Having a car in Boston for the first time in years is odd; I have to deal with this thing (more complex now that I can't easily park for free at school, since I've graduated), but I can also get in that thing and go places. Whenever I want to. Without paying ridiculous amounts for a taxi. I drove past places today and thought "wow, that'd take me N hours on a bike!" and then I stood in the stores I needed to shop in (FUDCon and moving-in) and stared at things for a while going "wow, I could buy that! But I don't need it... but I could get it! But..."
Somewhere in the middle of Bed Bath and Beyond, pacing the towel section trying to decide whether to spend $15 on a pair of hampers or continue using two large heavy-duty trash bags as my laundry baskets (because, you know, fifteen whole dollars!), I realized that I was being silly. I was optimizing for a period in my life that no longer has to exist (for now, anyway), but that doesn't have to mean I need to spend more money. Actually, I feel really uncomfortable spending more money because most of the time I know I don't need it. I just need to remind myself once in a while that this discomfort is a good thing and that not buying More Stuff like the shiny advertising everywhere tells me to do is fine and will also someday allow me to retire. I already have the savings habit, I just need to keep confirming that it's ok to have it.
There are a few specific things where I can calculate with a high degree of certainty ahead of time that it's clearly a good ROI, and I do get those. For instance, the GPS unit that has saved me at least 20 hours since I got it in September - even at the lowest I can conceive valuing my time at, it's more than triple the price I paid, and I "recouped my investment" within the first 6 weeks, which was 2 sooner than I'd calculated. And my digital piano keeps me sane, which is priceless. And I'd wanted it for over half a decade at that point, and knew exactly what model and why and what I'd do with it, and... well, it was worth it.
There are also the purchases that don't work out, like the electronic drumset that lies broken in the basement because the trouble to fix it outweighs the fun I'd immediately have playing it, but that's okay; I usually have a process in mind to recoup enough of an investment to make me happy. I don't like just dumping things in the trash by default, so I try to come up with a plan to pass them on. Waste not, want not. The difference is that now I can choose to run that optimization for not-spending-any-money-ever. And I know what things it's likely to make a bigger difference on, and I can decide that saving $5 isn't worth an extra hour of driving, but $50 would be, or whatever. It's a pulling-back and a rebalancing on a broader-looking scale; when you're no longer forced to keep a constraint, you still need to make a decision on what you will and won't do, and sometimes it's good to just reinstate those constraints as self-imposed ones you know are there.
Similarly, just because I have a car doesn't mean I have to use it all the time instead of biking. I can still get around whatever way I want - I just have more options, and if I want to minimize my car usage, I can set my life up so that that happens. It's just a series of choices I need to make.
Oh. And my laundry baskets are still trash bags; when I find them to actually be insufficient and/or can clearly envision how shelling out $15 on those pop-up hampers will dramatically improve my life, I'll put 'em on my shopping list. 'Till then, I'm quite happy with my current (uberflexible, space-saving, long-lasting, and virtually free) solution.
Little bit of mental fine-tuning. Fascinating, the kinds of tiny bugs that pop up there.