“The cabinet maker cannot build the cabinets for sixteen weeks. Sixteen weeks! And that’s if we were to sign today.”
This happened to me recently. But it has happened to me my entire adult life.
We are renovating our home. Not because we need more space or because we bought a fixer-upper. Just because we want to.
There is a term for something that you spend money on just because you can—it’s called a “luxury good.” It’s not something you need to survive, merely something you want.
This term and concept can help us all. It can help us discern aspects of our relationship to money.
So back to my cabinets… Our current kitchen cabinets are perfectly fine. They open, they close, they do everything you expect a cabinet to do. Actually, these cabinets are so darn good because we built our home only twelve years ago.
Our renovation started as a “freshen up” of our interiors. Some furniture, some paint, maybe a few rooms will get wallpaper type of an update. But of course it took on a life of its own.
As the project grew, the number of contractors, product manufactures, distributors, and project managers grew. So one evening I stopped by the house to check on progress. It’s after 5pm but a few guys are still working, and the project lead is there. His name is actually Shawn, too.
As I enter the front door, Shawn greets me and asks how I am. I say fine and ask, more importantly, how is he. And it happens: we cross the invisible line between fun luxury good purchase to hard, tough, gnarly, work-type project. “Well,” Shawn says, “we met with the cabinet maker today and he says that it will be sixteen weeks before he can build our cabinets. And that’s if we were to sign and pay him today. Today!”
Ah yes, the familiar smell of the delayed project. The taste of frustration, the tinge of anger, the fear of imminent loss. The trigger.
So what to do? We have two choices, although it seems we have no choice. It feels too familiar to avoid the obvious road ahead. The road of bumps and bruises and blown deadlines and blown budget.
Two weeks go by and more meetings, more schedule updates, encroaching frustration. Our easily makeable deadline of May 31 has already gone to “should be able to get done by the end of June.” And with this latest cabinet stressor, we now are at “well it looks like July or August.”
The date isn’t the main problem; it is the loss of joy. Yes, joy!
Here we are, spending money that we earned many years ago while grinding out a career and building a business. Work is hard—it can be very hard. All those deadlines, customers, people.
Suddenly, my renovation has gone from a luxury optional purchase to “work!” It slipped right into that familiar hassle of working on a project that doesn’t fit the time and doesn’t fit the budget. And worse, I did it to myself. With each minor decision in a simple interior update, I added one more straw until the pile broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Thankfully, I catch this joy-stealing gremlin and kick its butt out of my home. I say, after two weeks of stress, “Call the cabinet guy and tell him he is off the hook. We’ll stay with the cabinets that we already have.”
By the way, these are only a portion of the upper cabinets. This isn’t even a full rip-and-replace kitchen job. We were replacing four upper cabinets with a slightly different design, and it was about to turn our project into a nightmare. It was ridiculous.
What happened? I woke up and realized that I was purchasing a luxury good, a complete nice-to-have, and the purchase process had turned into a frustrating, stressful, work-like project.
Fortunately for me, I have seen this before. I’ve seen it in myself and I have seen it in many people who are buying things they want to enjoy, only to have it crumble into a miserable mess.
When I was a kid and my mom would take me to the grocery store, I’d stand in the cereal aisle and wonder why the adults were not smiling and piling boxes into their carts. Of course I grew up and realized that those boxes are full of sugar and that was why adults were not piling them into their cart. But one thing I still don’t realize is why people shop with a frown on their face. It should be fun. It should be enjoyable. And even more so for luxury goods.
This goes to our relationship with money. When we earn it, as with income, it might be hard or easy. The work might be enjoyable at times and downright dreadful for long stretches. But when we have bottled it up, stored it away in our little nest, the last thing we want to do is dole it back out, even on things we claim we want.
I have to catch myself from time to time. I slip back into the silly mode of clenching my jaw, squinting my eyes, bulging the vein in my neck, just because I have money either coming or going from my hand. That is a mistake. That’s a warning light on the dashboard. That’s your signal to stop, back up a few steps, smile and chuckle at it all, and decide to either follow through while having the time of your life or cancel, cancel, cancel because you worked too hard to waste your money on something that steals your joy.
We did just that with our cabinets. We canceled that part of our renovation. A week after that we were magically back on schedule for May 31! We were spending less money. Everyone was happy and feeling better. I was smiling and proud that I had stopped myself from turning this enjoyable project into something miserable.
When treating yourself to something out of the ordinary, something you don’t need to survive, put a smile on and enjoy the ride. If you can’t smile, then maybe the best decision is to back away and find something that fills you with joy.
Tip: Most folks think buying a home or car or other large item has to be a harsh process. It does not. If you’ve never purchased an item, find someone who has and ask them to coach you through it or to go with you and help you. If you’re worried about being taken advantage of, stop and spend some time online studying the subject. Teach yourself the costs and jargon. It still might give you butterflies and make your palms sweat—that’s fine, so does a first kiss. But don’t allow yourself to work so hard to earn money and then have your joy stolen when you use the money to make your life better. Take your time and learn how to enjoy the ride as they say. And get off the road if the ride sucks, call an Uber and go get yourself some lemon meringue pie (my favorite)!