How 300 Dollars Bought Me Happiness

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A few days ago, I did a rather impractical thing.

I bought a plane ticket, without having saved for it.

Now, it’s not a one-way plane ticket — I very much like my life and my job and my apartment and my friends. I had also been floating the idea of visiting my hometown for a few months (and paying the due diligence of checking Expedia fares at random trying to match up to a cheap flight), so it wasn’t as if it was a completely out-of-the-blue situation. But this is the first trip I have ever bought for myself without scrimping over the course of months, or asking my parents for assistance. This is, in a way, the first trip I will be taking as an adult with my own adult money.

And for some reason, this, now, makes me feel like I’ve somehow hit a stride in both my financial and general independence.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a lot of money — $300 for a round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles is not expensive, especially given what some of those flights can go for. But it is a not-insignificant amount of money. It is what I might spend over the course of two weekends out with friends and just living what I now know as my life.

But for a very long time, it was money I did not have. I am a writer and an editor. I work on the internet. I have a horrible compulsion when it comes to buying gray sweaters, and have to maintain rent for my apartment in Manhattan, bills, student loan payments, gym membership, and my cat’s food every single month. And for a very long time, I was barely scraping by. I spent long nights babysitting on top of working long hours, cut corners everywhere, and never went out on the weekends, but I made do.

It’s typical — and more common than ever — of your fresh-out-of-college years to ask for help from your parents here and there. And in an effort to not be That Millennial, I was both very proud and very stubborn about my money. I took it as a point of pride that my parents didn’t help pay my rent. I wasn’t even on my family’s phone plan, though they offered. Asking for help paying for flights home once in a while was my one thing. (And I only traveled home maybe once every year and a half. It was never a huge ask.)

So when I was able to buy a plane ticket because the price was good and I had the money, it sent me reeling for a moment. I questioned what I had just done. I wondered if maybe this would somehow backfire on me and I’d be left $300 short for rent come the first of the next month. This was going to screw me over. It had to, right? I wasn’t carefully planning every single cent.

It is strange to go from literally being unemployed three years ago to feeling capable and solvent enough to just book a vacation (albeit, one where I will not be paying for a hotel or car, because hey, family). But it’s a very, very good feeling. It makes me feel like an adult.

I know you shouldn’t equate money to happiness, and that’s the prevalent analogy that keeps swirling around in my head. You know when you’re happy, but you worry if you have the right to be happy? That maybe there’s something you’re forgetting that will nullify your happiness? There’s always something you’re forgetting, something that creeps up on you, something that makes you think you don’t deserve that happiness. But you do. And sometimes you have to remind yourself that yes, there will always be something that will sabotage your happiness if you let it. But you don’t have to let it. You deserve happiness, too. Live in that moment. You earned it.

So with this trip — this stroke of luck that comes only with entering an endless combination of random dates on Expedia to see what pops up — I will spending my hard-earned money how I wanted to. I earned this.

And that’s just the thing. Adults earn things, much the way kids do — even if it’s not saving in the typical sense. You accrue this earning over time, with job changes and promotions and raises. Through the three years I’ve spent on my small career, I had earned this trip. In a way, it makes me feel as if I’m finally an adult, because I am at a point in my life where I’m on top of my bills and payments and have money left over. (For now. I hope I don’t jinx myself by saying this.) And it’s money I am entirely free to use how I want to when the time is right.

And what I want most of all right now is to go home.

And maybe some In-N-Out.

Ella Ceron is a writer. She does social media at The Cut. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

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