Money Slackers: The best money we ever spent



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Reporter

Myles Ma is a senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance and writes the Easy Money newsletter. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Welcome to Money Slackers, a regular discussion among Policygenius staffers about money. We held the following conversation in a Slack chatroom. It's been lightly edited.

Myles Ma : We are back for another Money Slackers. This month, I want us all to talk about spending money. So we're going to talk about the best $1 we spent, the best $10 we spent, the best $100 — etc., etc., etc. — until we're all broke. Let's start with this: Everyone, what is the best $1 (or less) you have ever spent?

Hanna Horvath : Well, it's New York so nothing is $1. The only thing I can think of is a piece of pizza. So I'm gonna say that.

Myles: SAME.

Jeanine Skowronski : Back in 1991 (or so), my friends and I would ride our bikes to Elbaum’s Deli and fill brown paper bags with as many Big Bols, Sour Punch Straws and quarter drinks our allowance could buy. That is legitimately the last time I remember feeling satisfied after spending a $1.

Mohammed Diallo : I would have to go all the way back to 1997, as a 13-year-old immigrant in Atlanta. I was given a dollar by a friend of my host family and I bought a chocolate candy bar. The taste of disposable income was delicious.

Anna Swartz : Anytime I stop and get a candy bar it's the best $1 I ever spent. But it's actually usually more than $1 with tax.

Laura Reineke : Whenever I buy a song on iTunes for 99 cents it feels like I'm getting away with something. Songs should cost more, TBH. They're art.

Patrick Hanzel : The best dollar I ever spent was probably at the casino.

Myles: Explain yourself.

Patrick: Well, a dollar doesn't do much nowadays but at the casino, one dollar can become many dollars.

Myles: You heard it from a certified financial professional: Gambling is a great investment.

Jeanine: But only in the context of “you can't buy anything for $1”.

Patrick: I will not say it's the best way to spend $100 though.

Blayne Smith : Gas was $1 a gallon when I started driving. Even then that felt like a really good deal.

Anna: Actually apps are sometimes a dollar and they can be good.

Hanna: I have an app that reminds me five times a day that I'm going to die and that was a dollar.

Laura: I could do that for free.

Anna: Is that app called "anxiety?"

Jeanine: Do you consider that app worth it?

Hanna: It's supposed to get me to live in the moment and ... I don't know if it's working.

Holden Lee : How about those "save your change" schemes? I suppose those are less than $1 and great value.

Patrick: I used to have an Acorns account where it rounded up all your purchases and invested the additional amount. I got up to a few hundred dollars pretty quickly. That was a good way to easily save.

Holden: Funny how no one (yet) said anything about donations or charity.

Blayne: I was waiting until we got to $1,000 for that, Holden.

Myles: Maybe we should just move on to $10 (or less). This one is kind of hard too. One recent one is I got an app called Offtime that blocks Twitter and Instagram for a certain number of hours each day. It has revealed how addicted I am. It was, like, $5.

Patrick: I donated $5 to the veterans and they gave me a pair of socks and some envelope return address things. So in all they probably broke even on my donation.

Holden: Based on utility, durability and usage frequency, I would say my neck cowl. It replaces all my scarves, and it's multi-functional. Generally, anything with high return on investment is worth purchasing. And quality over quantity.

Anna: Sometimes my wife and I are out on a cold rainy night and we could take the subway for free basically because we have unlimited Metrocards, but sometimes it's just a luxury to take a $10 Lyft home and it's worth it!

Jeanine: Sometimes I take $100 Uber rides home from the city and ... I don't regret it.

Blayne: Oh, cell phone screen protectors. And a case.

Jeanine: OMG, cell phone insurance. I made the mistake of not buying that once. Never again. I dropped an $800 phone in the ocean.

Patrick: The small numbers are very hard to think about because I usually don't think when I spend a dollar.

Mohammed: I agree with Patrick, the small numbers are often hard. I wasted $5 on quite a few lattes and I do not regret it.

Holden: Interesting. The "best $1 spent" over time could become the worst $1,000 spent over a year. E.g., Starbucks lattes.

Myles: Yes, Holden, I never regret buying coffee in the moment, only when looking back at my spend over months. OK, ready for $100?

Hanna: I paid 50 extra bucks on my flights to London so I wouldn't have to fly out of LaGuardia and have not regretted a cent.

Anna: The best $100 I spent in recent memory was hiring someone to put up shelves in my kitchen. It saved me a full weekend day of struggling AND she brought her own wall anchors. So worth it.

Myles: For me, it is the running shoes I currently use. After years of running, I finally found a brand I like (Altra Escalante if anyone is interested). They retail for like $130, but because I know they're the ones I want, I have the luxury of waiting until they're on sale. They sometimes drop to $75.

Mohammed: I bought a jacket that was on sale for a $100, original price $400. Still have it from four years ago and still feels great.

Myles: NOTHING is better than a good deal.

Laura: Back when I was going to the theater once a week, I sprang for proper memberships with a number of theater organizations. They weren't cheap, but the upgraded seats were worth it, and I liked feeling like I was directly supporting the organizations.

Blayne: AAA membership is around $100 per year and has paid for itself many times over for me. I always drove crappy cars. And one "free" tow saves hundreds.

Patrick: TSA Precheck! It's only like $85 and it's good for five years.

Myles: What pushed you to get it?

Patrick: I started flying a lot more when I was in my long-distance relationship and figured it was worth the cost. Not having to take off my shoes in the airport is a powerful feeling.

Mohammed: I've been forced to register to TSA Precheck, with a name like Mohammed. I got tired of being randomly selected.

Holden: Oh, here's one. I have a credit card with an annual fee of $95 BUT because of its rewards program, it pays for itself multiple times over. I remember doing a break-even analysis on this, comparing to a no-fee credit card with similar but lower rewards. But since kids, our expenditures have skyrocketed, so worth it.

Myles: OK. $1,000??? (or less). This was the hardest one for me.

Anna: Laney's adoption fee was $350 and we have spent wayyyy more than that on her in the six months we've had her, but it was worth it. (She is a dog, not a human baby.)

Hanna: Way under that but my AirPods. I hate that I love them so much.

Patrick: Best $1,000 I ever spent was a trip to Vietnam. Flights and hotels included for six days and it was only like $1,100.

Jeanine: My mattress? I mean, it’s true what they say about not skimping on one.

Hanna: OMG, wait, I change mine. DEF my mattress.

Myles: I bought a new TV for Black Friday that was like $300. It's not the best TV, but it's way way better than my old TV and I am satisfied every time I use it.

Anna: When my wife and I were planning our wedding, we were feeling stressed and we took an impromptu trip to Amsterdam for a few days and that was very worth it.

Mohammed: Any immigrant will relate to this: My best $500 to $1000 is probably the money I send home to relatives.

Anna: How often do you send money?

Mohammed: At least once a month, mostly twice. This is also why many immigrants don't have much of a disposable income and do not save much. This is where I tell them to make sure they at least have life insurance if they have anyone depending on them.

Myles: So something that would fall into this range: A tax preparer. Who uses, who does not?

Holden: Last year was my first time using a human CPA, and the experience and service was completely different. Especially with the new tax code and stuff, I wanted a human being.

Jeanine: How much does a tax preparer charge? I say this as someone who uses TurboTax.

Myles: In my experience definitely more than $100. But not too much more?

Holden: I spent around $1,000.

Myles: On that note, best $10,000 (or less) you've spent?

Patrick: I did LASIK and it was $3,000 to $4,000. Best decision I ever made.

Myles: Does insurance not cover LASIK? Should I know this?

Holden: LASIK is elective, so probably not covered under vision plan. But worth planning for via a flexible spending account.

Myles: My financial adviser was like $1,500. She gave us a budget and a big checklist of money moves, which I probably could have made myself, but the level of comfort I feel and the greater level of knowledge she had I think was well worth it. And that's as someone who considers himself pretty well versed on money.

Jeanine: Does anyone have a thing they're really happy they bought? Because it sounds like we mostly like to pay for convenience, experiences, etc.

Myles: Like a physical thing, you mean?

Jeanine: Yeah, like stuff. BAUBLES! You know.

Myles: I guess, for me, if I came into a large sum of money, "things" are not the first thing I would use it for. I'd probably pay off debt and go on vacation somewhere.

Jeanine: Yeah, me, too. I'm trying to think about the last expensive, silly thing I bought and loved and the only thing I can think of are these $400 Coach boots I bought when I was, like, 23.

Holden: But that seems to be the trend, right? Mass affluent types buy experiences (including education) with their money vs. the older generation that splurged and kept up with the Joneses, so to speak? I.e. people buy time or quality of life, which makes people more happy than things that inevitably depreciate.

Patrick: Yeah, that does seem to be the way the trend has headed. Although I think some people only go on vacation so they can post pics on Instagram.

Myles: Yeah. I still feel very satisfied with my car though. Maybe that's just confirmation bias. But I needed to replace my old lousy car and my new one is way more reliable. I got it used so it doesn't feel like as much of a waste of money.

Holden: There is an economics principle (forget the name) where once you OWN something, it immediately gains value to the owner.

Anna: What kind of car do you have Myles?

Myles: A Mazda 3 hatchback. 2011.

Patrick: Is it paid off, Myles?

Myles: NO. I got it a couple of years ago when I had like... no credit history so my loan doesn't end until 2021. I want to start paying it off faster. I've just been lazy about making the moves to do so. My dad co-signed the loan (shout out to Frank). Anyone else buy anything big? A HOUSE?

Holden: Not on the island of Manhattan... maybe a parking space. But on a more serious note, $100k ... business school.

Mohammed: I would have to say the investment on starting a beverage company (GinJan) with my brother. As scary as it can be to start a business, I've loved every moment of it.

Laura: My apartment is the most expensive thing I own.

Mohammed: My wife and I bought in the Bronx (most expensive thing I've ever owned as well).

Myles: Are you satisfied with your purchase?

Mohammed: Absolutely, took quite a long time. But glad we were patient and found the right spot at the right budget.

Jeanine: I am satisfied with my house when I am home in my king-sized bed with my animals and it's snowing outside. I am dissatisfied with my house when the roof starts leaking and the chimney needs to be replaced. Which is really just to say "it's all relative."

Mohammed: That's why we decided to go the co-op route. Just weren't ready for the responsibility of a home yet.

Laura: My apartment has improved my quality of life immeasurably but, to be quite honest, I am not sure if it's the apartment specifically or the idea that I own it.

Holden: A home is one of those things that generally appreciates (at least in the New York City metro), so I would surmise that it's people's most important purchase of their lives.

Anna: Shoutout to the NYC homeowners in this chat. You've dreamed the impossible dream.

Myles: I guess the last thing I want to ask is, how do you know something is worth it? What gets you to pull the trigger on a purchase? It takes a long time for me. I need a review to tell me something is worth it, even for cheap stuff.

Holden: Somewhat obvious, but the higher the purchase price, the longer consideration the period. And more research.

Anna: I think “if it's something I'll wish I got earlier, I should get it now”.

Myles: Sometimes I do the thing where I hold off for a week and if I still want it after that, I take that as a sign that I should buy it.

Jeanine: I pulse-check with Teddy on big purchases.

Mohammed: After marriage, I just tell my wife and we buy if we both deem the purchase necessary. She's a better and more patient researcher than me.

See our Money Slackers talk about couples and money.

Holden: This might be too detailed, but if the product is shelf-stable and there's a deal going on, then I pull the trigger. Classic example is a sale on paper towels or toilet paper. There are certain items that are almost always no regrets purchases... until you literally run out of cabinet/closet space.

Patrick: I'm not much of an impulse buyer, which I guess is a good thing. I usually even write out my grocery list so I know exactly what I need. Get in. Get out.

Holden: But how about that peanut butter that's 30% off today and today only!?

Jeanine: Peanut butter is bad for you, Holden.

Myles: WHAT? Peanut butter is good for you.

Anna: AGT = always get tuna.

Image: Phillip Blackowl

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