I am a tried and true planner — always have been, always will be. But this attribute, puzzlingly, has not always applied to the financial realm of my life. While I currently thrive on timelines, benchmarks and most things type-A when it comes to my accounts and savings, I used to very much be a “check my account online before I can commit to happy hour” person. I always paid my bills and had money to live it up in my early 20s, but savings was not a thing in my self-indulgent world.
My current reality is very different: creating savings goals and celebrating them at each increment. I have major expenses plotted out months in advance in order to prep and ply my spending accordingly. But I used the excuse that grad students were “supposed” to be broke entirely too liberally for a good period of time. Simply put, my money game is locked down now, but it wasn’t always.
In the parking lot after a family wedding last Saturday, I remarked to my father that I really liked the SUV parked next to his truck. A relative then informed me that it previously belonged to my recently deceased great aunt. Her daughter, who was serving as the executor of the estate, was looking for a buyer. So what did this recovering budget blower and current Erin Condren-toting, card carrying financially responsible gal do? She bought that SUV 6 days later, and couldn’t be happier with the purchase.
Why would I stray from my perfect-on-paper plans, and make such a major and frankly impulsive purchase? And, interestingly, why didn’t this feel like a “relapse” into my old spending ways? Because perhaps more importantly than having your financial shit together is the freedom you can enjoy from having it together, if you do it right. There were times in my life that wouldn’t have had the money in my savings to cover the expenses of purchasing a new car, and I would have been forced to pass up a fantastic deal because I simply did not possess the resources to make it a reality. By being a disciplined saver and making the regimented choices that I have grown to embrace, I had the ability to make an impulse buy. But it was still an intelligent decision.
I used to think that if I “limited myself” to a budget, I was restricting myself from living my life in the moment and on my terms. Say “no” to margaritas with a girlfriend after a long day? Nope — I worked hard for that money and I’ll blow it all on tequila and queso if I damn well please! It never once dawned on me that by refusing to take control over my money, my money was literally taking control over me — and any potential situations that were coming my way.
By not saying no to yet another less-than-meaningful purchase or experience, I was going to have to potentially say no to amazing opportunities that fell into my lap down the line, such as that buying that cute little SUV. Looking back, I was completely restricting any real long-term financial freedom by not giving myself any restrictions in the moment. Dwindling away my money with disposable short-term purchases was destroying my long-term future, but it was impossible to see in the moment.
Happily, I have seized control of my formerly YOLO-leaning money ways, and have learned to differentiate wants from needs and prioritize my spending. The lessons that I’ve drawn from my less financially secure days serve as a foundation for my present and future decisions. I purchased a vehicle in my very early 20s and had to finance even the sales tax (!!!), which taught me that this deal was too good to pass up. Applying the wisdom from those struggles and correcting my habits made this purchase possible.
Maybe it’s because I’m edging closer to thirty or maybe it’s inherent clarity from fewer margarita happy hours, but the premise still rings true — organization and planning now leads to freedom, and yes, the flexibility to be spontaneous down the road.
Sara is a Midwestern gal who balances prudent life planning with day-long Housewives binges. You can typically find her volunteering for a nonprofit, embarrassing herself on a dance floor, or somewhere in between.
Image via Unsplash