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October 5, 2016

How I Limit (but Don't Eliminate) My Frivolous Spending

My most frivolous purchase, as I found it.
We all want things we don’t need. Frugal people like me are better than most at resisting the urge to purchase those things, but every so often there’s something I just have to have. Fortunately, I have a system for regulating my frivolous spending, and I learned it from my dad—only use credit card cash-back rewards for frivolous purchases.

Family History
My dad was an early adopter of credit card rewards. He taught me credit cards are a convenient way to pay for things while getting some nice perks. You just have to make sure you pay your bill in full every month. The first rewards credit card my dad used gave cash back in the form of “True Value Bonus Bucks.” These were essentially gift cards for the True Value chain of hardware stores, which he frequently shopped at, so he was essentially getting cash back. That credit card has gone away, but the concept it spawned lives on.

Cash is King
Let me take a moment to point out I strongly prefer cash-back credit card reward programs. I know a lot of people swear by the air mile cards, but I can’t get into them. Keeping track of various arbitrary points and figuring out how to most effectively utilize them isn’t something I want to deal with at this point in my life. Maybe after I retire and can devote more time to it, I will explore travel points. For now, I will take cash over points every day of the week.

The System
My strategy for controlling frivolous spending is actually quite simple. I keep track of how much I earn in credit card rewards and I only use that for my more discretionary spending. On top of my credit card cash-back, I also include any “found money,” which includes, yes, money found on the street, but also things like the contents of my change jar, credit card referral payments, and money made from collecting recyclables in my college dorm.
This system of using credit card rewards, which my family still refers to as “Bonus Bucks,” has several benefits:
  • It allows guilt free purchases of frivolous items, which we all want to make sometimes. Totally depriving yourself of all non-essential items is a good way to be miserable and burn yourself out on frugality.
  • It sets a hard limit on how much you can spend on unnecessary stuff.
  • It is money you wouldn’t normally have, so you don’t even notice the spending.


Here’s what my "Bonus Buck" tracking spreadsheet looks like. You may notice most of the money goes toward my motorcycle and Miata.
Total Earned: 5019.52
Total Spent: 3833.45
Total Available: 1186.07

Earned Spent
Date $ Source Date $ Purchase
6/1/2006 97 Change Jar 12/29/2006 235.94 Cycling Shoes
9/21/2006 64.31 Dividend Dollars 9/16/2007 215 Ulto-Razor
3/27/2007 53.89 Dividend Dollars 8/4/2012 600 Motorcycle
5/22/2007 50 Referral Bonus 8/5/2012 1.52 Penetrating Oil, Engine Cleaner
8/25/2007 50 Extra Referral Bonus? 8/7/2012 37 DMV Fees
 8/27/2007   73.36 Dividend Dollars 8/11/2012 28.41 Haynes Manual
12/11/2007 55.04 Dividend Dollars 8/14/2012 36.54 Clymer Manual
5/1/2008 51.59 Dividend Dollars 11/3/2012 146.2 Motorcycle Lift, Misc. Tools
10/7/2008 74.28 Dividend Dollars 11/13/2012 47 BMW Airbox
5/9/2009 60.9 Dividend Dollars 11/10/2012 14.66 27mm Socket, etc.
11/12/2009 62.7 Dividend Dollars 11/16/2012 171.31 Exhaust, Rear Subframe, etc.
4/7/2010 86.45 Dividend Dollars 11/16/2012 169.25 Exhaust Wrench, Gaskets, etc.
9/25/2010 50 Dividend Dollars 11/18/2012 29.48 Front Fender
11/4/2010 50 Dividend Dollars 12/8/2012 17.91 Engine Cleaner, Penetrating Oil
11/20/2010 50 Dividend Dollars 12/14/2012 11 36mm Socket
1/22/2011 50 Dividend Dollars 12/16/2012 129.3 Rear Wheel/Tire/Axle
3/22/2011 150 Dividend Dollars 12/29/2012 143 Front Wheel
4/22/2011 50 Dividend Dollars 9/30/2013 184.82 Brake Line, Fuel Fitting, etc
6/27/2011 50 Dividend Dollars 4/23/2014 23.94 Spring Compressor, Wire Brush
7/26/2011 120 Dividend Dollars 5/7/2014 126.34 Piston Rings, Cam Seal
8/9/2011 -75 AmEx Annual Fee 7/7/2014 189.09 Helmet
9/8/2011 125 Blue Cash 8/2/2014 58.63 Miata Car Cover
7/1/2011 80 Honeymoon Cash Back 8/8/2014 57.77 Miata Shift Boot, Antenna Plug
10/11/2011 75 AmEx Referral 8/9/2014 15.25 Miata Gear Oil
10/11/2011 50 Blue Cash 8/30/2014 19.35 Miata Delrin Shifter Tip Bushing
11/9/2011 75 Blue Cash 9/16/2014 19.06 Brake Fluid
12/20/2011 85 Wells Fargo Cash Back 10/4/2014 33.09 Miata HVAC Duct
1/9/2012 75 Blue Cash 11/15/2014 38.83 Miata Clear Turn Signals
3/31/2012 75 Blue Cash 11/15/2014 95.4 Miata Headlights
5/10/2012 100 Blue Cash 11/20/2014 10.88 Miata Headlight Cover Metal
7/27/2012 100 Blue Cash 11/22/2014 11.94 Miata Blinker LEDs
8/7/2012 -75 AmEx Annual Fee 11/22/2014 13.07 Miata Headlight Connectors
10/10/2012 100 Blue Cash 1/27/2015 79.41 Miata Undertray Aluminum
11/26/2012 50 Dividend Dollars 2/5/2015 52.28 Miata Undertray Hardware
12/15/2012 125 Blue Cash 2/5/2015 9.80 Tin Snips
3/10/2013 125 Blue Cash 2/9/2015 10.39 Miata Hood Vents
4/7/2013 100 Blue Cash 2/23/2015 70.38 Miata Brake Parts
6/9/2013 100 Blue Cash 2/23/2015 18.51 Miata Brake Parts
8/7/2013 -75 AmEx Annual Fee 3/13/2015 41.15 Junkyard Miata Parts
8/12/2013 150 Blue Cash 8/1/2015 25.56 Mechanical Pencil
10/10/2013 100 Blue Cash 8/1/2015 70 Miata Soft Top
12/9/2013 125 Blue Cash 8/2/2015 20 Miata Top Striker Plates
1/24/2014 50 Dividend Dollars 7/1/2015 100 Miata Wheels/Tires
2/5/2014 100 Blue Cash 8/30/2015 200 Miata 6UL Wheels (2x)
3/10/2014 100 Blue Cash 10/19/2015 40 Sheet Metal Shears
5/13/2014 150 Blue Cash 1/3/3016 45 Triumph Exhaust
8/7/2014 -75 AmEx Annual Fee 2/6/2016 120 Ducati GT1000 Rear Shocks
8/11/2014 125 Blue Cash      
11/2/2014 150 Humana Vitality - Amazon Credit      
11/8/2014 125 Blue Cash      
1/21/2015 50 Dividend Dollars      
2/8/2015 125 Blue Cash      
2/10/2015 140 Fitbit Recall      
2/16/2015 125 Humana Vitality - Amazon Credit      
4/3/2015 25 Humana Vitality - Amazon Credit      
5/9/2015 125 Blue Cash      
8/7/2015 -75 AmEx Annual Fee      
10/11/2015 250 Blue Cash      
11/24/2015 15 AmEx Offer (Amazon)      
1/9/2016 125 Blue Cash      
3/11/2016 150 Blue Cash      
6/9/2016 100 Blue Cash      
8/8/2016 100 Blue Cash      
9/27/2016 100 Double Cash      

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