February 28, 2011

I Wish I Had Kept My Fog Machine

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The older I get, the more money I spend on things that aren’t cool. This truth finally clicked for me when I looked at the report from the insurance assessor detailing the $587 worth of damage to my front bumper. A couple of weeks ago, someone was kind enough to carom off of my parked car in my lot on Aurora St. They broke my bumper, didn’t leave a note and didn’t respond to the flyer I put on every car in the lot asking for some courtesy. Fortunately, I had a spare $500 sitting in my sock drawer along with the formula for cold fusion. Having a car is great. Owning one is not.

Sadly, this episode is indicative of a larger trend in my life.

When I spent money in college, it was on stuff that was awesome. Sophomore year I bought a remote controlled fog machine for $40. If you can’t fathom why at age 19, living in a fraternity house, I would want to press a button and fill my room with fog and a raging party, then you and I will never be friends. It was amazing for a month, after which time the novelty wore off. But for that month — that epic month — having a fog machine was absolutely worth $40. After that, I sold it to this guy I knew. Wouldn’t surprise me if he did the same a month later.

The bed that I slept on in that room cost me $20. My parents were horrified that I bought a twin size mattress for $20 and put up on cinderblocks. I couldn’t understand why, until I had to buy a bed for my post-college apartment and discovered that a decent box spring and mattress costs as much as a new bumper. I walked out of Mattress Giant having spent $498 for a place to sleep, something which used to be just part of the rent.

What bothered me is that I didn’t get anything cool for the $498. I didn’t get a plane ticket somewhere exotic, the most amazing dinner of my life, eight fog machines, 10 pairs of chinos or 20 ShamWows. Instead I got something that I would consciously enjoy for an hour or so each day. To its credit, my bed is disgustingly comfortable. Note that this is not an attempt to get my female readers to spend the night at my place. In my financial prudence I decided to leave the mattress at my parents’ house to avoid renting a U-Haul for the move out here.

As the number of nights I slept in that bed increased, so too did the quantity of money I spent on things that weren’t fun. I chipped a tooth in the fall of 2007 — $100. I spent $50 a month on health insurance, and then I quit my job and had to pay $100 a month. The one time I actually had to go to the hospital I still spent $450. Dry cleaning — I hate it.

Fortunately the bank of mom and dad covered my medical and automotive expenses in college, and the rest of the stuff — like a mattress — was a buffet item that came with the bill for the restaurant that is college life.

I learned that post-college personal finance is full of mattresses and broken bumpers and dental cleanings and other stuff that you can’t live without but don’t want to pay for. One of my friends classified these as “grown up” expenses. So true. They are directly correlated with age — if you’re lucky enough to live to 90, you end up spending most of your money on staying alive and pain free.

I get aggravated when I dole out money on anything besides rent, food, travel and impulse purchases (I’m using my tax refund to buy a soda making machine). This is why my new strategy for staying young is to avoid owning things that break. Ideally this means I’ll never own another car, never have a lawn, never buy a boat and possibly never own a house. If I eat healthy and exercise, I can keep my medical expenses low. I should start doing that.

Therefore, when I graduate I plan on selling my car, renting a sweet loft apartment somewhere, ordering my groceries online and buying a scooter to drive around town. Maybe I’ll even put a fog machine on the back, just because I’m gonna have so much frickin money sitting around.

If this sounds like a lifestyle you would enjoy sharing, and you are a woman between 25 and 30, consider getting in touch with me. I won’t be able to drive you home from our honeymoon, but on the bright side the bed is already paid for in full.

Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at bkoffel@cornellsun.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ben K.