Work/Life Balance

I Have No Savings (And No Regrets) Because I Live In Paradise On Less Than $21k

By | Friday, July 15, 2016


As an avid TFD reader, I can’t help but notice that I have a financial doctrine that does not match most other contributors’ philosophies. I have no debt, but I also have no savings. It’s a delicate balance that I have been maintaining since I started working at age 16. I live this way for a specific reason: I want to spend all my money in youth, to my heart’s content, because when I am 65 and retired, I won’t care about the $50,000 less I managed to put into my retirement fund. I won’t care about the fact that I bought my first house at X age. I will care about the memories I cherish of a happy youth; a youth filled with coffee dates with my nearest and dearest, with treating family to nice steaks, with smiling each time I browse through my extensive wardrobe, with traveling the world, with having matching mani-pedis, with experimenting with different hair styles and colors.

Currently I live in paradise: Hawaii. I am surrounded by a multitude of restaurants, clubs, bars, and coffee shops. And I have never said no to any of them. Why? Because I live a life where I never have to say no. I do not preoccupy myself with comparing my 401K or my savings account to others’. I don’t contemplate which house to buy, because that is not what youth is for. It’s for taking risks, saying yes to life’s offerings, and not regretting the money that I spent in pursuit of life’s pleasures. Before you judge me too harshly, let me explain how I manage to attend school full-time while living in paradise on less than 21k per year (after taxes), with no debt to my name.

I know where to put my money all-in, and where to stretch it out. For example, working full-time at my university gives me a huge discount off the tuition. My four-year degree would normally cost about 100K; with my student work discount, I spend a mere 5K per year. Parking costs — between my apartment and my workplace — would cost me $400 per month (in addition to the cost of  car purchase, insurance, gas, and general maintenance). Instead, I use public transportation; my bus pass ends up being $10 per month, for a grand total of $120 per year.

I always buy “unlocked” unlimited service phones (for up to $650), but I end up paying a very small nominal fee of $45 monthly for service, because I don’t have a contract over my head that sets a minimum expenditure of $100 or charges additional fees. Nor do I cave to society’s pressure to have the latest and greatest Iphone or Android; I treat my phones well, and on average, their life spans stretch for about 2.5 years. I live in an apartment with only one roommate, and my share of the rent is $575. (Hint….we have no air conditioner.) To give you an idea of how incredible of a rental rate that is in Hawaii, for my real estate area: the neighboring hotel (with phenomenal air conditioners) charges an average of $265 per night.

I also supplement my wants and needs with volunteer jobs and side gigs. For example, I “secret-shopped” for two different bikini companies; in exchange, they gave me a combined $300 of store credit…now, I have two higher-end bikinis in my wardrobe. I crashed the hard drive on my $2,000 custom-made computer, so I volunteered with a non-profit that fixes up computers — they fixed my laptop for me within the first day of volunteering. I continued volunteering for an additional eight months, out of gratitude and respect for what they do in the community. I also volunteered at a farmer’s market for two years, every Saturday morning. Cue all the free kale drinks, ahi nachos, and mushroom fries with aioli sauces I could want. I also received a vendor discount at all the surrounding booths and a full bag of free veggies to take home. Groceries, check!

I was a hair model for several high-end hair salons; I got my hair colored and cut on different occasions and saved approximately $500 (compared to what their usual customers would pay for that treatment). Last year, I wanted a new wardrobe, so I decided to take on a weekend job for the holidays with a well-known, worldwide retailer. Getting paid, plus getting 40% off the store’s clothing, helped me add approximately 100 new pieces to my wardrobe, shoe selection, and accessories collection. I am starting a new volunteer job at a local yoga studio soon; in exchange for three hours of my time every week, I have unlimited access to any and all yoga classes they host. In addition to all my extra perks in life, my resume has enjoyed a beautiful boost from all my excursions and volunteer jobs.

No, I don’t have parents who pay my way, nor do I have a significant other who supplements my lifestyle. I curate it myself and balance my wants and needs with the money I make. I get to enjoy the good things in life and know that I earned them, fair and square. I juggle full-time work, full-time school, volunteer jobs, side gigs, and of course (most importantly), my wonderful family and friends who keep me motivated, passionate, and happy.

The greatest, most validating moment of my financial lifestyle came when a higher-level coworker and I had a chat about finances. He was making 50k per year and couldn’t understand how I was keeping myself afloat on my low salary. I looked at him, smiled, and said “I’m doing very well for myself, actually.” He rode the bus (like me), had two roommates (more than my one), and was in debt from loans he took out to finance his undergraduate degree. Our conversation really proved to me that how we manage our money (and lifestyle spending) is more important than how much we make. I stand by my choices of not saving so that I can live it up during my youth.

That said, I believe the TFD community will celebrate with me when I say that my goal for next year is to accumulate 10k in a savings account, so that I can face the second half of my twenties with a financial cushion. I promised myself a fun youth, filled with beautiful adventures, food, clothing, and memories. I gave myself just that. Now, I will use the same thrifty hacks to give myself a nice financial blanket for my later years; I know it will feel particularly warm and comfortable, because I’m going to make it myself.

* Leeni D. prefers to use a pen name.


Image via Unsplash

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