At the end of last year, I wrote a list of 25 money goals I was making when I turned 25 (shoutout to my fellow December babies). Some were big goals — finally save up a hefty emergency fund, pay off my credit card debt — while others were smaller, more habit-based goals — nail down an exercise routine I can do on the cheap and take up some of my old hobbies. It’s been a good year overall (for me personally), and I’m really proud of where I am financially compared to where I was at the end of 2016. I did a mid-year check-in, and am pretty much where I thought I’d be heading into 26. But that doesn’t mean that I’m anywhere near a perfect place with my money.
Sometimes I can’t help but feel a little fraudulent talking about money in public spaces. No one on this team is anywhere near an expert, which is the point of us entirely — but I often feel guilty, like I’m getting on a soapbox to talk about what others should be doing with their money, even though what I write about is I’m fully still figuring mine out.
For instance, I was recently talking with a good friend of mine about how he needed to set up a retirement account. Like me, he doesn’t get a 401k or other retirement benefits through an employer, and I was giving him my (admittedly elementary) spiel about the importance of compound interest, and why he should open a retirement account now and, if not max it out, contribute as much to it as he can. And while I know this is good advice, I felt like a hypocrite. How could I possibly tell someone they needed to be contributing the yearly maximum to an IRA when I haven’t even been able to accomplish that myself?
I read and edit articles about the importance of taking care of your future every single day, but I struggle with the fact that I am not the perfect picture of financial health. But I also don’t believe I have to be (or that anyone has to be) — I just have to push myself to try to be better today than I was yesterday, better this year than I was last year.
And recently, I’ve realized my biggest problem: I’ve been juggling too many goals at once. I firmly believe in keeping separate savings accounts for different savings goals, and I have no plans to get rid of mine. (For what it’s worth, I use Qapital to automatically set aside a percentage of what I earn for different goals, like a vacation fund and a moving fund, which I wrote about here.) But I think that I’m not yet good enough at appreciating delayed gratification to be able to think of all of the things I’m saving as equivalent money goals.
When it comes to things that are going to affect me in the near (or even just slightly distant) future, I’m really good at saving. Or, at the very least, good at finding the money in my budget last-minute to cover something unexpected. I’ve saved a relatively healthy emergency fund, and while I’d like it to be bigger, it’s grown enough so far to give me peace of mind in my day-to-day. My boyfriend and I have taken several trips this year, which I had no trouble paying for, and I’m on track to have saved enough for my portion of the expenses when we move apartments in a few months.
But those things don’t feel like goals to me, because I’m going to figure out how to make them work one way or another. Even having saved for big trips doesn’t feel like an accomplishment, since the money I worked hard to save is gone by the time the vacation is over. (And I know it totally is something to be proud of — this is just how it feels in my mind.)
And while I set up automatic withdrawals to my different savings goals, I have to confess my worst habit: canceling deposits to my retirement savings goal before they hit so I can use the money for something else. I know how important this savings is, and yet because I can’t feel the benefit immediately, I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I can focus on it later. But the thing is, if I keep pushing something off for later, it’s never going to happen.
This year, my only focus is going to be to max out my retirement contributions. I’m not getting rid of my other automatic savings withdrawals for other uses — I’m just simply going to focus on my retirement savings first. But I know myself well enough to know that the only way to accomplish this is to think of it as an obligation — not a goal. I’m almost done paying off my credit card debt, which at one point totaled about $3,000 across two balance transfer cards. Paying this off was a goal, for sure, but it was also an obligation. Because if I didn’t pay off my balances by a certain date, I’d have to pay even more in interest. There was a finite, tangible consequence of not making each of my monthly debt payments, which honestly made it easier for me to make them.
With my retirement contributions, there is no immediate consequence of not making them (other than potential tax benefits, depending on the type of account you have). I have to learn to trick myself into being obligated to make these transfers. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do this, but I’m starting with revisiting my budget before the year is over, and then actually setting up an automatic monthly withdrawal (and setting a calendar reminder for a few days before so I know I always have enough in my account to cover it). I have a couple of new expenses setting in soon, like paying for my own health insurance, but I also have some room opening up — my last balance transfer card payment will be in January (!!). I’m also *really* hoping to knock a couple hundred bucks off my rent when we find a new place to live in March.
26 will be my year of abandoning my existing idea of money goals — and simply following through with my own obligations to myself. I have good habits in place already, but this year, I want to make more room for planning and less for slacking. I have no plans to give up the things I enjoy that are more immediate — I’m just shifting my priorities. I take care of present me just fine, but this is the year I’m starting to seriously take care of future me. I’m just still figuring out how to do that.
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