Finance is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s high stakes. It’s a slow process of getting it right. It offers ample opportunity to screw up. But along the way, I’ve gained a little wisdom and adopted some good habits. Small changes make big impact, and the journey to a solid financial structure starts with a single step. Here are five principles (taken from the TFD 10 Commandments) that used to feel insurmountably difficult, but don’t anymore.
1. “Always have a budget.”
When I was a wee lass and got my first allowance, my father had one condition attached to my receiving that money: I had to deliver to him a monthly expense report at the end of the month. It was a pain in the ass, because I was stupid and forgetful and it was always an uncomfortable experience…but for all the right reasons. Having to “answer” for my spending in that way made me very conscious about how much I was spending and if I felt good about the purchase. My dad never said anything about how I spent, but I could always tell that he was grimmer during the months that I had blown through the bulk of my allowance, or when I had spent too heavily on treats after school.
That’s an experience that I have carried with me into adulthood. I track my spending meticulously. I check my finances often. I still feel a healthy dose of shame for spending too much or spending stupidly. 2018, especially, has been a year of growth and learning. I’m in my first career job. My partner and I will be moving in together and, for the first time, I can consider the implications of a double-income household. Speaking of houses, we may buy one! Even though I have more money now than ever, the importance of tracking it has become more crucial! Know the fine details of your finances!
2. “Buy fewer things, but more intentionally.”
Once upon a time, I would wake up two hours before the online release of the new products in my favorite cosmetics line. I’d click refresh until the items dropped and would load my cart up with all the “essentials.” I could blow $100 in mere seconds. During that same era of my life, I’d go on the Forever 21 site to see what was cute and would load my cart up with trendy items, because they were only $20ish a piece! I’d regularly check a favorite website for fun graphic tees (a staple of a way-too-casual wardrobe) and purchase whatever I chuckled at. But now I have so many of these slogan tees that my closet was overrun, and I have decided to make a quilt out of them (my Quilt of Many Sasses, I’ve prematurely dubbed it).
That shit was insane. Totally unwarranted impulse purchases that, if I’m being totally square, were damn near useless. Metallic silver lipstick and a graphic tee can be a fun look for a day about town, but it’s not exactly a versatile look. And it certainly doesn’t denote a mature individual, secure in her finances. It took some time, but I cut the word fast out of my spending habits. No fast food. No fast fashion. If it doesn’t have any lasting power, it doesn’t come in my house. If it’s a “fast” fix that only satisfies a momentary urge, it has no use beyond that. NOPE. Does that mean that I buy more expensive clothing? Yes. Yes it does. But only when it is truly time to bring in a new piece to replace or update another.
3. “Think of your spending in terms of goals…make day-to-day decisions based on the long-term.”
When I tackled my weight loss journey, I didn’t just set a final goal weight. I set several small goals along the way. “Weigh this much by the time this event rolls around.” “Be one size down at the end of this quarter.” My goals ranged from dead easy to reasonable with work to purely aspirational. But they kept me on a track.
I believe the same philosophy works for your finances. Set several goals that pertain to different areas of your financial life, and take note as you accomplish them. My first major goal that I actively strived towards was to save $10,000 (you’ll read more on that, once I get there!). My partner and I have a long-term goal of purchasing a property to rent out in our old college town. I have other savings milestones in the future. Investments I know that I want to make. I want to buy a Rolls Royce one day. See what I mean? “Well, it sounds like a nice idea, and you’ll probably save a ton of money trying to reach that number.”
4. “Treat indulgences and splurges as rare, exciting treats.”
A quick financial confession. A couple of weeks ago, I treated my partner to a fancy meal at one of our favorite restaurants. I wanted to celebrate his hard work on studying for the bar exam and to mark the end of an era where we’d leave behind our old college town forever and move in together in the city. It was a wonderful evening and so precious, and the huge expense was a worthy gift on a special occasion, and it included oysters. The next morning, we went to brunch, ordered more oysters, and spent a bundle for no reason other than that it was Sunday and we were thirsty. I’m still salty about it.
There is a fine line between injecting some sparkle into your life and frivolous spending, and this example fucking embodies it. Life isn’t some hollow thing of hard numbers and unwavering pragmatism. It’s a life. Celebrations are so important. But the late-morning hour on a Sunday was just another moment in my week. I’m embarrassed to put down into print that I ate oysters at two meals, in a row. That’s a ridiculous expense. What’s worse? It possibly cheapens what had been so special about the night before. I’m sure there are folks out there that can afford to eat oysters at every meal. I’m not one of them.
5. “Always have a side hustle/emergency fund/Plan B.”
As of the end of May, I’m only $3,000 away from having $10,000 saved. I’ve done it in two months. You’ll get a more detailed breakdown of that in a future post but one of the most essential elements of that savings plan was a side hustle. In addition to my 9-to-5 and various creative projects, I do hella freelancing as a copyeditor. In previous posts, I get real with the fact that I’ve been literally killing myself with work, but this has been one reward that I can’t be mad at. As of now, those savings are just a big stockpile that is building, and soon I will need to divide that into an emergency fund in addition to a general savings account. Stay tuned as I figure that out and navigate sharing a household with a partner in the process of paying off student loan debt.
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. By day she is a mild-mannered content marketer, by night she is a freelance copy editor, and (when there are hours left in the day) she writes for the adoration of faceless online readers, everywhere! When she’s not writing, Caitlin annoys everyone around her with her obsessive love of podcasts, movies, and coffee.
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