It’s economics 101. Imagine a bouquet of flowers. A beautiful, nicely done piece. Now clone this bouquet into two identical twins. One is bought on a street corner at the end of the day, by a man hurrying home to his wife. The other is sold to a bride for her upcoming nuptials, as the wedding bouquet. Which one of the two do you think will fetch a higher price? Exactly.

A human life is punctuated by events of special signif­i­cance, which are often surrounded by rituals. A birth, a gradu­ation, a wedding, a retirement, a jubilee, a death. It’s aston­ishing how the rules of the market­place are redefined in the reality distortion zone that surrounds these events.

Mea Culpa

I too have done it. I’ve splurged, every time. I felt the itch and I scratched it. Up close, I’ve experi­enced the birth of two children, two weddings and the death of one parent. On each occasion, two things happened.

First, the emotional magnitude of the experi­ences in those events makes monetary concerns temporarily seem less important. Second, a lot of utterly unnec­essary products suddenly seem like perfectly reasonable purchases, and the price of every­thing associated with such events goes up, dramat­i­cally. Sound familiar?

The result is predictable. Do you really need that $400 pair of stilettos especially for the purple-themed after-party on the yacht? Of course you do!

The logic supporting all of this seems iron-clad. These are often once-in-a-lifetime events that have tremendous personal and social resonance and that feel deeply, intimately important. It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to get wrong. You don’t want your precious memories spoiled by regrets, what-ifs and a whole host of coulda-woulda-shouldas. It makes perfect sense. Quite objec­tively, ratio­nally, sensibly, the Occasion warrants the Expenditure. After all, you really don’t want to look back at that baby shower and think, “Oh darn it, I wish I’d gotten those organic almond açaí profiteroles after all!” That’s the kind of traumatic calamity a person never quite recovers from.

And so I did it. I gave in to the Mandatory Splurges. Every time.

Hold On a Second

Here’s the thing, though. As I get older, the more I think about it, the more I see that that iron-clad logic is wrong. Dead wrong. Why spend all that extra effort and money on taking something that is already extra special and making it extra-extra special? Doesn’t it make much more sense to take something that is humdrum and transform that into something extraordinary?

Say you like tall trees. The tradi­tional Law of Mandatory Splurges says you should take the ten tallest trees in the forest and replant them on top of a newly-created hill, to make them stand even taller. That’s all very nice and dandy, but there is an alter­native. Let’s call it the Suggestion of Well-chosen Microsplurges. Instead of raising up those ten already giant trees, you could spend the same amount of energy and put lights on a thousand smaller trees. Which choice would make the forest more enchanting?

Unboxing the Magic

Many may balk at the suggestion. What is a wedding without the dress, the cake, the bouquet, the band, the rings, the matching brides­maids’ outfits, the Silesian unicorns? It would lose all of its luster and become “just” a wedding.

But that’s the whole point—there is no such thing as “just a wedding”. The fact that you’re getting married in itself is already spectacular. All of those trappings in the reality distortion field are just the wrapping on the gift. Take away the wrapping and you still have the gift. If you unbox the magic, what do you get? Magic.

Better yet, you get a chance to add a whole new kind of magic into the mix. This goes back to the fact that in the realm of mandatory splurges, every­thing gets a mark-up. In the regular world, that same money can go a long, long way indeed. For the price of one wedding bouquet, you can put a flower on her breakfast table every Saturday morning for years to come. For the price of that all-terrain carbon fiber baby carriage, you could have a whole series of romantic dinners on the town. For the price of that Silesian unicorn, you can—well, you know what I mean.

To Each Their Own

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to knock yourself out, knock yourself out. Say yes to the dress, say aye to the tie, say oui to the tree as you put it up on its hill. The Law of Mandatory Splurges evolved for a reason, and many will enjoy the thrill of giving in to it. I know I did.

But I suspect that what you do on that “once in a lifetime” occasion does not outweigh what you do during the lifetime. It’s the little things that end up making the biggest difference. You can only spend your money once. Invest it in the right kind of magic.

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Image credit: Norman Rockwell (source)

Father, son, husband, friend and writer by day; asleep by night. Happily pondering the immortality of the crab wherever words are shared.

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