This post brought to you by Finhabits.
The word “invest” used to conjure a very specific kind of fear in my heart. I hated the thought of it for several reasons, but the primary ones were that a) it seemed like the sort of thing only rich people did, and I was definitely not rich, and b) “investing” as a concept was all about delayed gratification and creating a better life for your Future Self by not frittering away all of your money on happy hours and fast fashion today. Now, to be clear, I have since grown substantially (and learned quite a lot about money), and am no longer at all scared of investment. (I invest myself, in both the strictly-financial sense and the more general life sense!) But I did not lose that fear because I learned I was wrong — I lost the fear because I learned I was right. Or, well, half-right, anyway.
Basically, no, investing is not something that is only accessible to rich people (you can do it yourself with just a few dollars from your monthly paychecks). But I was right in the sense that it is entirely about creating something for your Future Self, whom you must learn to care for and prioritize as much or more than you do your Current Self, who often doesn’t understand why she can’t just spend her entire paycheck on holiday decorations at TJ Maxx. (Or perhaps that one is just me.) Either way, the tectonic shift in my thinking was not about the amount of money I had, or even the act of putting it into an account which I did not touch — I already understood the idea of saving. My change in heart was learning that there was a Future Chelsea, that she would want some comfort and security, and that the concept of gratification was no less meaningful simply because it was delayed.
I can say now, at the ripe old age of 28 and three-quarters, that I enjoy doing things for Future Chelsea more even than I do for Current Chelsea, who still very much enjoys wasting money on brightly-colored alcohol. And in partnership with Finhabits — a new, easy way for everyday people like us to improve our financial habits — I want to talk about five ways you can invest in your Future Self today (financially and otherwise).
Booking things on your calendar you can’t get out of.
If you live anywhere in the northern hemisphere, you know already: it is dark as hell out. We are now officially in the Disorienting and Depressing Season, where it’s nighttime in the middle of the afternoon, it’s quickly getting cold out, and the motivation to do anything interesting with your life that isn’t sitting under a blanket and watching murder documentaries on Netflix is near zero. I have found that to combat this, one of the best things you can do for your Semi-Future Self (aka you over the next few months) is to start setting up obligations you can’t easily get out of. I signed up for a few classes and meetup groups (already paid for, so my laziness on the day will be combatted by the fact that I don’t want to lose money), I have some trips planned, and I have friends coming to visit, which means on all fronts that not only do I have things to look forward to, but I have things that keep me moving, occupied, and not feeling the general slip of the winter doldrums that allow you to justify hermit-like behavior for six months straight. The more your calendar looks like that of an active, happy, social person, the more likely you are to be that person. If you don’t commit yourself to getting out there and living, you are likely to do neither, because forcing yourself to be spontaneous when it’s gross out is nearly impossible.
Opening a retirement account.
It sounds boring and scary at the same time, right? Retirement is so far away and vague that it’s easy to assume it just doesn’t apply to us, plus if you are prone to instant gratification, nothing could be less instant on the timeline of a human life than choosing to prioritize your retirement with your 20-something money. But that’s exactly why you must look down the tunnel of Scary Money Things, and just deal with it, because trust me — the day you have a retirement account quietly growing while you humbly add to it each month is the day you are going to suddenly feel more confident and happy about life. And if, like me, you aren’t in the position to just seamlessly slip into a 401k at work with that oh-so-illustrious employer match, checkout the IRA options at Finhabits, where you can get started saving for retirement with a few clicks and manage your account as easily as you can order dinner off Seamless on the way home from the airport (no one else finds that the most satisfying activity after a long trip home?). Anyway, the point is, retirement doesn’t have to be difficult, scary, or something only rich people have the luxury of saving for. Get started here. and feel the amazing sensation of being able to check something that huge — having a retirement account — off your list.
Learning to cook.
I feel very lucky, in the sense that I grew up in a cooking household, which meant that the transition into adult life was not marked by a painful middle stage in which I went from “I somehow lit pasta on fire” to “I can comfortably meal prep for myself from scratch on a Sunday night.” But even if you are that person, there is no one skill that will have more of a long-term impact on your health, finances, and general happiness than being the kind of person who can cook for yourself, and actually enjoy the process. Not only is it an incredibly de-stressing activity when you’re in the moment, being able to open up your freezer and defrost a meal you made for yourself when you’re hungry (instead of firing up Seamless yet again — not that it doesn’t have its place from time to time) is weirdly powerful-feeling. The money you save from being able to use raw ingredients rather than constantly turning to processed and packaged things is incredible, and once you get used to it, mastering new recipes is actually quite fun. Plus, it’s an extremely Instagram-friendly activity if you are looking to boost your Personal Brand, which shouldn’t be the reason, of course, but hey — any reason is a good one to get started in the kitchen.
Curating a wardrobe from the bottom-up.
Now bear with me here, because I can already hear the ringing in my ear of a thousand personal finance gurus telling me that spending on clothes is a waste of money. But here’s the thing about clothes — similar to food — we have to use them every day, like it or not. And if you are the kind of person who works in a professional environment that does not provide a uniform, how you dress yourself actually stands to have a big impact on your life and career. And while I feel confident in saying that today I dress fairly well, and have what I would consider to be a coherent personal style (even if it is extremely blazer-dependent), that was definitely not always the case. I used to purchase clothing in an incredibly haphazard way, based on what happened to catch my eye, what happened to be on sale, or what I happened to see online that one time and suddenly decided I had to have.
There was no real rhyme or reason to it, and as a result, I found myself with a closet full of clothes and a) nothing that really went together, but b) nothing I really wanted to wear all that much. But about three years ago, I started on a concerted path to creating a wardrobe from the ground-up: deciding what I wanted to look like every day, making tons of inspiration boards and doing research on the styles I liked, buying very strategic, versatile pieces to build the bones of that wardrobe (I called it #NeutralLife at the time, because neutral clothes always go with each other so it was an easy place to start), and I built outwards from there, accumulating pieces as I went. Today, I have a wardrobe that fits, looks the way I want it to, and can be made into a thousand functional combinations. It makes getting dressed every day a breeze, and has immeasurably boosted my confidence. Because I don’t just have a collection of clothes anymore, I have a wardrobe.
Creating individual savings accounts for what you care about.
Beyond just your retirement account, which is non-negotiable when it comes to investing in your future self, you will also want to create individual savings accounts in the medium- and- long-terms for the specific things you want to be doing with your money. Aside from your emergency fund (which you also must have), you’ll want non-investment accounts that are centered around trips, investment items for your home or wardrobe, taking a big class, or generally making any purchase that is something you will want to plan around and save up for. Making a dedicated account that is specifically for these things not only makes us more likely to follow through, but relieves us of the guilt when we come that we couldn’t afford them (even when we really can). Because even if your Future Self is just six months away, that person is going to have tons of little things come up that you won’t be able to plan for, and it’s so easy to reach six months from now and not have the extra cash we thought we would. It’s not about depriving ourselves, it’s about making sure that we get the things we want in the smartest way possible. Whether it’s a retirement account, a vacation savings account, a cohesive wardrobe, or an arsenal of go-to recipes, your Future Self is going to be as comfortable and confident as you decide to make them, and once you realize that you can shape how that person’s life is going to look, delaying gratification actually becomes more addictive than having that rush of fulfillment instantly. Trust me — if I could become the kind of person who invests, so can you.
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