How To Get Financially Fit In Your 20s

By | Monday, December 08, 2014


Short answer: Do what ought to be done.

Long answer: Read on.

Where do I start? This is a tough one for me to write, but I’ve been inspired lately, and I have a lot to say. I’ve been inspired by myself, by my parents, and by my older siblings who own homes and get to invest in their living space and feel content that they are their own landlord. Real estate, to me, is the ultimate. It’s beautiful and powerful to OWN your home. It probably feels like turning 21. Like a secret club that represents freedom and the end of longing. It’s more important to me than traveling, the homebody that I am. There is an appealing, classy art in hosting in a home you’re proud of. (I’d totally travel too, but creating my nest sounds like a SUPER-cool staycation.) If Taylor Swift can flip a house* and make a million bucks, I can at least buy a condo and paint a green accent wall.

The way I see it, addictive personalities can get addicted to anything. I sort of feel like I come from an addictive family. No one has any serious substance problems, but we all like our food and we all like our routines and we are all fairly impulsive about spending. Has Amazon.com done more good or more harm for me and my loved ones? Well, let’s crunch some numbers. YOU do the math.

Addictive personalities can get addicted to saving money. Anything is potentially addictive, right? That’s the best part. Chocolate, marijuana, sleeping, routines, television, sex, exercise, iPhones, people, anything! Addictions can be fucking sweet and help us run our lives in a dignified way, or they can destroy us and feel like a chokehold. What I’m saying is: I want to own my addiction. And I want my addiction to be saving money. Is it possible to manipulate myself into doing this? Let’s find out.

I was lucky enough (and still am) to live within an hour of driving to an Ikea store in college. I sort of back-track-blame my careless attitude towards small purchases on having an accessible Ikea store while I was young and relatively broke. While Ikea has a very detailed website in which it clearly states its prices and in-store selections, and even though I’d make a rough list of my intended purchases for the day, I’d always end up spending MUCH more than I planned. And it’s because of Ikea that I developed the theory that “everything under $5 is free.” News Flash, nineteen-year-old! Seventy-five cent tumblers and $4.99 pillows and $4.00 fake potted plants are not free, as portrayed at the check-out counter when your total is $240.98 and you don’t actually have enough space to hang your new mirrors.

Of course, I can’t really blame anyone for spending impulsively. Shopping is one hell of a drug. Especially in the age of e-commerce, where you get a thrill not only when you make the purchase, but again when it arrives on your doorstep.** I love being generous, surprising people with thoughtful gifts, buying a round of drinks, and getting top-shelf liquor in order to feel fancy and attempt to avoid a hangover. But you know what? The worst kind of hangover is the over-spending kind.

Plus to me, money does not always seem real. All this talk of impending apocalypses and bit coins makes me skeptical of our current system. Burning Man kinda has the right idea. If you can’t offer something immediately good enough to trade for it, then tough luck. You can’t just hand someone some pieces of paper promising it’ll have value when they try to use it later. That’s so silly. Cash is absurd. It seems like IOUs or just doing things to be nice would be better, huh?

And like, our money, which TECHNICALLY represents gold, is printed on tearable paper or stored on a computer. Numbers on computers. Pretty hard to not go nuts, huh? Let me get this straight: you’ll give me those Nikes and a round of tequila shots for showing you a piece of plastic? Perfect. I’m in. Crashing the currency system is, in my opinion, the most likely apocalypse that will happen, but we don’t really talk about it. It’s weird.

But listen, I’m not going to get too deep into the absurdity of currency. For now, I think the right thing to do is to suck it up and save your “money”. Because paying $9 for a cheese Danish and a seasonal coffee is dumb to do 4 times a week, no matter how silly paper money is. Because FOR NOW, your time is money.

Granted, I did get a generous Christmas bonus today, so I’m feeling particularly open and eager to disclose my financial situation.

Anyway, once you start saving, you can become equally as obsessive and addictive as you are about your cigarettes or coffee or Instagram app. $7 becomes SEVEN dollars gone forever. A $4.75 coffee at 3pm becomes feeling empowered for staying at your desk and getting some fucking work done instead of spending the money.

Sometimes I feel like I gotta have that long black tank top that’s so versatile and goes with everything and will make me happier and more desirable. The urge can make me crazy, just like any addiction. Well, $19.99 transferred to your savings account can get you just as high. Trust me. Try it. Try it. The thing with savings, with drugs as an opposing analogy, is that the more you do it, the better you feel, the better off your are…and the better your life is. Maybe saving money is the best drug around! Get addicted. Act like you’re Gollum fromLord of the Rings! I’ve never finished the books or movies, but everyone knows that reference. Come on. Let’s all be honest with ourselves: money buys happiness. It also buys power and control and serenity. And at the very least, it helps you manage stress.

I did go one year without buying clothes, in attempt to teach myself this lesson. I did learn. I don’t need clothes. It can always wait. I have SO many clothes. But I started going to ULTA on my paydays and bought lipstick and eyebrow kits to itch that impulsive spending scratch. It was so dumb. (But I do have a lot of good lipstick now and a pretty good Maleficent eyebrow game.)

You guys, I suck at money sometimes too. That’s why I have so much to say. I’m guilty of dumb spending. I’m pleading guilty and hoping the judge lets me off the hook. (The judge being me/my future/my future husband/the student loans people whom I picture to be Gringott’s goblins.)

But why am I learning all of this now, in real time?! “When are we ever gonna use this?” was actually a really valid question that was frequently asked when I was in high school. I genuinely wish that I was taught how to pay taxes, what to ask when taking your car to the repair shop, and how to send a proper e-mail. The most valuable class I took in high school was keyboarding, which was an elective course, and I use those skills every damn day. (In fact, I’m using them right now.)

I’m far from perfect. I fuck up on money all the time. Just yesterday, I spent $35 on stuff like coffee and snacks and whatever else I blacked out.*** But I have my “stupid” account, and I have my savings account, and I’m protective over both. Both are important. But savings is more important. Financial fitness is just as important as physical fitness. Work out every day, and don’t be a duche bag paying Starbucks and H&M to make you happy for 10 minutes when you don’t even own any stock with them. I am happier, more fun to be around, and more motivated when i’m physically fit. The same thing goes for being financially fit! 

And having debt is totally cool. You’re human. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, no matter where you’re starting from. My mom literally handed me paperwork when I was 18 about how much money I’d owe once I was done with college. But I was so drunk on boys and high on my philosophy professor, that I didn’t pay attention. I only pretended to listen, because the future didn’t really seem real. Either that, or I was told so many times that having a degree would guarantee me a job that I felt invincible. You have to learn to play nice and treat your student loans like a toddler that you’re babysitting who might run away at anytime if you don’t tread lightly and bargain with him/her. (But the keyword here is bargain.) Then, they might start acting reasonably and accept what you have to offer.

But seriously, most of money is just numbers on computers or paper that kind of represents gold – history of economy is weird – and we can just play along until the apocalypse comes. I fully plan on trading my wisdom and humor for food and shelter whenever that happens. Those are my skills, and trading them directly for things sounds reasonable. Money is so silly. And super hackable. Let’s be honest, we all get hacked on our debit cards about once a year.

BUT LET’S PLAY ALONG, at least for now. Perfectionists want to be good at every game. “When in Rome”…”Can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”… “Marla, you met me at a very strange time in my life.” (Apocalypse TV dramas do make me feel better, though, like, “Oh you have to pay $150 a month to pay off your loans? A zombie just ate my pregnant wife.”)

What I’m trying to say is, BE GOOD. Yeah, play along. Complaining about it is cool. Joking about it is fine. Every time I mail a check in for my student loans, I kinda toss it aggressively into the mailbox, or at our receptionist (who will mail it later.) It makes me feel better. I’m not happy about paying my students loans. I’m happy in spite of paying my student loans. (And I’m also glad that it’s good for my credit. There’s always a silver lining!)

And okay, I know finances are usually taboo, but we all post a lot of stuff on social media that’s taboo and opinionated and political. Why not discuss with your friends and loved ones how much debt you have, how you’re managing it, how much you’re saving, what impulse purchases you make, whether or not you have help from your parents, how much your rent is, etc. I’m not saying to put this in your Facebook profile. I’m just saying that financial health is a huge part of who we truly are, and it’s something we talk about the least.

I don’t know, man. I’m just talking. I wouldn’t have even wrote this post if I didn’t have a small sum of money in my savings account. See? Because doing the right thing and being financially fit makes me want to write and talk and share and meet people. Try it. Like any fitness routine, becoming financially fit sucks the most at the beginning, and but eventually you’ll get super into it and probably a little smug.

I’m not saying that if you don’t have a lot of money or make a lot of money that you’re doing it wrong. I’m saying that we should work hard and have something to show for it, because that feels a lot better than panicking and regretting buying mediocre coffee and that brand of dry shampoo that your friend swears by. We’re not all rich, so we should stop pretending to be. You don’t need a venti coffee every day and you don’t need a designer bag. In the most literal sense, we don’t need to keep up with the Kardashians.

And you guys, I’m not perfect. In fact, sometimes I’m the worst with money things. I want to be better and I’m happier when I’m better. I don’t want to have money emergencies. Let me reiterate. For now, we play along. Can’t beat ‘em. join em. Have a plump savings account and feel good about your retirement and know you’ll be okay if you lose your job or crash your car. It feels good to not worry. And you don’t even have to love your job! I wish people would stop telling kids that they can be anything they want, because they can’t. Some can. But most can’t. And what the fuck, you guys? Kids are dumb by default because they’re young (not their fault) and they only know about like 5 careers. They know about mom’s job, dad’s job, teacher, bus driver, doctor and fire figher. They don’t know about Human Resources Assistant at a geotechnical engineering firm. If you told my 5-year old self that’s what my job was going to be, I’d be like, “But bus drivers get to put sassy stickers next to the rear-view mirror.”

I guess I’m an adult now, ‘cause my idea of fun is being responsible. 25-years old is scary, and empowering, and really fun. I like the adult parts. But these are the parts that I’ve created for myself by working hard and learning from other people’s mistakes as well as my own. And shit costs money. We need to live our lives and say yes to some fun things, but in doing so let’s turn the mind-body connection into the money-body connection. You may need to see your chiropractor less.

And don’t think too much about how The Wolf of Wall Street and HBO’s Girls are both based on real people who were somewhat involved with the creative process of producing their stories. Learn from Hanna’s mistakes, not Jordan Belfort’s. Financial fitness should come from working hard and learning because you’re young and need to figure out on your own how to get your oil changed and pay your bills online with paperless statements. As I recall, Hanna did not know how to write a check in Season2, but she’s still a role model and her weaknesses are part of her charm because she’s still growing up. I think when money comes very easily to someone by way of sort of cheating the system, it might be hard for them to every earn money the traditional way. (But my, oh my, how I love that Wallstreet Wolf.)****

*I feel like I could make a living flipping cars or houses. It’s probably too late to follow most of my adolescent dreams (book editor, comedy writer, gymnast), but it’s never too late to memorize Kelly Blue Book and rip off people who are desperate to sell their assets. 

**What would have happened during The Great Depression if online shopping was a thing? Or even vintage Walmart Black Friday, pre-online, week-long deals?!

***I don’t think I’ve ever had a $35 here-and-there food spending day that consisted of all healthy food. It’s usually because I’m stressed, woke up late, or hate myself. Sometimes on days like this, I’ll get some pre-cut watermelon from the grocery store because my body is demanding plants, and screaming,”No more cheese and white flour!” But pre-cut watermelon, though healthy, low calorie, and void of cheese, is sometimes around $7. Just wait until it’s in season and cut it yourself, dummy!

****Lena Dunham and Jordan Belfort are both incredible authors and insanely smart.

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