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I Love Lucre (Sans Filthiness)

Rusty - February 5, 2007

The comments from the men’s fashion post made me think about something close to my heart: worldy possessions. Indeed I like them and want more. Yes, I know, filthy lucre and fine-twined linens won’t bring me happiness blah blah blah, but this isn’t a post about that eye-through-the-needle-of-a-camel stuff, it’s about how we spend our money.

First of all, please spare us any platitudes about how we should live in huts and wear thrift store clothes so we can give the rest of our money to the PEF. I’m not asking what Jesus would do, I’m asking what you do. The purpose of this post is to analyze our own psychology as we spend our own money, not how others spend theirs.

Let’s begin with two simple questions:

1) If someone were to give you any car in the world, what would you get?
2) Your expensive meal at a restaurant is bigger than what you normally eat, do you finish your plate?

Now I’m going to slightly change the questions and see if your answers are any different:

1) If someone were to give you any car in the world and you couldn’t re-sell it, what would you get?
2) Your expensive meal at a restaurant is bigger than what you normally prefer and you can’t take home the excess, do you finish your plate?

If your answers changed then you’re like me. I immediately thought of a Rolls Royce, not because that’s the car I’d like to drive but because I could probably sell it for a couple hundred grand, get a nice Volvo (or whatever) and have the rest of the cash to spend on something else. In other words, I think of the car as currency rather than as a car.

I asked the restaurant question because I always have to remind myself (especially at expensive restaurants) that I’m not paying for the quantity of food, I’m paying for the satisfaction the food brings. So often we, especially us suburban Americans, can’t separate the need to “get our money’s worth” from the food, so we keep eating long past the moment we fill our stomachs (or feel ripped off if the plate is smaller than we’re used to)

How often does money get in the way of seeing purchases for what they are rather than for how much they cost?

Sometimes I try to imagine what my life would be like if I were a PFWMINO (person-for-which-money-is-no-object). This is an interesting exercise because it helps me answer the above question. If I were to go shopping for clothing with unlimited funds my purchases would now be based entirely on style, fit, color/pattern and quality of construction. Similarly, the food I would eat, the furniture I’d want in my home and the house I’d buy would all be based on similar criteria.

Can you do this? Can you put your mind in a place that doesn’t care about how much you saved or how much you spent, separating the cost from the object/experience? Can you imagine spending a lot of money on a meal and only thinking, “I am satisfied” rather than “is this all I got for that much money?” or “it was good but that was a lot of money” or “that was worth every penny.”

There’s a saying that I started using in college that still works for me: “When you buy quality you only cry once.” This is almost always* true. Because most of us are not PFWMINO’s and money actually has to be a factor in most of our purchase decisions, we aren’t able to buy quality everything, so prioritizing is healthy. I personally like nice furniture. One of my design teachers at BYU once told me that when buying furniture it’s important to live with cheap junk, save up your money until you can afford exactly what you want, and then buy it (presumably because good furniture can last for generations).

Do you think it’s possible to mentally separate “quality” from worldliness/money? And is it possible to want fine/quality things without falling into the pride trap (explained by ETB/CS Lewis as “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud”)?

*European home fixtures made me cry both at the wallet and at the install. Conversely my Guatemalan bag didn’t make me cry at all.


  1. Do I like the expensive meal? If I go out to eat, I am normally doing it as recreation and not as sustenance only, so I’d eat more than normal if I enjoyed what I was eating. Eating is America’s Favorite pass time.

    If I can re-sell, most expensive car is a nautural pick, If I can’t re-sell, best MPG is a natural pick.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 5, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  2. 1. A gold with black interior Porsche carerra cabriolet turbo 911. It’s my dream car.

    2. When I’m full I stop eating. I don’t mind leaving food on the plate, although I typically get a doggie bag if I can to share the love with my dog.

    The problem of quality is an interesting one. If you are willing to pay twice as much for clothes you end up with clothes that last longer and look better. You’ll save money in the long run, unless you are a real fashion vixen that rarely wears the same clothes.

    Comment by clark — February 5, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  3. Rusty,
    I’ve found that, at a really good restaurant, the portion sizes are perfect; they don’t bring you the massive portions of, for example, the Cheesecake Factory, and they’re balanced in a way that you feel full, but not engorged. I’ve never spent a lot on a meal and though, That was it? (Well, except at Le Bernadin–the food was amazing, but the service was a snooty French that New York doesn’t do anymore.)

    On the other hand, when I ate recently at the fast-food Chipotle Grill, I thought, This is it? There was more than I could eat, I didn’t really like it, and I remembered not liking it much the other time I’d eaten there too. Like you say, there is something about quality–it costs money, but you don’t regret it after you’re done. And it’s value is commensurate with what you paid.

    Comment by Sam B — February 5, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  4. Boyos,
    All I know is that I just rented a car and was upgraded to a BMW 330i and drove it gleefully up and down the Autobahn. Quality car.

    Comment by Ronan — February 5, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  5. Do you think it’s possible to mentally separate “quality” from worldliness/money?

    I remember a series of letters to the editor of the Daily Universe around 7 years ago that started off with someone declaring that BYU students were too worldy and listing examples.

    As you can imagine, his call prompted an indignant response. I can still remember one student who said his North Face jacket (I’ve got three myself, but only ’cause my four Arc’teryx jackets are way better) helped him serve the homeless at the soup kitchen even during stormy weather. Another said his SUV (I drive an armored/lifted Jeep that I’m certain will serve me and my (ward) family well in the Last Days) made an indispensable contribution to the ability of his ward to attend the temple on a regular basis.

    At the end of the day, however, I think “quality” or “added utility of being useful to others” kinds of arguments are just excuses–North Face jackets aren’t any more waterproof than garbage sacks or warmer than Walmart fleece. Folks in Provo can walk to the temple and the rest can carpool in Brother Jensen’s Beauville. And are the Saints really better off being able to afford heirloom couches than maybe working a couple of hours a week fewer and devoting the extra time to service and fulfilling “needs” at end-of-the-year RC Willey’s sales?

    Comment by Peter — February 5, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  6. Peter,
    Aside from the fact that you are doing exactly what I requested commenters to avoid (judging others’ purchasing decisions) and the fact that the letters to the DU editor are stupid, you’re looking past the fact that end-of-the-year RC Willey’s sales require there to be during-the-year RC Willey’s regular-priced furniture. Similarly, thrift stores require there to be regular-priced stores. Not everything can be second-hand or on sale.

    The reality is that furniture needs to be made. The question is if it’s moral to make good quality furniture (or clothing or food or whatever)? Is it moral to buy said furniture?

    Comment by Rusty — February 5, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  7. 1. I’d buy a Honda Hybrid. You can drive in the car pool lane in CA, single-occupant.

    2. I stop eating when I want to stop eating.

    I actually don’t think about money much. Which is probably why I’m so bad with it.

    Comment by Susan M — February 5, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  8. @Rusty: Piffle. Authorial intent is so yesterday. But if you insist:

    Aside from the fact that you are doing exactly what I requested commenters to avoid (judging others’ [shall we say, writing?] decisions)

    the letters to the DU editor are stupid

    If “do as I say, not as I do” is your message, then I’ll roger that.

    So to avoid the appearance of unrighteous judgment, allow me to insert “Yes.” after the Rusty quote in my first response, followed by “People do it all the time. For example,”. Add the following text to the beginning of paragraph three: “I am one of these students who is able to mentally separate ‘quality’ from worldliness.” And let the rest of the paragraph stand. I mean, you can hardly ask for moral judgments and get too wound up about the judgment bit.

    PS-One day I will tell you stories about MSRP and “sales” that will blow your mind. I’ll tell you about stores where you can get everything, well, except for the Mac stuff, for around 30% off just for walking in!

    Comment by Peter — February 5, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  9. Peter, echoing Rusty’s refrain, for something to be 30% off it has to be a certain price to begin with. to you, does Morality lie in always purchasing something cheaper than your neighbor? Or is it purchasing the cheapest item?

    Rusty, to go to the heart of your point, you talked about the meal and asking “is this all I got for my money?”. To me that is not rooted in worldliness or pride, but in a rational valuation of choices. Wealth is an expression of our resources. Thus the dismay in the price of my dinner is not that I have one less piece of paper with benjamin franklin’s picture, but that I exchanged x number of hours for my meal, when I could have exchanged x number for some other opportunity.

    Thus the cost of something is not important for the money itself, but the opportunity cost of doing something else with that same money.

    TO the second question, “is it possible to want fine/quality things without falling into the pride trap” . MOst certainly yes. For the best example, we should look to the temples. Do we build a temple out of granite, marble and fine twined linens to satisfy pride? We do it so that all people, who are worthy to enter, may have an uplifting place to worship.

    As far as the cars go, it would have to be the Aston Vanquish, Classic DB5, or perhaps the BMW m5, depending on who had to pay for insurance, maintainence, and whether it was a daily driver.

    Comment by Jay S — February 5, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

  10. In nothing doth man offend God except they that do not acknowlege His hand in all things.

    The point isn’t really how much you have. It’s more a question of whether you are a good steward and are properly appreciative of it.

    I’ve idly speculated about what it would be like to drive a nice BMW or something. Probably nice.

    But I’m really not a car enthusiast. I really wouldn’t appreciate the car as much as a true conossieur.

    Therefore, I shouldn’t have a BMW. I am incapable of being properly thankful for it.

    Comment by Seth R. — February 5, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

  11. I keep cars for 20+ years, so re-sell isn’t really in the forefront of my mind, but long term quality is. With that in mind, I’d like one of those BMW wagons – they’re like station wagons but look really nice. Either that, or as Susan suggested, a hybrid. My friend just got one and I’m a little jealous of her.

    Restaurant? If the doggie bag thing weren’t an option, and it truly was too much food to finish, I’d just leave it. I’ve done it. On New Year’s Eve I was really sick. We were travelling and I had the worst food poisoning ever. I didn’t want to eat anything, yet my husband was having some sort of crazed mental breakdown — he insisted we go to Le Meridian for their New Year’s eve dinner – with our two little kids! ($100 per adult, $50 per child). With tax & service, it was well over $300 … but here’s the kicker, it was the most fabulous food you’ve ever seen – gourmet gourmet food – unbelievably decadent in every possible way, and yet I ate about 2 bites, my kids ate about 2 bites (which is typical for them) and my husband ate a very limited amount because it was all meat and seafood and my husband’s a vegetarian! So, the best meal in the world … and we didn’t eat it.

    Finally, to go on too long, this post is unbelievably timely for me. SO pertinent, I can’t begin to tell you, but right now we’re having a discussion … we’re about to leave SE Asia where they have great furniture, and I want to pick some up before we leave, but DH wants to maintain our IKEA theme. Hmm. I love IKEA, but you know what? Would it hurt to have a beautiful piece of furniture? I finally said, let’s just pack up everything in cardboard boxes, and then when we get to our new place, we just tip them on their sides, glue them together as stackables and voila, instant furniture! Who needs a dresser?! Little sarcasm there?

    I’m just tired of having a whole house furnished by Ikea and K-mart and Carrefour (which is like Walmart).

    End of rant. Sorry.

    Comment by meems — February 5, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  12. Oh, one more thing. I think quality is fabulous and worth it, but if you’re careful, you can get good quality for next to nothing. I just bought two lovely linen blouses for about $8 each at a factory outlet. When I looked at the tags, I saw they retailed for 99 (English) pounds! Each! I got a 100% linen Talbots skirt for the same price. So quality and the spending of loads of lucre do not necessarily go hand in hand. But then you know me, I’m cheap.

    Comment by meems — February 5, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  13. I’m tired of Ikea too Meems.

    I’m also sick of BMW’s. They’re everywhere in California. It’s ridiculous.

    Comment by Susan M — February 5, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

  14. I don’t know a whole lot about cars – but due to one mission companion I had who loved Mercedes Benz, I’d probably pick a Benz as a favorite car. Plus a hometeacher of mine once told me how he totalled a Benz and hardly felt a thing … he said it had the best/safest engineering for accidents.

    But me talking about getting a Benz is pretty downright silly. It ain’t gonna happen.

    Comment by danithew — February 5, 2007 @ 8:36 pm

  15. 1) I already have a Jeep, what more do I need?
    2) It it tastes good I’ll finish the food.
    (same answers to the second case).

    “Can you put your mind in a place that doesn’t care about how much you…” HAVE?

    Comment by Daylan — February 5, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  16. As a designer, I have a difficult time buying products that don’t work properly. Often the well designed clothes, cars and household goods cost more money. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with spending more on a quality product that you know will last a long long time. Does that mean that the more money you spend, the better the product? Of course not but buying junk is not being thrifty.

    Car :Lexus LX 600h L hybrid

    Comment by cj douglass — February 5, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  17. check it out

    Comment by cj douglass — February 5, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  18. Yes it changes cars for me but not with the food. I’m stupid about not wanting to ever need a doggy bag. Of course I can eat quite a bit without gaining much if any weight.

    Seth R. hit it right on. Although I rarely buy quality and yet most of my stuff still manages to last longer than said quality stuff.

    Why buy Oakleys when you can get cheapo glasses for a couple of bucks. Sure, they have the brand name and replacement guarantee, but isn’t way more hassle then just buying a new chep pair?

    I find it interesting, Russ, how many of your posts are about finances.

    Comment by Bret — February 6, 2007 @ 12:43 am

  19. 1. I have an 8 year-old Jetta that has served me well and that I love to drive. If I had all the money in the world or if someone gave me any car I wanted I might move up to a Passat. It’s bigger (fits my frame better) but is not too ostentatious (fits my personality – I hope – better).

    2. Restaurants with great service and nice facilities are always more enjoyable than restaurants with lots of food. I usually find the former serves smaller, but adequate sized plates and I usually eat all my food. I’m glad when there is a garnish I can leave on my plate to make it look like I didn’t actually lick the plate clean.

    After 33 years of marriage and raising 4 children I find I’m still trying to afford the nicer things in life. I love artwork but know that I can’t afford great art. I have been able to purchase some reasonably priced art recently while traveling abroad. I can only afford to travel abroad because I have family living abroad where I get room and board for free. Almost all of my clothes were purchased on sale but at mid-to-high level quality stores or mail order houses. My recent trips abroad have allowed me to buy custom tailored clothes but at deeply discounted prices.

    In summary I really do believe – not just because it’s what I can afford – that a Volkswagen gets me to the store as fast and as safely as a Bentley. I also believe it is important to spend our money on high quality but it is even more important to understand that high prices do not automatically equate to high quality.

    Comment by lamonte — February 6, 2007 @ 6:11 am

  20. Rusty:

    I’m disheartened that you (and others) would treat a gift (the car) as little more than currency. What’s wrong with the world today that people are unable to appreciate gifts for what they are– tokens of love and respect– and are willing to trade on that love and respect? I’ve gotten many bad gifts throughout my lifetime but I’ve never once decided to return one for the money or for a different item. In fact I make a point of using that gift in the presence of the giver (no matter how ugly the tie, sweater, lawn ornament, etc.) in order to reciprocate that love and respect. That rant is a bit off topic but it was part of your initial qwery.

    As for the car it would have to be a Bentley Continental GT convertible and, regarding the meal, I always leave what I can’t eat (unless it’s meat loaf) and I always stop eating when I feel full. What I spend on the meal is a sunk cost so what I leave on the plate is irrelevant.

    The problem with purchasing quality is that most poeple don’t know how to identify it and price is too often a bad indicator of quality. For example, I worked my way through school in an electronics store that sold everything from computers to appliances in all price ranges. When it comes to electronics I know where I can get the best quality for the lowest price. For TVs Pioneer is worth the price but Hitachi and Sony are not. For audio equipment Denon and Bose are just expensive names and Yamaha is the best value. Speakers are a taste issue and price does not always translate to quality. Your refrigerator should be KitchenAid (even if you want a built-in). Your dishwasher should be KitchenAid/Whirlpool or Maytag. Ranges/cooktops by GE/Monogram offer the best quality and features (Wolf, Genaire, and Viking are little more than names). Your washing machine should always be a Whirlpool product and now that Whirlpool has finally wizened up on the latest designs so should your dryer. But when it comes to furniture and home furnishings I haven’t the first clue what I’m doing. We recently built the home we currently live in and we made a number of bad decisions. We have young children with a propensity for plugging toilets so for all the common and kids’ bathrooms we purchased expensive, high volume toilets sure to mitigate voluminous quantities of TP and other detritus. Those expensive toilets are the first ones to overrun while the cheap, bargain-basement, $75 toilet we put in the master bathroom has yet to be plugged depite our children’s best efforts. My daughter’s bedroom set which cost us an arm and a leg (at a time we couldn’t afford it) still looks brand new even thought it’s 10 years old while our dining set, which cost almost as much as some new cars, is falling apart after only two years. I know that if I were a plumber I would have been able to make a better decision on a toilet and if I were a carpenter I could have made a better decision on furniture. The problem is that I’m neither so I make bad decisions and so would most others.

    I don’t know many people who buy expensive items purely for the pride of ownership however I do have an employee who drives a BMW M3 purely as a status symbol. The guy is stretched to the hilt to pay for it but he gets a tickle out of driving a BMW while his boss (me) most days drives an ’88 Acura Integra to work. That car functioning only as a status symbol is especially sad considering that our work campus includes a private air field that allows us to take our hot rods out onto the tarmac from time to time– a privilege he’s never once exercised. That car was created to go fast and his refusal to allow that car to fulfill the measure of its existence is an affront to Our Father Above. I also suspect that he’s worried that my $40k Mazdaspeed6 (highly modified) will toast his $70k BMW and completely invalidate his status symbol. If I had $180k to spend on a car I would, not because of what it says about me but because I appreciate exceptional engineering and performance. If I could get a 0-60 time of 3.5s and a sub 12s quarter mile out of a $15k Ford Focus that’s what I’d buy but I cant so I’ll have to pin my hopes on being able to afford a Porche or Ferrari when all my children finally leave the house.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — February 6, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  21. endlessnegotiation – I’ve attached a website for American Standard “Champion” toilet that, they say, is virtually clogproof. It works like a flush valve toilet in a commercial building instead of the tank type that most houses are equipped with. What that means is that the water, and associated waste, is forced through the system by pressurized water rather than relying on the “weight” of the water in the tank – it’s more forceful. The website has a demonstation. I think it uses less water as well. A double bonus.


    Comment by lamonte — February 6, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  22. endless,

    First chance I get, I’m getting you a brown suit as a present.

    Comment by Seth R. — February 6, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  23. 1) I want something built for a guy my size (6’4″) but that doesn’t use too much fuel. My Corolla doesn’t give me enough leg space.

    2) I always eat all of my dinner at restaurants and sometimes I pick at my wife’s leftovers, not usually because I feel like I need to get my money’s worth, but because I like to eat and I have very little self control. But I would be even more likely to eat it all if I paid a lot for it and I would probably give my wife grief if she left too much on her plate.

    I always regret paying more than 5 or 6 bucks for a meal because nothing beats spicy chili cheese dogs, which I can do at home for about 2 or 3 bucks, and because I don’t really have any money at the moment. I do like the experience of eating out but money is most definitely an object. I can’t imagine ever spending more than about 55 bucks for a meal for two. I often wonder if this will change when/if I have a little extra money. Probably.

    I think the only recent exeption to my practice of cleaining my plate was an IHOP breakfast that was just ridiculously large.

    If I ever have a house I would like to furnish it with well-constructed, classy furniture built by a craftsman, not a factory. The extra cost wouldn’t bother me much because it would be going to a craftsman, not a corporation, and I would be getting something worth keeping. Sure, corporations are made up of people that need money, too, but they also have overpaid silver spoon CEO’s.

    Comment by Tom — February 6, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

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