I’m writing this because money seems to be something people don’t like talking about, unless they’re bragging that they have a whole lot of it. But that’s really silly. And maybe I can help keep someone like me from making the bad decisions that come from lack of information and perspective.
My parents, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t spoil me growing up. I always felt secure, but they never bought me things like stupid stuffed animals from the souvenir shop, or crazy expensive, trendy clothes. Being a child, and later a very bratty teenager, those were things I wanted very badly, and I never understood why I wasn’t allowed to have them. And I’m only recently coming to the realization of just how stupid I was, and just how right they were all along.
When I needed a computer for college (of course I wanted the fancy one, too), they were able to buy it for me. When I moved to New York, they fronted us a bunch of money to pay out our lease in advance so that we could get someone to lease an apartment to two kids fresh out of college who had a dog, but no jobs. When me and Nathan royally bungled our 2012 taxes, they lent us the money we needed to pay on time and get on track with a budget.
Slowly, slowly, it is beginning to click- my parents could do those things for me because they were always so smart and responsible with money when I was growing up. I don’t know if I’m stupid or just a brat, but somehow that never computed. They had money to do really amazing things for me that I appreciate so much because they were smart enough not to waste it all on toys, gadgets, and clothes when I was little. And one day when I’m a parent I want to be able to do those kinds of things for my kid too.
Unfortunately though, I’m a person who naturally likes buying stuff. I like looking at nice stuff, I like wearing nice stuff, I like using nice stuff… And I like shopping. I enjoy the actual act of seeing something, liking it, and bringing it home. It feels good.
But then there comes the point when it stops being good. When you have enough belongings, buying more stuff just creates clutter. Clutter doesn’t look so nice. And clutter is stressful- it’s a pain in the ass to clean (or clean around), and it’s mentally overwhelming. Or even if you’re getting rid of old things when you’re buying new things, you often wind up creating waste. And wasting isn’t cool. And if you buy stuff all the time, you wind up spending too much money. And when you spend too much money, you put yourself in the really unfortunate position of financial insecurity. And when you’re financially insecure, you may feel like you have to work at a job that you hate just so you can keep spending lots of money to make yourself feel better because your job is so miserable. Those things feel so terrible that the momentary high of buying something IS NOT WORTH IT.
I would recommend to anyone who likes shopping (like I do), to just try and go 2 months without buying anything that isn’t necessary. You can buy food, you can buy toilet paper, you can pay for transportation to your job. But don’t buy anything that you just want. Cold turkey. Buy nothing that you don’t need. I bet that by the end of those 2 months you will just be used to it. You will see that it’s not so bad, and you will even start to see that it’s actually better. And more fun.
Once I did that I noticed one really, really awesome side effect. Holy shit. I had money sitting in the bank. No longer did I see something pretty and wistfully sigh, “man, I wish I could afford that.” I could look at something, like it, and say, “you know, I could afford to buy that thing right now. But I don’t even want to, because I can do something better with my money.”
So what is this thing that I discovered that money can do for you that’s even better than buying stuff!? (Because we’ve already established that I really like buying stuff.) I discovered there is this magical thing you can do with money that people don’t really talk about to girls in their mid-20′s. (aside: you need to pay off all your debt before you can do this. If you have debt, especially consumer debt, it is an EMERGENCY and you need to pay it off starting right this second.) You can put your money in these crazy things called investment accounts and, without you even doing anything, your money will sit there and make you more money. It will just sit there. And it will PAY YOU MORE MONEY to let it keep sitting there. And if you let it accumulate enough, eventually your money will just sit there and make you enough money to live off of without you having to lift a finger to earn it.
And you (like my parents), will be able to do other awesome things with your money too, if you choose. You will be able to take care of the people (and pets) that you love and that depend on you. Knowing that me and Nathan have the money in the bank to handle a personal emergency, or to give the pets the best care if they become sick feels really, really good.
Now, ever since I was young, I have been kind of baffled by the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up.” As early as middle school, I came up with the answer that I wanted to just do whatever I want to do. At the time I’m sure it seemed like a childish, weird thing to say. But it’s still what I want. I want to wake up in the morning and work on whatever I feel like working on. It’s not that I don’t like working, I just like being free to pursue whatever work I especially feel like doing at that point in time. And as someone with a lot of different hobbies and interests, what I want to do changes a lot. And I used to think that I was going to have to ignore that desire and just work some crappy job until I’m too old and decrepit to even enjoy retirement. But then I started reading more about investing and I discovered a whole community of people on the Internet (Mr. Money Mustache is my favorite, because he’s hilarious and swears a lot), who teach that through minimizing spending and maximizing savings, it’s possible to save up enough money to live on in a much shorter time frame. Meaning that my childhood dream may very well be possible, if I can readjust my idea that buying things = happiness, and not buying things = constant deprivation and misery. Because the reality is, that if I can invest enough that my passive income is great enough to live on, I will have the tremendous freedom to work (or not work) on whatever I feel like working on, regardless of whether it makes me money right away, or ever.
And that’s a life that would make me happier than any expensive piece of furniture or cute dress. And remembering that makes it a lot easier to say no when I’m tempted to buy something frivolous. I do still spend money on things that I need, and even some things that I want, but now I make sure to save up, DIY it if I can, or at least get it for the best price if its not something I can make. And that part of it is really fun too. There is no downside. So stop wasting all your money and start making yourself happier.