of them scrimping, saving and working harder to try and get me off to a good start. I worked my butt off to ensure that my parents wouldn’t have to keep sacrificing anything for me. The short of it is that I graduated from college with a degree and no debt and they didn’t have to pay a thing (except for a computer they kindly bought for me at the start). My brother spent a few years in limbo, but took a similar route and is working on college without burdening our parents.

            I guess the short of it is that they raised me to be grateful for what we had–and despite their offer to help I knew that I had no place to take anything from them when I could work hard for it myself so that they could get back to the business of taking care of themselves.

        • dyskinetic says:

          Speaking as someone whose parents didn’t make saving for retirement a priority… please, please save. Please.

          Both my sister and I made it through college without much support and without taking on an incredible debt load. In fact, because we needed financial aid we both got work study, and for me that work study led to my first career.

          But yet, all of that work could be wiped out and I could be weighed down for decades taking care of my parents who didn’t believe in the value of compounding interest and tax deferred accounts. There’s no way I can catch up or keep up with the 30 years of saving they were supposed to do… but that is what I might have to try and do, and soon.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          Why not split the difference? Save a dollar for the kids, save a dollar for yourself. There shouldn’t be a scenario in which you can only do one or the other. I don’t think your kids would be too happy if you went totally broke in middle age.

    • TPA says:

      Screw the kids! My parents did! and it worked out perfectly fine. I worked my hind end of to put myself through college and grad school, debt-free. Amazing how much more seriously you take your classes when it’s coming out of your own pocket.

      • s73v3r says:

        At the same time, if you’re working all the time to put yourself through school, you could miss out on other opportunities that the school gives you in the form of extracurriculars. I was part of my school’s robotics team, and thanks to that experience, I was hired right out of school. Had I been working the entire time, I doubt I would have been able to do that.

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      Let ’em pay their own way. Builds character and they’ll appreciate the education more if they pay for it — just like everything else.

  3. StuffThingsObjects says:

    I only have a few bucks to my name, but I have a new electric piano to keep me warm when Winter hits.

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    My brother-in-law, who had no education, spent money like it was growing on trees. He spent money on the most useless stuff, had 5 cars while my sister had one and was always shopping on eBay. Over one Christmas dinner he said “I don’t care if my kids go to college, if they want to go they can pay for it themselves or they can cut grass for a living”. My sister, who is a college educated engineer and was the breadwinner of the family finally put her education to work by divorcing the f**king lazy a**hole.

    • usa_gatekeeper says:

      Kudos to your sister.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Is she available?

      • Blueskylaw says:

        She remarried to a really great guy who actually cares about his and her kids and shares her view about helping your kids if you have the means.

    • TasteyCat says:

      Not to defend your brother-in-law because it sounds like he was spending money like he had it, but as far as college, I don’t see a problem with his philosophy. While it’s nice to give kids some assistance, they should be working to pay their own way, trying to locate financial aid, and preferably are receiving financial guidance on the potential pitfalls of student loan debt.

      • parliboy says:

        True. But it’s also true that if a loan involves having some money now, and having to pay back more later, then it’s also true that a college fund before now is worth more money now.

        If you have the money to spare, set it aside for your child’s education. That way, if something happens to you in your last years, you’re more likely to have a back-up plan in the form of yourchildren.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        She was the breadwinner, they had a joint checking account, therefore he was spending mostly her money. My parents put more than a down payment on a house for them and we had the entire interior redone before they even moved in, so they already had a good head start in life. My sister wanted to save money for their kids education but he didn’t. My parents then opened brokerage accounts for their kids so that the stocks would appreciate over the years and help them when they got older. The more my parents gave them the more he spent on himself. He would leave with his dad and brothers on Friday to go to the races and come back Sunday night, having drank and spent the nights in a nice hotel while she stayed home to do the shopping and cleaning and taking care of the kids by herself and then before Sunday came to an end she would make sure he had lunch made for the next day because somehow he didn’t have time to make it himself. He had a nice life handed to him and he pissed it all away because of his greed and selfishness (he bought 3 ATV’s and wanted a fourth because the other 3 couldn’t go “deep into the woods”). All my sister wanted was to save for her kids college education so that they could get ahead in life and be given the break that she got when her education was paid for. Now he is divorced and living back with his parents, but at least he still gets to go to the races every week :-)

        • Not Given says:

          It’s a miracle she didn’t have to pay alimony. My cousin had to pay alimony to her ex husband and he got the house.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          +1 to your sister.

          Her ex sounds like my ex-husband. He had a collection of electric guitars, guns, rare vinyl records, studio recording equipment, a drug habit and over 30k in debt. He had a cow when I called a contractor to look at the bathrooms until there was a waterfall from the leaking pipes into the kitchen. It was seven years later before I could get the damage to the kitchen repaired.

          You can’t fix that kind of selfish. There is spending money while you’re young and can afford it, and then there is blowing it on crap while you have debt and little in the way of savings.

          When I asked him about what he expected to do in retirement, he stated that he planned to work until he dropped dead, and therefore we had no need to save money.

          That ain’t livin’.

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      Good for her. There’s nothing worse than a lazy douche bag spending other people’s money.

      Well, except maybe the evil monkey living in my closet.

  5. halo969 says:

    There has to be a balance between saving for the future while still enjoying the present. For each person this is different depending on their income and expenses and unfortunately not everyone has the means to be able to do both, so they make sacrifices along the way.

    I don’t know what the answer is for everyone, but for myself it’s taking advantage of my employer’s 401k (it’s free money!), being frugal when shopping, and taking advantage of my local library instead of buying music, movies and books. A lot of money is saved this way, plus I learned the hard way after DVDs first came out that there’s no point in owning every movie I’ve ever enjoyed watching. Not only does it get to be an expensive habit, but then you have to buy furniture to store it all. Same goes for books and music, although I do miss the thrill of going to the record store to find CDs. I bet that’s why the local Half Price Books is so crowded near my house – they have books, cds, dvds, games, etc. Sometimes browsing is more fun than buying, and if you do find something you must own it’s cheaper than buying it new.

    • trencherman says:

      I spend too much money at the local Half Price Books–I need to follow your advice and go to the library more.

  6. lain1k says:

    I wouldn’t say I am extremely frugal but I work full time and go to school full time. I work so I don’t accrue debt and I go to school to hopefully improve my financial situation. I have pretty much decimated my social life and sometimes my sanity. I keep telling myself that it will all be worth it in the end.

    • jessjj347 says:

      IAWTC! If you spend money now, you’ll never have it in the future. Or you’ll stay in the same social class forever, at the very least.

  7. Foot_Note says:

    wonder how many people on SS now are hiding assets?

    • kmw2 says:

      None, most likely. Social security isn’t means-tested, you get it for working and contributing, in proportion to how much you contributed.

      • NeverLetMeDown says:

        “in proportion to how much you contributed.”

        Well, sort of, but it’s not truly proportional – somebody who makes $100k/year their entire life will get less than 4x the benefit than someone who makes $25k/year.

        • AustinTXProgrammer says:

          True, but it is in proportion (not linear) to your contributions and not your income or assets.

  8. JollyJumjuck says:

    Save for tomorrow, but not at the expense of enjoying today. The most bitter person in the world is the one who made sacrifice upon sacrifice, only to have it come to nothing in the end.

    You don’t want to be the person at 70 having to beg for change on the street corner because you didn’t study enough or spent too much. At the same time, you don’t want to be the person who denied himself the pleasures of youth and worked extremely hard, only to die an untimely death before being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor or, worse, making one mistake and having some con artist swindle you out of your life’s work (or even worse, bad luck taking it away; i.e. something happens that no reasonable-prepared person could have predicted).

    Prepare yourself for the future, but not at the expense of the present. We only go around this world once.

    • RandomHookup says:

      It’s hard to plan for an untimely death. Sometimes you are just going to have to leave some money on the table.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I’m trying to learn to be better at this. I grew up with parents who were learned extreme-savers and always lived comfortably and were able to provide for us. My aunt drove up her cc bills and ended up in major trouble. As a consequence I’ve always been an extreme cheapskate. It’s actually taken my parents to prove me wrong – I think they’re starting to realize that they went a bit overboard with denying themselves in order to save in their younger years and they’re starting to change their habits while still being reasonably frugal.

  9. Echomatrix says:

    Hate to say it but why bother saving? Thats what S.S. is for. (theoretically) My take, spend money on things that are important to you and save the rest. If too many “things” are important to you, its time to reevaluate your life.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Your first two sentences are diametrically opposed to your last two.

      Social Security may or may not be there when I retire, but we’re planning for our retirement as if it won’t, because we have no idea what will happen in the next 20 years or so. Even if SS is solvent, we’d like to travel and to not have to change our standard of living from what it is now, so we would want to supplement our SS income anyway.

      Your last two sentences are good advice supporting saving whatever you can without making yourself miserable, which is pretty much what we’re doing to that end.

    • JHerrick79 says:

      I’m in my early 30s and I have NO expectation that Social Security will still be around when I reach retirement age. Even if it is, it will likely be reduced and pay only a portion of my expenses.

      I’ve been taught that I need to save to fund my own retirement. If SS happens to survive that long, that will be pleasant surprise, but I’m not counting on it.

    • jessjj347 says:

      That is not what SS is for. Too many baby-boomers have relied on SS, and are now needing to apply for public assistance because they have no retirement savings.

    • Pennsylvanian says:

      Social Security is NOT a retirement plan and should not be treated as such. It is an insurance policy. SS is a contract between generations that nobody will fall below a certain level of poverty in their old age, but basically SS amounts to povery-level income. Although, if that’s how you want to spent your old age, I guess it is an option.

  10. saltyoak says:

    Every year the SS company writes to tell me how much I’ll get when I’m old enough. Yet I believe they took it and are not going to give it back to me. Or my student loan will be the first deduction.
    All of my people seems to have to work at something to the end. Most of us won’t get to old age, probably, every year more go on ahead and will never see “old age”.
    Change of heart, to be here now, happy.
    Have never considered SS an option.
    Type of cardboard box keeps me motivated!

  11. Megalomania says:

    I think the real trick is just realizing how much you’ll actually enjoy something you want to buy. A lot of stuff people buy, they’ll just never use. It’s kind of like losing weight; if you think about the stuff you want to eat, you’ll realize that ultimately you’re happier not eating it; something that also ties into not buying stuff you won’t enjoy.

  12. Etoiles says:

    Definitely buy stuff. Just… make it stuff that’s of good entertainment value, good quality, and don’t spend more than you have to on something (wait until it’s on sale / a good deal / etc). That’s how I combine both, anyway… I do want enough to last my whole life, but I don’t want that life to be bitter, boring, and deprived.

  13. Yorick says:

    So far in my life I’ve had my savings wiped out three times. It really sucks when you have to start over again and again. At least I’ve finally realised I can’t take it with me, and experiences are better to have than things.

  14. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I think of my sister in law who saved and did without…and died suddenly at age 62 before she retired. I know that we should save and plan for the future, but we really don’t know what that will be. What good is it to live so austerely that life is literally no fun? You could die tomorrow and for what…so your kids or relatives can spend your money.

    • RandomHookup says:

      It would be oh so easy if we only knew when we would die, right? It’s all a risk (kinda like believing in a higher power), but too many people adopt the “I might die tomorrow attitude”. I’m on the side of the ant instead of the grasshopper.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        It’s actually better that we don’t know when we’ll die – what a burden that would be!

        It just made me sad to see my SIL die so suddenly. She worked so hard, since she was a teenager, and was looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren.

        I too side with the “ant” approach.

        • RandomHookup says:

          My mother died at age 62 as well, just short of her retirement. She was a big time “ant” and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her mother had died the year prior at 93, so it’s really hard to know how much to put away to make sure you don’t outlive your money.

          The reality is, it isn’t that hard to have a fun life without spending all your money. Some of the best things in life are free (or cheap). The people who save and are miserable are probably not that different than the people who spend it all and are miserable.

          • lucky13 says:

            Totally agree – you don’t have to live like a rock star to enjoy life but living like a monk is no guarantee of the future either – we all need to find a happy (or at least acceptable) balance between the two extremes.

            Be like the ant in your younger phase of life, but don’t fear letting go of that to become the grasshopper when you’re older. Reversing this model is a recipe for disaster.

  15. Brie says:

    Thanks for the reminder. We just killed our landline and I need to open up a savings account for the kids’ orthodontia. Sure the $25 a month might be a drop in the bucket, but I’d rather have that bucket than fritter the $25 away on wine.

  16. Magrath says:

    I buy very little of the non-essentials. If do I buy an item of luxury I go all the way and get the best that I can afford of it. No point in having a bunch of low quality possessions when you can have several high quality items.

  17. FrankReality says:

    My two cents – your experience and opinions may differ

    I set goals and save to reach those goals – whether it’s saving for additional education, or saving for a down payment on a house, or saving for your kids education, or saving for your retirement. As you go through life, your goals will change.

    But at the same time, if it’s important you may want to have a budget for some frills like travel or concert tickets or going to sporting events. I think the budget is where you manage the balance between saving for goals and spending now.

    Second, I target my spending on “investments” where possible – items that either increase in value or retain their value, or depreciate slowly – in that order. I try to minimize spending on things that depreciate quickly like vehicles.

    Third, one of my goals was to get to the point where I could pay cash for things, rather than borrow – the one exception was my mortgage.

    Last, I was a bit of a slow learner on this one – but for things I use a lot, I buy quality. When you buy quality, you scream once, but with cheap stuff that works poorly or doesn’t last, you scream every time you use it and scream again when you replace it.

  18. Snit says:

    When I look at all the useless crap I payed way too much money for, I wish I’d not bought any of it. The Amish are right. The more you own, the more it owns you. So, whadda ya do with any money you do have?
    After taking care of your kids, save as much as you can. Why? To give yourself the best gift possible, that being a comfortable early retirement. Yes, it is possible. I did it.

  19. Alvis says:

    Buy a motorcycle.

    Have fun now, save money on insurance and gas for later.

  20. Not Given says:

    I have some really old stuff, bought used. I remember my 15 year old son, took a lesson from his father, then came home and replaced the timer on my (bought used for cheap years before because it was broken) washer. He is 34 now and I still have the same washer. Maytags were built to last back then, not anymore.

    I can’t remember the last time I drove a vehicle that didn’t have 100k+ miles on it.

    Most of my furniture that I personally didn’t put together out of a box was either a hand me down or bought used. When my son was young, putting together boxed furniture was our thing to do together. I’ve had to turn down hand me downs because they just won’t fit in my house.

    Some small appliances, tvs and one computer, (previously I had an 8088, a 386, which I upgraded, and a pentium 3 that had been upgraded to a 4 as hand me downs,) plus related equipment are all the electronics I’ve had to pay full price for. (We still have tube TVs and a VCR.) A few electronics I’ve gotten free for doing surveys and a DVD player for Christmas.

    Year before last I bought a new microwave from Walmart for $60. It’s the first new one I’ve ever had. My husband used to take all the microwaves people didn’t want to fix after they got the estimate and put the matching parts together and kept my and his family in microwaves for years. He has a different job now but he retrofitted our older home with central heat and air, using a discarded condenser from someone who was upgrading.

    He trades work with anyone that has something he wants. He got a 17′ bass boat for some labor on a guy’s rent houses. He even got my hair done for a while with a trade, until I let it grow out. He got a shotgun for re-blueing several other guns.

    I have a whole building full of junk/scraps in my backyard that he makes stuff out of. It’s like an obsession. He made a game cart from an old ambulance gurney and a old wheelchair.

    I have a freezer full of game, venison, buffalo, dove, turkey, feral hog. The freezer was under warranty but it was defective and the company didn’t want to pay for fixing it so they sent the customer a new one and told DH to junk it. DH fixed it on his own time with his own materials. We’re still about to go bankrupt.


    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      It sounds like you’ve lived a life of frugality, but I can’t help but wonder where all your money goes: do you just not make much of it and there isn’t as much to go around, or have you spent it?

      • Not Given says:

        We had some bad years in business, we used credit cards to make up the difference and pay medical expenses and the good years were never enough to dig out of the hole. When DH got a real job with benefits in the late 90s we should have declared bankruptcy then and got it over with, instead of paying ever increasing amounts of interest ever since. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. We also have never had a lot of money, we qualify for chapter 7. We have medical expenses from 8 chronic diseases between us. Our house is paid off, though.

    • areaman says:

      I have an observation and question…

      From reading your post it sounds like a lot of time and energy is going into not spending money vs making money.

      Can you say where you live? I know in some areas there’s not a lot of money flowing around so it hard to save in liquid assets (hence being paid in bass boat).

  21. DoktorGoku says:

    This is something that every medical and surgical resident thinks about.

    I still don’t know.

    • trencherman says:

      The physician who has to work into his/her 80s in order to maintain a lifestyle is almost a cliche. I hope you’re right, and they are thinking more about the future. Having said that, I have several retired or nearly retired physician friends who are doing just fine.

  22. energynotsaved says:

    I lived with “Dr. Spend Everything” for 30 years. It was fun. I don’t regret the trips and fantastic vacations. I still am stunned by the amount of ‘stuff’ we bought on a weekly basis. Wish I had taken some of the money and started a secret account for the ‘rainy’ day. Unfortunately, everyone has storms in their lives.

    Now, I’m really careful with my money. The car is old, but runs well. I take care of me. I still attend the ballet and movies. (Just see the ballet a lot further back and the movies before 6pm on Tuesdays.) I give to charity. I help my kids WHEN they ask and that is only when they really need it. I’ve gone back to school to prepare for a new career. Even more than anything else, my attitude has really changed.

    I don’t drink fine wine, anymore. I don’t pour out a pot of coffee (it reheats). I keep the heat set to 63 and the a/c set to 80. And, strangely enough, I am the most at peace I’ve ever been.

  23. tungstencoil says:

    I save a generous amount of my income (somewhere around 17% prior to company match, all savings considered) for retirement. That being said…

    My mother saved and saved her entire life. No vacations, no nights out, not much by way of entertainment. She did retire early, but by because it was early she continued to be frugal.

    By the time it got to the point where she realized, at her current rate, she had more money than life left, she was far to ill and frail to do anything. She had one time, years ago, taken a 1-day cruise with her church, and loved it. For years, we tried to get her to go on an actual multi-day cruise (at one point even offering to pay), but she refused – too expensive. By the time she realized she could definitely afford it, she was too frail, even with a wheelchair and assistance. What a shame. She died not having experienced a lot of the things that she thought she might do, “one day”.

    Lessen: prepare for the future; live a little now, too. We eat in almost every night; we spend frugally (against our income; admittedly, we do well). We watch movies on Netflix instead of the movie theater most times.

    We also go on vacation every year, to someplace new and usually exotic. We save, and are remodeling rooms and parts of our house, one bit at a time. It’s all about balance.

  24. maruawe says:

    I put savings into coins, I threw coins into a can for years and never thought about it, Then one day as I was counting coins to go to the bank, I came across a particular one that caught my eye
    and went online to check it out and found that it was worth a small fortune. Since that day I check every coin and bill that comes into my possession. I am adding to my retirement account with each one that I keep… suggestion check out the numismatics urls on line .And wake up to the things that are right under your nose. foreign or domestic money is a fantastic way to save for anything

  25. jimleigh1313 says:

    I have a goal set as to how much I want to retire, at the time that I want to retire. Also, has a tool to keep track of this. Currently I am 1year and 2months ahead of schedule. As that number starts changing, I can adjust how much I am putting towards retirement :)