Secret of Adulthood: Spend Out, To Become Rich.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:




One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Spend Out–and it’s certainly my most enigmatic Personal Commandment.  I explain what I mean here.  I’d always thought I was the only one who struggled to spend out, to put things into circulation, to use things up, but now that I’ve written about it, I’ve discovered that this is something that many people share.

How about you? Do you have to remind yourself to spend out?

Note about the image: If you can’t tell, the object sitting on the page is a toy Papo treasure chest filled with gold. I bought it as a memento the time I spent writing Happier at Home. If you want to know why, read the Behind-the-Scenes extra.

  • The bookmarker pens that you spoke about in the older post are no longer available. I would LOVE to order some of those since I am always marking my books. Do you know where else I may buy them? I couldn’t find anything like them when I searched for them on the internet. Thank you!

    • gretchenrubin

      I don’t know! Anyone?

  • Molly

    Before commenting, I went back and read your earlier post about this commandment. I can relate to the sentiment here, especially as it regards my writing. I always think, maybe I should save that for section 3 rather than opening with it, etc. However, I’ve learned that if I come right out with what I think is the best part of my idea/argument, the rest of the paper develops more easily and the ideas pour out. Then, I do find that I have ideas that don’t belong in the paper, and I jot them down for…yep..a new paper! A much better feeling than writer’s block, which I get when I try to hold out. And yes, definitely what it is like to feel abundant!

    • Julie

      This is SO thought provoking. I am a writer for a living and the notion of holding back my best ideas… wow. You’ve given me something to consider. Thank you for expanding on Gretchen’s idea of “spending out” to include creativity.

  • Charlotte

    I’m like you Gretchen. I also “save for later”. When I got something I like, I used to save it, so much that sometimes I moved out and wanted to “leave with a light suitcase”, so ended up throwing all the stuff I had “saved for a better occasion”. I am getting better at it. No point in not using stuff. Today is a good day.

    • peninith1

      Thanks,Charlotte, for directing my attention to the previous post. I am not a person
      who saves up new clothes, towels, sheets, or other items. But I do keep a huge
      stash of fabric and baskets of scraps for quilting. Recently I decided to ‘spend
      out’ the pile of flannel I had left over from five quilts and to dip into my
      scrap basket to make crazy patched quilts to give away to people made homeless
      by disasters like Sandy and the wildfires in Tasmania. It’s a great way to make
      warmth and generosity out of just a pile of ‘stuff.’

  • peninith1

    Spend out to become rich–but not for a cheap thrill! I would not advise anyone to spend fantasy money to feel rich for a moment, Work within your means, and when you spend big, go for value by significantly improving your every day life, or by making memories that will forever light up your life.

    In my thirties the idea that I would EVER be able to ‘spend out’ was utterly foreign to me. If you’re in this situation, don’t stop working at it, your day may come! The years I spent saving are now paying off in retirement. I ‘spent out’ to renovate my home. I have helped my Mom & my children, as they undertake an adventure or hope and plan for a family. What better investment could I make in joy for us all?

    As for ‘treats’ — When I retired, I ‘spent out’ on a high quality sewing machine–a great gift now I can indulge my sewing hobby to the full. I once put a year or more of fiscal effort toward a 10-day cruise with my son and daughter-in-law and her family. That trip will provide treasured memories as long as I live. I fretted beforehand about the expense and the unplanned fun of it all–then enjoyed every minute of ‘spending out’ on the voyage. That was a HUGE lesson learned. All that responsible accumulation–is so that you CAN spend out!!

  • Judith Horn Andrews

    This statement is not always about money. Doing a good deed like letting the young Mom with the crying baby ahead of you in line; putting flowers on someone’s desk at work; baking cupcakes for the office for no reason….Doing a good deed without expecting anything in return…

  • Great post! I remind myself of a Buddhist saying, “The glass is already broken.” It reminds me that everything on this planet arises in order to pass, and so I should appreciate each moment I get to spend with it.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve never heard that saying. So thought-provoking.

  • I’m torn between the use it or lose it/can’t take it with you versus the need to live frugally. Whatever, it’s experiences that count most and the best ones are free. Yesterday it was a sunny day which was spent on a walk rather than sitting in reading. The things that perish – like the manna from heaven – must be spent today and we must trust there will be more tomorrow.

    • Spending out can be frugal. Hiding your new purchase away means you didn’t really need it so it was an unnecessary expense. And maybe using things that you buy and appreciating them while you have them leads to fewer other purchases because you know you won’t be able use them and appreciate them enough. As with everything in life, it’s a balance between being here now and planning for the future. What fun!

  • Not working at a “regular” job at the moment and trying to conserve income, I don’t spend out as much as I otherwise might. But I do trust the Universe to provide, and it always does, one way or another.

    When I do spend, it tends to be on things that are likely to move my life along, or bring in more income. Sometimes you do have to spend money to make money, and show a little faith in the ability of Source to replace it! 🙂

  • Rachel

    When my mum cleaned out my grandmother’s house after her death, my mum found bags and bags of unopened sheets, towels, clothes, you name it. The stuff we used when we visited was almost threadbare. I know it was different for her because she was raised in a poor family and lived through the Depression. Nevertheless, I found it sad that she used old threadbare things when she had new ones in wrapping.

    • gretchenrubin

      So many people have told me different versions of this; it seems to be really common. My grandmother had a bottle of unopened perfume on her vanity table for years, and now I keep it in my office as a reminder to Spend Out.

      I remind myself to combat this tendency: Not to use things is a form of wastefulness, too.

  • MegR

    Thank you for writing about this! I am guilty of this and it’s nice to hear others do this also. I love how you write about topics no one else does! The silly things we all do, but don’t talk about :). It drives me insane when I give my Mom a gift and she says “it’s too nice to use!” Ugh!!!!