I think my dad sends me one of those “Five Ways Twenty-Somethings Can Save For Retirement Now” articles at least once a week. He’s a public school teacher whose two oldest children recently graduated college and entered the workforce. He wants us to be informed, and to at least be thinking about long-term savings now, before we have mortgages and children and medical expenses and what have you. I get it.
The problem is, I haven’t read a single one.
There is so much information and advice on the internet today when it comes to money. I go to Pinterest or Facebook and see articles like “How I Paid off $50,000 of Debt in Six Months!” or “How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half in One Step!” Then I go on Instagram and see that another one of my friends has bought a house at age 25. Then I turn around and see that my cat has pooped on the carpet and I need to go buy carpet cleaner right now, and while I’m swiping my debit card for that purchase, all of these insecure thoughts are swirling in my head like, “Did you get a good price for that? Did you check the off brand? Why didn’t you own that carpet cleaner already?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very lucky. I graduated college two years ago with only a modest amount of student loan debt. I have a 401(k) with my job. I’m slowly building up my savings account. I buy off-brand cat food. And if a disaster were to strike, I have supportive parents who are always willing to throw me a life preserver (both financially and literally if the situation called for it). But with so much noise and social media clouding my brain, I find myself constantly comparing myself to peers and strangers. Was it responsible to lease an apartment when I have family willing to take me in? Should I really have bought that bagel on the way to work when I have cereal at home? How the hell do people my age afford houses?
And so on.
To combat this mentality, I have some basic strategies for feeling in control of the money I have and how I use it:
1. I know where my money is and how much I have at all times. Even if my checking account has less than $100. Yes, sometimes I feel squirmy-guilty while I check my bank balance, but knowing how much money I have and where it’s going helps me improve myself and make better financial decisions next time. The method that works for me is the website CalendarBudget, which lets me look at the entire month and input deposits and withdrawals on specific days. That way I can look ahead and see, for example, how much money I’ll have left if I go grocery shopping on the same day my rent hits my account. I’m someone who has a hard time visualizing how future expenses will impact my bottom line, so being able to concretely project the flow of my cash has mitigated a lot of my money anxiety. This is a pretty common tip, but it did not register as useful to me until I found Calendar Budget, because other apps or strategies were not as helpful. Unless I can look a few weeks into the future and see how my spending habits affect me in the longer term, it’s hard for me to visualize the benefits or consequences of my actions.
2. I have a plan for my debt. It’s not a spectacular, clickbait-headline-worthy plan where my debt will disappear overnight, but it’s a plan, and I feel empowered having one. My student loan payments have been on an automatic payment system ever since I started paying them back, which means sometimes I forget that they exist until after the payment hits my account. You can imagine how fun that surprise is. So in my bullet journal, I have a page called “Debt,” and I’ve drawn little boxes where every time I make a payment on a loan, I get to color in a box. Then, once one of my loans is colored in completely, I’ll turn that payment on to the next loan. This is nothing groundbreaking, but the act of coloring every time I make a payment makes my debt feel tangible — like I’m physically filling a bucket — and makes paying off debt almost like a game for me.
3. Finally, I remind myself that nobody’s perfect. Hannah Montana told us this a long time ago. Every financial decision we make has pros and cons, costs and opportunity costs, and ultimately, my financial situation is mine and mine alone. What that means is a lot of the time I have to put the damn phone down. After a point, reading blog posts and social media and staring at my bank balance becomes unproductive, and I have to close out all of my apps, take a deep breath, and do something like going for a walk or cooking a meal or reading a book.
So, Dad, I’m sorry that I have not read those articles you’ve sent me, but my brain can only handle so much information at once. I prefer to learn how to manage my money at a slow, steady pace. I may not be the first of my peers to buy a house or retire comfortably, but by knowing when to stop doing financial research, I’ll have the energy to master the basics of using a budget, paying down debt, and taking care of myself for the rest of my life.
Mallory Lectka is a Financial Proofreader, aspiring college professor, Harry Potter enthusiast, and proud cat mom. Her role models are April Ludgate and Dana Scully.
Image via Unsplash