These are a few of my favourite things…

By at home

A little bit of luxury won’t hurt you or your pocket – so long as you treat yourself with moderation.

“Don’t you ever splash out?”

It’s a question I’m frequently asked after each of my talks or speeches on the principles of prudent financial management.

The questioner’s tone of voice usually suggests an image of me sitting at my worn, dimly lit desk – probably because I’m trying to use as little electricity as possible – keeping track of each and every penny that comes through my long, thin fingers.

Hanging between the lines of the question are the suggestions that I must secretly be a miser, a mean and callous curmudgeon – Alvin Scrooge Hall, tis I.

My greatest thrill in life must be squeezing every last bit of value out of any coin that I’m forced to part with, or saving every single penny which I then use to make even more money. I must, it is believed, be so fixated on not spending money that I’m incapable of enjoying myself if I have to outlay any cash to do it. Some, in their certainty, have even offered to conjure ghosts of my self-admitted spendthrifty youth to shake me from my current parsimonious, tight-fisted ways.

There is no need for such incantations.

Yes, I do wag my finger at and speak frankly to people who go on spending binges and handle their money carelessly, but I am no Scrooge. Yes, I like making and saving money. This is hardly curmudgeonly. And I do plan my spending. Shouldn’t everyone?

The Truth: I do splurge here and there, and when I do spend on items above the essentials it is for something that is truly needed to make my life more pleasant, something that satisfies one of my secret little “itches”, and of course, something that is worth my hard-earned money.

These are treats I have carefully and deliberately selected from among those I can afford to give myself. Perhaps because I was lectured to about over-indulgence as a child, I don’t give them to myself so often that I take them for granted or become bored with them. I view each as a gift to myself. And they always, always give me joy and satisfaction, reducing my need to spend in order to “scratch other itches”.

For the record, here are three things on which I really enjoy “splashing out” with my money.

I love travelling first or business class when I fly. On the many long flights I take across the pond every year I want to be comfortable enough to get some sleep so that when I arrive in London I can hit the ground running, or at least skipping. Despite the constant and even overbearing marketing by airlines trying to make us believe their wide-bodied planes are paradise in the sky, my apologies to even Sir Richard Branson, but they are not.

In fact, if you are flying economy, they are not even pleasant. It feels like I’ve boarded a peak-time bus. They are stuffy and cramped. So cramped that I have oft believed the reason they want you to sit with your cheekbones on your knees is because if – heaven forbid – the plane is heading for a crash you’re already in position to kiss your ass goodbye.

Most of the time, but not always, I will spend what is needed or do what it takes to be upgraded to fly at least business class on long flights, short of completely humiliating myself by saying to the person at the check-in desk “Do you know who I am?” while pointing at my face dramatically. That line does seem to work for supermodels. My face is clearly not currency let alone upgrade worthy. But how does Naomi Campbell look in a bow tie?

Last year I was reminded why I always try to fly business class at least. During the summer, I met some friends in Italy and, as a guest on their boat we sailed to Portofino, San Remo, St. Tropez, and Nice. The vacation was magical and wondrous, a far cry from my roots where the idea of a good time was a six-pack and a possum. I was enjoying myself so much that I decided to extend my stay, cancelling my business class ticket back to New York, and waiting to the very last minute to reschedule.

When I got to the airport, upgrading was impossible, but I had to be on that flight. As a result, I ended up with – shudder – not just an economy ticket, but also was given a seat right across from the loo.

Not only was the dichotomy of going from a yacht to a sewer just awful, someone who had seen my television programmes recognized me, and smiled and remarked, “Alvin Hall. Figured you’d be sitting in the cheapest seat possible. Saving a pound or two, are you?”

This is how those rumours about my reputed tight ways get started. Yes I did this to myself. But it has reaffirmed my desire (it actually borders on compulsion at this point if I am honest) to always see the flight attendant direct me to turn left when I get on a plane or to the cabin with those spacious, fully reclining seats and footrests.

And speaking of reclining, I love beautiful bedding. I will, if I have to, pay full price for nice sheets and pillowcases when I find a pattern or colour that’s perfect. At the close of each day I love crawling beneath the soft, yet crisp light-coloured sheets of my bed. No pastels or satin finish for me.

The latter always feels damp and I have no desire to relive my early “training” years. The sheets must be crisp as well. Long-staple Egyptian cotton is particularly nice.

But even here I keep an eye on my budget. I know the approximate time that the “White Sales”, as they are called, start in each store in New York. I scan the papers daily looking for the announcement. Then I go into the store the day before the sale and see if the clerk, who I’ve been cultivating over time (always a good policy for saving money), will hold them for me until they go on sale the next day. Yes, I do look for bargains. Why not? This is not stinginess. It’s sensible.

The passion started after I stayed at a hotel in Paris that had Frette Hotel Grade Sheets. They were white-white with dark navy-blue piping. Their finish was very crisp. And as I slept with my thin black body between all of this whiteness, I did not have expected visions á la Billie Holliday of southern trees growing strange fruit. Instead I slept soundly, securely, and peacefully.

Now these sheets are my preference during the warm summer months in New York. (During the winter months, I prefer cream-or celadon-coloured sheets.) Then all day long I think about how nice it will be to slide between those sheets, and my bank book is happy, too. Whether I’m in my bed alone or with someone else, this is a pleasure that is mine alone, enjoyed quietly.

The third item on which I’ll “splash out” is caviar – beluga or osetra, of course. Caviar is magical on a wedge of toast, perhaps with a dollop of sour cream or a touch of chopped egg.

I don’t and won’t eat caviar daily. I do so three or four times a year usually after some business success – signing a new television or book contract, or when something wonderful happens. Sometimes I invite my friends to share this indulgence; sometimes I just spoil myself.

I just dump the entire tin of caviar on a freshly baked potato. Yes, it is piggish and unsophisticated, but satisfying this gustatory urge is almost like lust. I kind of lose control in the heat of the moment shall we say, but with a much tastier finish.

Some people don’t care for caviar and its obvious strong fishy taste, or they are repulsed by the very notion of consuming fish eggs. My love for caviar is not about reaching up to or mimicking the tastes of the rich and famous; the taste brings back memories of my childhood. (Some friends refer to this as my “farm boy palette”).

When I was a kid we often went fishing with cane poles at the nearby Wakulla River. We caught lots of fresh-water grey mullet. This is not mild fish. I loved the flavour, whether the fish was fried, broiled, smoked, or barbecued. I particularly looked forward to the spawning season. We would catch fish whose roes were full of eggs. My mother would cut out the sack of eggs and sauté it in butter. I could eat four or five of the roes at one time they were so good. A spoonful of caviar therefore bespeaks both my past and my aspirations.

The last time I indulged in caviar was when a friend was in New York from Paris. He was on a business trip that turned out extremely well – much better than he thought it would. We met for lunch and on our way to the restaurant decided to go to a caviarteria instead. We ordered a bottle of champagne and a large tin of caviar. We then laughed, talked, ate, and drank for nearly two hours when the last morsel of caviar was licked from the tin. (No, I did not do the licking.) This little expensive indulgence was a perfect punctuation to the events of the day.

“Hold on!” you might be just about to say at this point. This is not prudent financial behaviour. Business class travel? De luxe bedding? Caviar? These are things that go against everything that you tell people to do with their money. And they are things that only the rich can afford.

I love a good treat like everyone else. However, I just choose the ones (in this case three) on which I will spend my hard earned money.

I readily admit that I do not have enough money to be able to afford everything I want, as it is with most people. This is probably a blessing in disguise. It keeps me from becoming a pack rat like Citizen Kane, my possessions and secrets eventually incinerated. Well, that’s okay for the secrets, but if you have spent good money on something, it should not be put in your coffin to go to the other side with you. I am not a pharaoh, however African they were.

And, while I like a few regal pleasures, I don’t spend like a pharaoh either. Neither should you. Frequently I have found that people can’t afford the treats they desire because they approach their personal financial management as if it were a diet.

Think about it. You have a weakness for chocolates and you’ve gained a few pounds. So you elect to deny yourself chocolate entirely to lose the extra weight. This works for a few days, perhaps even a week or more. Then you pass a candy shop or you see someone eating chocolate and your urge turns into an uncontrollable craving. You have to have some chocolate and you have to have it now!
You have one piece of chocolate assuring yourself that “one piece won’t hurt”. Before you know it you’ve eaten an entire box of chocolates. The diet is out with the wash.

How many of you shop or spend your money the same way? You abstain and then you go wild. You end up with no savings and feeling guilty on top of it all.

Through planning and moderation there is a way to be able to purchase the things you enjoy. You can protect your financial security and still “splash out” on the pleasures life can bring.

Sound financial management may not improve your lovemaking, but I staunchly believe it is what advertising executives call sexy. It allows you to safely bring delights into your life. Dreams come true not by wishing upon a star, but by financial planning.

I see myself flying first class to Tahiti reclining on my luxurious-sheeted day bed spooning caviar. I’ll get there. Pleasant fantasies . . . prudently realized.

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