Since I can't be bothered learning economics properly, perhaps a knowledgeable reader can help me out. I tend not to spend much, because I tend not to want much and spending money on things I don't especially want seems wasteful. Further, as a youngster I inherited a vague sense of outrage at the excesses of the wealthy. But I wonder whether this is justified.
Some disjointed thoughts:
1. Where's the waste? Spending money merely shifts it, so it is still there for the recipient to spend on more worthy things. It's not as though you're burning it.
2. Even if one's spent money were destroyed, this would not matter since money is not wealth. If you print or burn money, this does not change the wealth of society, right? Perhaps money is better understood as a claim to a portion of society's total wealth. (Something like: if I own 1% of the circulating cash, I can purchase 1% of the wealth.) In this zero-sum game, counterfeiters make me poorer, and people who bury or burn their bills make me richer.
3. Trade need not be zero-sum, mind. Both parties may obtain greater value from what they receive than what they gave. Or, I suppose, the reverse. So: better take care that our trades are for the better, not the worse!
4. That's easy enough when bartering goods. But what is the value of money? First attempt: Time is money. While working crappy student jobs for $10 an hr, I could ask whether each $10 of spending was worth an hour of work. It rarely was. But maybe that just indicates that I should have quit sooner. Then we are back to the question of how to value my savings.
5. Second attempt: what is the value of money? Whatever else I could buy with it, I guess.
6. Then it seems to follow that at least spending cannot always be a waste. Even if I don't want to buy anything all that much, I should get whatever I want most. (It may be in the future though, in which case I should presently save.)
7. Purchasing creates incentives. If I buy frilly lace, this is a vote for a world where more labour is put into preparing frilly lace. If I don't want this, I should put my dollars in a different ballot box. (This is also why you should never give money to beggars.)
I guess that's the notion of wastefulness I'm after. Spending is not simply a transfer of money from one person to another (pace #1), it also exerts influence over labour. There's no point encouraging people to spend their time and effort doing things nobody cares about. So it would be a waste to pay them to do this. The transfer of money is neutral, but the time and effort they expended is a deadweight loss.
Does that all sound roughly right? (I'm beginning to wish I'd done some intro econ in undergrad...)