To a lot of my friends, I probably seem like I have it together when it comes to personal finance. I write about keeping my finances in-shape as a fashion blogger, and the positive effects of living a debt-free life. However, what I’m sharing today about the untold realities of living a financially responsible life will introduce you to a different side of me.
Hello, my name is Jessica. I am a shopaholic. (This is where you say “Hi, Jessica.”)
Do you know someone who you’re pretty sure has a shopping addiction? If you knew me before 2016, you’d probably think that I was one of them. Perhaps the word addiction is a bit of a hyperbole, and I certainly never received a clinical diagnosis. But the impulsivity, utter disorganization, and unending appetite that I shopped with indicated something was, at the very least, behaviorally wrong with me on the personal finance front. And yes, something was indeed wrong — I had no idea what I was doing wrong!
An Incarnation Ago
I knew all the common knowledge — you need to save, and you shouldn’t spend more than you make, start investing in retirement early, etc. But I was still shopping the way I did anyway because I worked hard. I was living a privileged life, sure — I lived in my parents’ house and they were kind enough to not charge me rent, I didn’t have a student loan to deal with also thanks to my parents, and I didn’t have anyone that I was responsible for financially. But I also worked hard at my budding marketing career, putting in all the hours and often overtime, too. So, I spent pretty much all my hard-earned money on fun — eating out, traveling, and of course, shopping. And I’m talking about designer shopping — $600 pair of shoes and $2,000 handbags kind of shopping. I think my record year was $30K spent on online shopping. And over a period of three years of having a full-time job, I had no savings, retirement or cash, and racked up about $5,000 in credit card debt along the way.
2015 was a transformative year for me. It was the year that I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband) and we started merging our finances together. I attribute most of my transformative progress in becoming a financially responsible person to my husband. He patiently showed me the way and shouldered our expenses together as I paid off my debt in 2016. Another positive influence came from personal finance expert Dave Ramsey and his $100, nine-week course Financial Peace University, which my husband and I took together. We often tell people it was our version of pre-marital counseling. It was a difficult year, to say the least, filled with many trials and tribulations and a lot of growing pains. I had to change my problematic shopping behavior and tendencies and, most importantly, my money mindset. (I could write a book on this process. Leave me a comment if you’re curious!)
Fast Forward To The Present, 2018
A wedding, a new house, and two new jobs later, we are living a married life that I couldn’t possibly have imagined before. We have a budget we share and hold each other accountable for. We have a mortgage but are on a 10-year track to pay it off. We are a one-car household (that’s a rarity in California) but we make it work. I sometimes wonder how 2014-Jessica would view my current life if she could travel ahead in time and peer into it now. I think she would be puzzled, questioning how it all works. So that leads me to what I’m here to write about today…
The Realities of Living a Financially Responsible Life
There’s the good and, of course, there’s the bad. What I would say is that all the bad is completely worth the good. And in the end, the bad isn’t so bad when you accept it as a way of life.
The less-than-glamorous side of living a financially responsible life:
1. It’s not just about the budget anymore.
It’s about sticking to the budget, and checking and re-checking, aligning and re-aligning month after month. It does not stop. The only time when the budget feels like it’s not there anymore is when you and your budget are so in-synch, you don’t need to rely on it to know when to spend or when not to spend. But then life throws curveballs at you. A flat tire. A leaky water heater. A friend who you haven’t seen in a while decided to visit you last minute. Any of these things might put you in front of your budget again. I had to learn to be good friends with my budget and know that it means well so I don’t get sick of seeing it again and again.
2. The impromptu Target cosmetic-aisle shopping-spree is no longer.
This used to be my cure-all whenever I was having a bad day or just feeling down. The fluorescent lighting, plethora of new cosmetic and skincare products, and the HOPE of perfect skin almost always lifted my mood when I was down. But it was nevertheless a temporary solution. After the novelty and excitement wore off, the neon-orange shopping bag (when the remedy was the Ulta sort instead of Target) would scream at me and remind me how and irresponsible I was with my money. Then I’d feel worse. Not to mention, I only have a $250 shopping budget now. If I walked out of Target with $150 in purchases…. I’d only have $100 left!!
3. Designer things are a dream-like, remote possibility.
Okay, guys, please don’t judge me or hate me for this fact. But I have a confession to make. I have five Chanel, four Louis Vuitton, three Gucci, and one Proenza Schouler purses/handbags. Some of them came as gifts, but most of them I bought. I no longer owe any debt on any of them, but a few of them I did put on credit when I bought them at the time. I have a weakness for luxury goods, obviously. But the last designer bag I purchased was in 2016. Ever since I went through the personal finance transformation, it’s become clear that designer goods purchases cannot be a frequent occurrence in my life anymore. It’s questionable whether I could fit them in at all. Unless I find another job where I make six figures again, I need to eliminate the thought of owning them from my life. No more designer bag purchases in the near future.
4. I have learned to either say no, or else wait patiently to save up for what I want which is not within my budget.
Saying no to things I want is hard. But it’s even harder to say no to things that feel like a need. For example, my hair. My roots are grown out they’re barely roots anymore. But I have been waiting for a time when I have $200-$300 so I can fix them. I am also contemplating going all-black with my hair again. Because that perfectly ashy brown color? VERY expensive to maintain. Another example is our currently unfurnished master bedroom. We just completed a $25K master bedroom renovation in December. We went over budget. The next thing on the list to do was to furnish our bedroom (the only thing in it now is a queen-sized bed on a box spring and nothing else) but since we went over budget, we decided to wait a few months to replenish our cash reserve before shopping for furniture.
The unexpected UPSIDE of a living a financially responsible life:
1. I appreciate things now for what they are, and not what they represent.
I still enjoy designer products, but they don’t mean the same thing to me anymore. When it comes to the items that I use in my daily life now, I am much, much more about quality than the brand. I’d much rather wear a bag that is versatile, durable, stylish (of course), complements my wardrobe, has nothing to do with any name brand or designers, and costs $100 as opposed to $5,000. I also understood a little more about the appeal of designer bags: half of it is the thrill of making the purchase. The other half is the bags themselves. So if I’m paying for something and as soon as I step out of the store, and 50% of its value is gone — why do it?
2. I am living life more fully than ever now because owning material things is no longer an excuse I can use to feel like I am living well.
Like I mentioned above, a shopping spree at Target or Ulta is no longer a viable option as a pick-me-up when I feel uninspired or just down. So, I started going to the library. Cleaning the house. Picking a playlist on Spotify and have a one-person dance party. Binging on an oldie-but-goodie favorite audiobook like When Breath Becomes Air. Calling and talking to a friend who I haven’t spoken to in a long time. Reading a book that’s been sitting on my desk for months. I started LIVING more.
3. Financial peace is a real thing, and it’s awesome.
One of my cats was diagnosed with cancer in October last year. She is 14 years old and to say she is the love of my life would be an understatement. (Sometimes I even question how much I’d love my future kids because it doesn’t feel like it’s possible to love anything else more in this world.) And when she was diagnosed with cancer, we actually caught it early and were lucky to have a few treatment options available. We decided to go for the treatment, even though it costs about $500 a month. But even before we decided to move forward with the treatment plan, we’d already spent a couple thousand just on the test we ran to get the right diagnoses. If it wasn’t for the cash reserve we built up in our emergency fund, this sure was going to put us in panic mode, needing to scrounge up this kind of cash. It was enough of an emotional roller coaster to go through the process of finding out the love of my life has cancer. We really appreciated not having to worry about the financial aspect of putting her through the treatment.
4. We are able to be more generous.
My husband and I love having friends and family over. We LOVE hosting parties. We love preparing delicious food and entertaining our guests. We both derive a lot of joy and pleasure out of ensuring our guests have a good time in our home. For example, we threw a Friendsmas party this Christmas and we had the most fun hosting 12 grown-ups and five kids — it was such a blast! But hosting people comes with some real financial commitment. Having a budget with flexibility within it so we can be generous in providing hospitality when we want to is a real joy.
So, now that I’ve shared my life story with you…it’s your turn! Tell me: where are you on your personal finance journey? What’s your biggest obstacle right now, budgeting, saving, making more income, or something else? If you can travel through a time machine and ask your future-have-it-together-self, what would you ask him/her?
Jessica is the writer behind personal style blog Cubicle Chic. In her early twenties, she has contemplated many career paths, such as a novelist, a physician assistant, a research scientist, a court translator (English to Mandarin Chinese), and a clinical research specialist. Eventually, she found her passion in marketing communications for life science companies. She continues to cultivate her interest and skills in many other fields, such as writing, career development, and self-improvement, and hopes to help others do the same.
Image via Unsplash