One aspect of personal finance that I want to highlight is knowing how and when to spend our hard-earned money. Although cutting our spending is one way to help us accumulate wealth, there will be times when spending our money will help us achieve our goals, financial or otherwise. In this post, I will share with you the things I don’t regret spending money on and how these expenses impact my life.
1. Laser Eye Surgery
I started wearing eyeglasses at 11 due to bad eyesight and astigmatism. I was the kid that everyone called weird. Not just because of the glasses but also because for some reason, I decided that grandma-style giant orange frames with rose-tinted lenses were the height of fashion. I had classmates ask me to my face: “why are you weird?” while others attempted to be nice by clarifying: “she’s not weird, she’s just eccentric.” Neighborhood kids called me Betty La Fea after the popular Colombian telenovela because you guessed it, I also had bangs.
In college, I alternated between glasses and contact lenses. As a freshman, I used eyeglasses exclusively even though I was already part of the school’s official dance group and during training and performances, I was practically blind because I didn’t wear glasses while dancing. It was probably all for the best. I wasn’t able to see how much my dancing sucked. When I finally decided to switch to contact lenses during my sophomore year, my dancing has improved to such a level that I didn’t go into bouts of depression after seeing myself dance. Just disappointed.
So about four years ago, I decided to have laser eye surgery in South Korea and I can truly say that it was a life-changing event. After more than 20 years, I finally had perfect eyesight again! It was like a miracle. Most people take for granted how amazing it is to wake up and see the world clearly around you right away but when you have bad eyesight, all you see is a giant blur first thing in the morning. I was finally able to see color and shapes again instead of just gray blobs.
Because I was suffering from astigmatism and had thin corneas, I had what is called LASEK or laser epithelial keratomileusis, which combines LASIK and PRK. South Korea, especially Seoul, has a lot of eye clinics, and their efficiency is awe-inspiring. I visited a clinic off Gangnam Station one afternoon and had a consultation right there and then. The actual surgery was scheduled a couple of days later after I got off work.
It still blows my mind that the surgery that restored my eyesight was done in only 20 minutes.
Unlike LASIK that has zero downtime, LASEK requires a recovery period of around 3 to 4 days. Before my scheduled appointment, I stocked my fridge with microwavable food so I didn’t have to get out of the house and arranged my furniture so I won’t trip into them. I also asked one of my friends to accompany me to the clinic and bring me home after (actually, we went to a rooftop barbecue party after). The first night of the surgery was a wee bit uncomfortable because I’m a side sleeper. I had to make sure I don’t hurt my eye while sleeping, although the goggles given me by the clinic helped. In 2 days I was already recovered enough to venture out of the house and socialize, although I had to wear sunglasses even at nighttime.
I would say that having a perfect vision is priceless but it turns out, it costs KRW 2 million/USD 1,800 or thereabouts. It was money well-spent.
How much I paid: KRW 2 million/USD 1,800
What I actually bought: Seeing the world clearly again after more than 2 decades.
2. Porcelain Veneers
Our mouth and teeth are in the middle of the face. This means that how our teeth look has a huge impact on our overall image. How our teeth look affects our smile, and my smile was one of the few things I’ve been insecure about since high school. Although my teeth were reasonably healthy and straight, they were also small, fragile-looking, and to be honest and for lack of a better descriptor, rodent-like. When I was in high school and college, I used to cover my mouth every time I had to speak in front of people. I was also self-conscious when smiling or laughing. I used to have teeth-themed nightmares where my teeth would fall off and I had to replace the missing teeth with Chiclets and for some reason, a lettuce leaf.
Dental veneers are like thin shells that cover a tooth to improve its appearance. It can be made from porcelain or resin composite. If you’ve seen celebrities with beautiful smiles and white teeth, I guarantee you that they have dental veneers. Just ask Google and it will tell and show you which Hollywood celebrity looks transformed because of veneers. In the Philippines, many beauty queens get veneers before a major competition since a great smile will elevate their image and increase their chances so of winning.
As for me, obviously, I’m not a movie star nor a professional beauty but I wanted to have veneers so that I can smile and talk without being self-conscious. I think it’s sad that in moments of happiness, my insecurities limited my expressions of happiness and joy. I had to do something about it or I might end up a grumpy old lady in the future.
Because dental veneers are not exactly cheap, I took my time researching my options. I have read horror stories online about people who paid for less expensive veneers and got disastrous results. They had to pay double since they had to hire another dentist to correct the first mistake. Leaving bad veneers on is not an option unless you want to look like you have tombstones in your mouth instead of teeth.
Fortunately, the Philippines has affordable and high-quality dental care. After months of research, I finally decided to have my porcelain veneers installed by Dr. Pio Tripon at the Tripon Dental Center in Makati. It was one of the best decisions I made. I’m looking forward to enjoying my veneers in the next 20 years.
How much I paid: Around Php 150,000 just for the upper teeth around 3 years ago. I haven’t had the time to return to the clinic yet for the lower teeth.
What I actually bought: I know porcelain veneers aren’t exactly essential for my health but it boosted my confidence. I’m smiling a lot more since the procedure.
I have mentioned before how education changed my life in my post Why I Want to FIRE. Even though an increasing number of people are claiming that post-secondary education is no longer necessary to succeed, I still advocate that those of us from poor families go to college. For poor people in developing countries, our only way out of poverty is through education.
At the moment, I’m taking up a Master in Liberal Arts in International Relations at Harvard Extension School (HES). HES is one of Harvard’s degree-granting colleges and is geared towards non-traditional learners like me who has a full-time job, live far away from campus, and cannot or will not go on sabbatical (and possibly have a pay cut, mawma has bills to pay) to go back to school full time. What’s great about my program is that I earned a Graduate Certificate in International Security on my way to completing my degree. Another advantage is that tuition is considerably lower than in other colleges. Last semester, I paid USD 2,900 per graduate course, although it was only USD 2,500 a couple of years back when I started.
Despite the costs, it’s still great value because tuition for other colleges are at least double what HES students are paying. We also have access to Harvard resources like the library. For distance learners like me, Harvard’s online resources and library access are incredibly useful. There are also a lot of opportunities to connect with other students through online events, directly talk with professors, TAs, and other advisors, as well as writing help and maths tutorials. Not to mention all the free subscriptions tied to our Harvard email address like Last Pass, Adobe Creative Cloud, and magazine subscriptions.
So far I’m halfway to completing my degree. I have learned a lot, made friends, and met many practitioners and world experts in my field. My (academic) writing and research skills have improved. I still have a ways to go. I have to comply with the on-campus requirement, which states that I need to take 3 courses on-campus, which means I need to travel to Boston. I plan to take the three-week summer classes once the COVID-19 vaccine is available or when the world situation improves.
How much I paid: This semester, a graduate course is USD 2,900. The average cost of the courses I took so far is $2,716 per course, multiplied by 6 = USD 16,296 for the courses alone. I can’t remember how much I paid for the textbooks but in I project I already spent around USD 500.
Since I need another 6 courses to complete my degree, I need to spend at least another USD 17,400. Add another USD 3,000 – 4,000 for plane tickets and apartment rental to comply with the on-campus requirements.
What I really paid for: First off, obviously, the Harvard name. Harvard is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. I would be lying if I say that the name doesn’t matter, it’s what you learn from the school. Of course, what you learn is important. That’s why you go back to school in the first place.
I’m paying for life and career options. What I want to achieve with HES is to be able to cultivate a path and open doors to positions unrelated but adjacent to my current career. I have now access to Harvard student and alumni groups for socialization and career enrichment. And although I’m not actively looking for a new job, I consider the access to Crimson Careers, as well as job fairs and networks dedicated solely for Harvard students and alumni as invaluable.
4. My sleeping set-up
People who’s going to read this part will think that I’m too high maintenance. Which is true, but also, hear me out because I have very good reasons why we should all invest in best sleeping set-up we can afford.
Many online articles say that we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping or trying to sleep. The ideal number of sleeping hours is indeed 8 hours, which is, ummm… 1/3 of the day. Not to mention many of us stay in bed reading, watching movies, and…other activites. Not only that, a great sleep does wonders for our over-all well-being and mental health.
With the amount of time we spend in bed and how much great sleep affects other aspects of our lives, it would be in our interest to spend a little bit more to be comfortable.
Mattress and pillows
After suffering from beds that gave me backache and restless sleep, I bought a Tempurpedic mattress and my sleep improved tremendously. For one, no more back aches, and second, it’s like being cuddled by clouds every night. I was lucky to buy my mattress when the store was holding an event (in Korea they call promotions “events”), so I got 2 ergonomic neck pillows for free.
Now that I’m an old lady, I’m very particular with my bed sheets. I can no longer suffer in scratchy materials every night.
After years of trial and error and testing many materials, I finally found that silk feels the best for my skin, with Egyptian cotton coming in as a far second. There are a lot of silk bed sheets in Ali Express. I know many people are skeptical about buying expensive items of Ali Express, but if I’m going to buy items from the Chinese, it will be silk. I bought a couple of sets in the Lanlika Store and I’ve been happy with their products so far. Lily Silk also has a wide selection of silk bedding although I haven’t personally tried these. I’m a great fan of their silk shirts and dresses though so I’m sure that their bed sheet sets will be of the same high quality.
I prefer the Yankee candle lavender lemon scent. Because I’m scared of dying from carbon monoxide poisioning and fire, I have a candle warmer.
Sleeping and Meditation Apps
I have a subscription to the Calm app for their sleep stories and background sounds. I want celebrities like Matthew McConahuey and Bob Ross (RIP) to read me stories until I fall blissfully off to sleep. Plus, I pretend that I’m in the middle of a raging snow storm or thunder storm at night. In addition, I have a subscription to Sam Harris’ Waking Up app to guide my meditation practice and deepen my knowledge of meditation theories. I always want to start my day with a 10-minute guided meditation as soon as I wake up.
I know that there are background noises and even illegal uploads of Matthew McConahuey’s sleep story in Youtube, but I don’t want my phone screen on while I’m sleeping. Also, I don’t want to risk an advertisement for a horror movie in the wee hours of dawn interrupting my sleep.
How much I paid: KRW 2,900,000 or USD 2,650 for the mattress and pillows. USD 150-200 for each set of bed sheets. USD 70 for Calm and USD 120 for Waking Up annual subscriptions.
What I really paid for: Restful sleep and comfort for at least 1/3 of my life. Not being a zombie in the morning. No body pain from sleeping wrong.
5. Paid blog hosting and website builder
Despite working as a tech support represtative back in the day, my computer skills are minimal. So one of the best decisions I made when I strated this blog was paying for a website customization service, Elementor Pro. I was able to build this site through drag and drop and minimized my stress and frustration levels since there are a lot of tutorials online that will walk you through the website creation process. Prior to using Elementor, my site looked sloppy and it was hard to stick to a theme and color scheme.
Another worthwhile expense is paying for blog hosting with Blue Host. The most obvious one is the url; I don’t have the XXX.wordpress dot com or XXX.blogspot dot com after my site name. It signals to readers that I am taking my side hustle seriously and that this is a legitimate and professional platform instead of only a hobby (which it also is). Hosting my own site also helps with SEO rankings. My content is easily found by prospective readers via Google and some posts are actually the top search for some keywords.
What’s more, monetizing my site is easier and straightforward. I own this platform so I don’t have to follow rules set by either because I don’t have to of my site in terms of monetization.
If you’re interested about the tools that I use to run this site, visit my Resources page.
How much I paid: USD 3.95 a month for Blue Host and USD 49 for a year’s subscription for 1 site.
What I really paid for: Convenient and enjoyable experience while running this site. To focus on content instead of worrying about the technical aspect of website maintenance.
6. Self-improvement books
I probably spent more or less a thousand dollars on self-improvement books so far. There are huge gaps in my education and knowledge, and self-improvement books helped me bridge those gaps. There are a lot of things that are passed through family and socialization which unfortunately, people like me won’t have access to except through books.
One of the many ways that the children of the rich are advantaged over poor children is that information are passed from one generation to the next; from parents to their children. That’s how the rich perpetuate their position on top and to continue looking down on us, the plebs. They had specialized information that only they have access to in the past. That’s how they weed us out when we try to assimilate amongst them; we didn’t have access to information.
In addition to these rich-people knowledge, there are also useful information from specialist and coaches that people with money and the right connections have access to, that we can all benefit from.
For example, I bought books that taught me:
- how to dress and behave in any setting,
- how to build your professional and personal network;
- how to effectively build lasting habits;
- how to build a career and strategize a career pivot;
- how to prepare my child for college;
- proper etiquette
…and I foresee buying more self-improvement books in other topics in the future.
How much I paid: So far, more or less USD 1,000.
What I actually paid for: Expertise from people with knowledge and experience on things I don’t know and cannot know without outside help.
Being good with money doesn’t always mean hiding away our money and opting for the cheapest options to save. There are purchases that might look expensive at first but are totally worth if when we consider what exactly we are buying with the money.
How about you? Do you also have expensive things you don’t regret buying?