Marvelous Money: Long-Awaited Splurges

11 April 2023

Can you point to anything in your past about which you remember saying, “When our budget has room to breathe/I pay off my loans/I get a raise, I’m finally going to splurge on ______”? I can think of two, and I thought it might be fun to chat about them today.

I’ve mentioned here and there the idea of our household budget expanding over time, which is both somewhat fiddly to talk about but also something I feel it’s important to be realistic about. And also, isn’t it the arc we all hope to realize over time? I’ve been writing this blog for almost 15 years – it spans from the perspective of a college senior to a mid-30’s mom – so I certainly hope my financial situation has changed over our time together. Yours, too :)

And it has. John and I have moved from a season of paying off student loans and entry-level jobs (where splitting a burrito at Chipotle was a rare treat) to a new season where we have advanced in our careers and can comfortably afford most things we want. (Though you better believe we still live by our budget – in fact, I’m thinking of updating that very old post because so many of you have emailed hoping I’d get the example Google Doc fixed up. Let me know if that would be of interest!)

Accordingly, our budget has expanded a bit, and it’s been interesting to adjust our behavior to fit it. It’s been sweet, but also has required some rewiring, some uncertainty, some resetting of expectations. For example, I was chatting with John about buying tickets to Wicked, which is coming to the DPAC here in August. I have wanted to see it for years and years and years, and I said to him that maybe we could make it an early Christmas present? To which he gently said, “You know, we can just go to a show occasionally. We don’t have to try to shoehorn it into the nearest holiday.”

And he’s right – we’ve made room for it in our budget. But old habits die hard :) Which on the whole, I’m grateful for! I’d always rather set my expectations for spending too low than too high.

There are two seemingly small things, though, that years ago I identified as milestones and said to myself, when our budget feels more comfortable, I’ll do those things. That will feel like a splurge. That will really be living, ha. They’re kind of hilarious in retrospect, but here they are:

1. Pre-peeled garlic. Many years ago – probably pre-kids – I remember having lunch at a friend’s house and watching her cook a noodle dish. She pulled a bag of pre-peeled garlic from the fridge, swiftly chopped it up, and added it to a saute pan.

I find peeling garlic to be one of those grating kitchen tasks that slows down my meal prep flow, leaves annoying bits of papery peel drifting around my kitchen, and makes my hands reek. The idea of being able to pluck a clove from a bag and immediately press it into action? The height of luxury.

Alas, I didn’t feel I could justify a $4.50 or so bag of pre-peeled garlic every week when the garlic head was $.50 and lasted at least two weeks. But about a year ago, I decided it was time, and plucked the coveted bag from the produce cooler.

And friends, it’s been as good as I thought it would be all those years. The only downside? The garlic in the fridge spoiled faster than I could use it. But I found a solution: keeping the bag in the freezer! The cloves thaw enough to slice in a few seconds, and since we’re cooking them 90% of the time, we’ve never noticed any difference in flavor.

2. A compost service. Probably five years ago, I heard about a service called Compost Now, which swaps out your full compost bucket for a clean one once a week. They come right to your doorstep – you just have to leave it on your porch. They process your kitchen scraps along with everyone else in your community, and whenever you’d like, you can request bags of dirt, or donate the dirt you’ve contributed to to local community gardens. Amazing! I thought. The price? Not so amazing. (It’s currently $39/month.)

I come from a long line of composters, and it’s something that matters to me. You may recall that we had a good long run of driving our compost bucket to the compost bins in our neighborhood community garden, but it was a hassle that did not survive the addition of a third child to our family.

Earlier this year, I decided our budget could support a Compost Now membership, and it’s been a dream. The bucket lives under our sink and the whole process couldn’t be easier – you can throw in everything from meat and bones to flour and sugar bags, flower arrangements to pizza boxes. I love that we’re able to live out something that matters to us.

In the end, I hope that that’s always what our budget expanding feels like – living into what matters to us more and more, not necessarily just adding comfort or luxury or ease to our lives (though those things are all nice, too!). I’m toying with another Marvelous Money post about generosity, our role in it and how we think about it, and how it changes over time – would love to know if that would be of interest, too.

But of course, I must know: what splurges, big or small, have you realized over time? Especially ones that are recurring versus one-time? Please share!

P.S. If you’re in an area that Compost Now serves (currently: Atlanta, Asheville, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, and Cincinnati) and also want to splurge, you can use my link to get a $10 service credit.

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April 11, 2023 6:15 am

Ours without a doubt is shopping at Publix. In our 20s, we were a strict Aldi and then Food Lion family, even though they weren’t always closest to us. When I was pregnant, we switched to Publix because it was closer and meant I only had to go to one store. Also, it’s 5 minutes from Penelope’s daycare, which means on Friday’s I can scoot out work a bit early most weeks and quickly go grocery shopping for the week and then grab her on the way home. Certainly more pricey than Aldi, but absolutely worth it for the convenience and overall experience (shopping IS a pleasure at Publix!).

Kelly H
April 13, 2023 4:23 pm
Reply to  Chelsey

THIS. I recently switched jobs, and Publix is literally across the street from my workplace. I’m so excited about making this switch, and its always felt like such a luxury. Publix is absolutely a pleasure! Now if only I had a Chick-Fil-A beside it.

April 11, 2023 6:37 am

The biggest change as our budget has increased- having our wonderful cleaning lady come once a month. If/when I get a significant raise I am planning to increase her visits to twice a month (cost per visit goes down with increased frequency)! This has brought more peace to our marriage, given two working parents more time with our kids, and is extra motivation to keep the house tidy (if only in preparation for her visit). Plus I feel good about supporting a women-owned small business. Wins all the way around.

April 11, 2023 10:19 am

Pre-Kid and Pre-Expensive Monthly Daycare bill: A cleaning service! I never thought I would be the type of person who had people come and clean my house. My family didn’t do that growing up. My parents had three kids to do all the domestic labor LOL But another commenter described it perfectly: Having someone clean our house created more peace in our lives and marriage and more free time to do what we enjoy. We hope to bring the service back one day.
Now, that we are parents I’d say our splurges are going out to eat, which in the DC area at a non-fancy place can still end up being almost $100 somehow! So we don’t do it often. And continuing to spend money on traveling (even to Hawaii) over alllll of the things we could be doing to fix up our house hahah

April 11, 2023 1:02 pm

Buying are flowers and plants from Garden Supply! We could only afford Lowes or Home Depot up until a couple years ago, but then we switched and it truly is such a delightful experience to shop in such a beautiful place!

April 11, 2023 1:13 pm

Ah I just love your posts like this! Longtime reader here. I don’t know if you live near a Trader Joe’s (though I think I’ve heard you mention it in the past) but do you know about the frozen garlic cubes?! It’s fresh minced garlic, but frozen in cubes (they have ginger, too!). I love using both together for Thai dishes or whatever, and it saves SO much time. I’ve found them to be just as fragrant as fresh garlic, but I’m not totally a garlic connoisseur. Just an FYI in case you’re ready to save even more time in your meal prep, ha!

Kelly Strawberry
April 13, 2023 2:08 pm
Reply to  Em

When I read this I was shocked you don’t just buy the pre-minced garlic in the refrigerated jar. That and the ginger tube both last forever! It may not be as fresh but I have never noticed a difference when cooking and it’s so convenient.

Rebekah Murphy
April 11, 2023 1:32 pm

Would love to hear the post about generosity!

April 12, 2023 9:18 am
Reply to  Rebekah Murphy

Me too!

April 11, 2023 3:11 pm

Oohh, I love the compost idea!! Being from Europe, it is very strange (still, after 4.5 years of living in the US!) to throw food scraps in with the regular trash. I‘ll have to make an effort to look into options!
We splurged on a cleaning service when we lived in Germany and had tiny children. It felt sooo luxurious having the house cleaned once a week! These days we splurge on flight tickets to Germany, ha! And travel in general.
Oh, and Target‘s ginger cubes!! Your peeled garlic story made me think about those! Perfect for smoothies etc. I‘ll peel garlic any day, but peeling and grating ginger… different story. Plus, they stay in the freezer, too. So they last forever :)

April 11, 2023 3:25 pm

I love raspberries, but I rarely purchased them for years because they are SO expensive. About a year ago, I decided it was time, and almost every week since then I’ve put one of those tiny expensive containers in my grocery cart, and I’ve enjoyed them immensely. :)
As far as recurring purchases go, subscribing to more news outlets was a big one for us! The next splurge purchase I’m looking forward to making is hiring a cleaning service. I DREAM of the day we can outsource both cleaning and some lawn work.

April 17, 2023 5:22 pm
Reply to  Em

Another thing I thought of… I will HAPPILY pay extra to fly direct at this point in my life. It eliminates so much stress from the potential of a missed connection and saves so much time! This is such a good thing to fun prompt to think about – I keep coming back to this post :)

April 12, 2023 11:01 am

One-time splurge: books! I come from a family of avid readers and a librarian mother, so using the public library and waiting for holds is in my nature. (It feels like Christmas when a hold comes in!) But during lockdown when the library was closed, I bought 6 new fiction books on Amazon. Worth every penny, and I shared them with my girlfriends/neighbors during summer 2020.
And a recurring splurge: paying for curbside grocery pickup. #gamechaning for a working mama.
Maybe one day I’ll level up to a recurring cleaning service…

Kelly Strawberry
April 13, 2023 2:36 pm

Travelling (~1 “big” trip a year) is my splurge. By golly, it’s expensive to travel.
My long-awaited and unrealized splurge (which may never be realized!) is a lake house! My husband thinks owning a second home is the worst idea ever (and ok…he is right) but spending weekends at the lake?! My dream come true!

April 16, 2023 6:25 pm

Buying a small bouquet of flowers whenever I’m at Trader Joe’s. They always have a lovely selection and really good prices. I only go about once a month, so I decided that I would get them whenever I was there and take the decision making and hemming & hawing out of the equation.

April 17, 2023 10:05 am

Literally laughed out loud that one of your long-awaited splurges is garlic…but I love you for it! While monthly cleaning certainly comes to mind, I think one of the biggest shifts was starting to choose flights at least a little bit based on time, not always opting for the absolute cheapest. When Dave was in NY and I was here, I was a regular on a 5:30 AM flight (left my apartment at 3:38!), but now, we prioritize slightly more reasonable times when we fly, even though we’re also buying more tickets with the kids.