Though I'd consider myself quite frugal overall, I also don't shy away from splashing the cash if I feel the product or service will improve my life in some way. After all, what's the point in earning money if you're not going to enjoy it or let it enrich your experiences? But, let's be honest, some things are better investments than others. Here are the best things I spent money on in 2017, and the worst, and the surprising thing I learned along the way.
The Best Things I Spent Money On In 2017
1. Jack Skellington
In recent years, I forgot how to have fun. I don't mean the "curling-up-with-a-good-book" type of fun (though I still enjoy that immensely); I'm talking about the "kick-off-your-shoes-and-run-squealing-into-the-ocean" type of fun. Things that make you light up. Things that make you jump for joy. Things that bring that big, goofy grin to your face. The kind of glee that young children feel.
I finally found it again in a lump of posable plastic.
Jack was an impulse purchase while I was at the store buying groceries. I had no big plans for him, but it was coming up to Halloween and I wanted to make a bit of an effort to decorate the place. But as soon as I planted him on our front porch, I knew I was going to have some fun with him.
He became my Halloween version of Elf on a Shelf. I snuck out each night and moved him somewhere new. And I didn't do it for anything other than the pure fun of it and seeing the bemused looks of our neighbours as they passed by.
Even now that Halloween is over, he still stands in our garage, arm raised to greet us as we drive in. And I regularly bring him into the house to get up to all sorts of high-jinks that I snap pictures of, either to use in blog posts or videos, or just to send to my husband to remind him that he married a loon.
It's silly that a life-sized skeleton has taught me how to feel joy in my everyday life again, but it's true. If laughter is the best medicine, Jack has cured me of a chronic case of ennui.
2. Personal training sessions
I've been trying to take my health a lot more seriously, especially since having a child. I can say with certainty that, though it's still pretty appalling at times, overall my diet is much better than it was before Scout came along. But my fitness routine is... well, it isn't.
In 2016, I resolved to join a gym once and for all and, though it wasn't the initial plan, I ended up parting with my cash on a regular basis for personal training sessions. Unfortunately, ill health in 2016 kept me out of the gym for a good chunk of the year, but I got back in the game in 2017.
Now look, I'm no athlete, nor am I a ripped stick-insect. But I'm somewhat fitter and certainly considerably stronger (not to mention a lot more confident in my exercise abilities) than I've ever been, and I know I never would have got to that level if it weren't for my trainer pushing and encouraging me every step of the way. I haven't always found it beneficial to have the weight of someone else's expectations pressing down on me but, when it comes to the gym, it got me pumping iron and breaking a sweat.
3. An all-inclusive holiday
In June 2017, my family and I spent 9 nights on the Greek island of Kos. We decided to try an all-inclusive package because, with a child, it's not always easy to go too far afield to eat in the evening, and we figured it would be handy to have an endless supply of snacks and drinks close at hand, particularly for pool days.
I won't lie, the snacks at the pool bars weren't up to much, but the food in the main restaurant was lovely, and the fact that we could eat as much as we wanted made it all the better. (Ice-cream with every meal? Don't mind if I do.) I also usually ended up taking some fruit back with us, so that sorted out most of the snack situation.
And, ice-cream aside, I probably ate much healthier there than at home because there were so many options readily available to me. And all for "free"!
We certainly saved money doing it that way rather than paying for individual meals (and we don't drink alcohol so, if you do, there are even bigger savings to be had), and it made our lives so much easier.
This is an option we'll definitely be opting for next time we go on holidays, if our destination offers it.
4. Extra payments on my mortgage
My husband would totally disagree on this but I believe paying extra money towards my mortgage is a great investment. Not only does it mean I'll be debt-free a lot faster, it also reduces the amount I have to pay overall (because there's less money left I have to pay interest on).
Sorry, Sam, but we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.
(For those wondering why I refer to it as my mortgage, it's on a property I purchased before Sam and I were married so it's in my name, I consider it my sole responsibility, and I make all the repayments. It's a rental property, and Sam and I never lived in it together.)
Aaand... The Worst
1. Convenience food
Deli sandwiches, takeaway pizzas, sugary snacks... For the most part, they were terrible choices. More expensive than just making the food at home myself, more wasteful in terms of packaging, and more harmful for my health. Overall, a lose-lose-lose situation.
Yes, they're totally fine as the odd treat. But, for me, there was nothing "odd" about them; they were becoming a bit of a staple. Not good!
This year I'm focusing on preparing healthy meals and snacks in advance, meaning it will still be convenient, but significantly healthier and less of a burden on my bank balance.
2. Kids magazines & comics
They keep Scout amused for all of two minutes before ending up in the recycling (or, worse, strewn around the house). And most of them come with small, plastic, poor quality toys that somehow, despite their tiny size, end up taking over my home. And let's face it, they're not exactly cheap these days!
I've started bringing her to the library every week instead. There are pictures to colour there, games to play, fun events to attend, and we get to take home lots of books to read. The other week we even found a kindness rock hidden on one of the shelves, and Scout was very excited about hiding it somewhere new to brighten someone else's day.
Much better than any magazine. And totally free.
3. Boiler repairs
Sometimes you have to just suck it up and get things replaced rather than throwing good money after bad with endless repairs.
I spent over a year trying to fix the damn thing, paying through the nose for different services and replacement parts. This year, I'm saving myself the hassle (and the cash) and just getting a new one.
4. Clothes I told myself I'd shrink into
I ended 2017 at the same weight as I started, so all those clothes I bought that were a tad on the tight side... Total waste of money. Also, endlessly squeezing myself into things? Not great for my self-esteem.
The truth is that I haven't yet fully embraced the fact that, since having a child, my size and shape aren't what they used to be. In fact, I'm taking active steps to change them. But until that time comes, I have to be realistic in my sartorial choices and pick things that fit me now.
I know a lot of people feel that buying a new wardrobe based on current weight when you're hoping to lose it feels like a waste of money. But that's the thing – you don't have to buy a whole new wardrobe. Buy a handful of things that will fit you now and make you feel comfortable and confident. If the weight doesn't come off, oh well. You still look great. If it does, you haven't exactly bankrupted yourself trying to look your best in the meantime.
Besides, weight loss isn't an overnight game. It's going to take a while to see and feel a difference, at which point you'd probably be buying the odd new outfit anyway. Life's too short not to feel fabulous right now.
At first, I was a little surprised to see that, generally, the more expensive purchases were the ones I felt were a better investment, whereas the smaller amounts were wasted. Then I realised that, for the most part, spending more money requires a little more consideration. With the exception of Jack, each item that I believe to be one of my best investments was one I put some thought into. It was a conscious, careful decision.
The worst ones, on the other hand, were where I paid money for a "quick fix" or a very short-term objective, or didn't give any serious thought to at all.
In short, the best things I spent money on in 2017 were the more mindful purchases, where I took the time to carefully consider things before parting with my hard-earned cash.
It's easy to think that spending just a few quid won't break the bank, but it's exactly those kinds of mindless purchases that add up to big losses and bring almost zero benefit to our lives. Instead, splash the cash on the bigger things in life and you should find that they're a greater investment in your overall happiness than any amount of cheap tat.
Do you agree?
What's the best investment you've ever made, and was it on impulse or carefully considered?