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Money Diaries

Spending a Thousand Bucks Still Makes Elijah Wood Very Nervous

Before he lived in Middle-earth (and got wealthy), Elijah Wood grew up financially insecure in Iowa. That’s why he likes things that don’t cost much money — like old photographs. And crying.

Wealthsimple is a whole new kind of investing service. This is the latest installment of our recurring series “Money Diaries,” where we ask interesting people to open up about the role money has played in their lives.

My first job, at the age of 8, was when I somehow got cast in a music video for the Paula Abdul song “Forever Your Girl.” For those who don’t remember, it was one of the hits off her first album. David Fincher directed the video; this was before he started making movies. What can I say? I was hooked. Soon after, I started runway modeling at a local mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I grew up. It was all fun work, and I liked the idea of helping my family earn money. It’s not like I was in huge studio movies at 10 years old, but I made a little here, a little there. It felt good to be able to chip in.

I was raised in a working-class family. My dad worked at a box factory, and my mom worked at a Quaker Oats factory. Later, they opened a local deli. Watching my parents gave me a healthy respect for the value of hard work. And it was also kind of formative to watch as my family dealt with some pretty stressful financial issues — debt, IRS problems. I was actually very nervous about it all at the time, and I developed a cautious perspective about money. That caution has persisted. After those difficult years, I learned to never take money for granted or be frivolous in my spending.

To this day, I still get nervous anytime I’m spending a lot of money.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that having possessions just to have them has never really resonated with me. If I had untold millions, I doubt my spending habits would change much. For me, possessions have to have personal meaning, otherwise they quickly feel pointless. The idea of meaning when it comes to possessions is why I collect certain things.

I’m a record collector. I have more than 4,000 records in my collection. Some of the records I buy are pretty expensive. I’ve gotten more comfortable with that lately. Recently, I picked up a Horace Silver jazz album — an original Blue Note release, with Art Blakey on drums. It was $300. There was a period of time when I first started buying records when I was like, Oooh, $50 for an album? That’s too much. But as I began working more and more, I started thinking, I don’t really spend money on anything else, so I can afford to do that. It’s interesting how your spending habits can shift over time. You start to make these little justifications, and $50 can quickly go from “Whoa, that’s too much” to no big thing. But I still have my limits. I think paying a grand for an album would make me nervous. To this day, I still get nervous anytime I’m spending a lot of money.

I’ve also collected evocative old photos that I find on the ground or street or in old books or records. They don’t cost money at all, but they have a lot of value to me. They’re the kinds of black-and-white pictures you’ll see in a bin at an antique store. My sister’s become obsessed with them too. I think it’s because they’re like a window into the past, and they spark your curiosity. You just want to know who these people were and what their lives were like. It’s so fascinating to me — the lives of these mysterious people, and also what people chose to take photographs of in the first place. Sometimes even when I’m at a friend’s house and they’ve got their own photo albums out, I’ll start flipping through the pages and become totally absorbed.

Here’s something valuable to me that doesn’t actually cost any money: a good cry.

One of the only other things that I find I want to spend money on is experiences. Travel, for example. There’s nothing more enriching than travel. Food is another big one. Going to a really excellent restaurant, to me, is part of the fabric of living life. So many of those special dining experiences are singular, never to be repeated. When’s the next time you’ll get to visit that restaurant or be together with that special group of friends? For me, that justifies the expense.

Here’s something valuable to me that doesn’t actually cost any money. A good cry. There’s nothing like the power of a good cry. Last fall, I cried over the end of a relationship, not because I felt isolated or broken internally but over the loss of that connection. And crying made me feel better. I cry a lot while watching movies, since movies have a way of emotionally engaging me. This is embarrassing, but I cried during Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My emotions are often close to the surface, so it doesn’t take much to get the tears flowing.

Honestly, I wish I cried more. There’s nothing more relieving, nothing that connects you more to yourself and allows you to let go. I often take on a lot of stress that I don’t process or really deal with, and a good cry lets you get everything out. For someone like me, with a cautious approach to money, I’ve come to really value something that makes me feel a whole lot better but doesn’t cost a thing!

As told to Davy Rothbart exclusively for Wealthsimple. Illustration by Jenny Mörtsell. We make smart investing simple and affordable.

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