The “Cardinal Rule” Of Money That I Still Haven’t Mastered (& Don’t Really Care To)
My generation, Gen Z (i.e. those born between 1996 and 2010, debatably), is spending our money in completely different ways to those who came before us, and study after study proves it. Apparently, we take fewer risks with our finances than millennials and have much simpler needs than our Gen X parents. We splurge less on the “finer things.” It all paints a pretty picture of financial responsibility (not too bad for a bunch of “snowflake” babies…).
I personally can attest to this increased sense of consciousness around money. Personal finance something I’m not simply interested in, but believe to be essential to understand, regardless of one’s age. I’m not claiming to have mastered it by any means — I haven’t invested a penny yet, and my savings aren’t anything to write home about. (In fact, when I read that 32% of Gen Zers report stashing away enough money in their savings per month to make them feel confident, I was instantly ashamed not to be part of that statistic.)
But regardless of my shortcomings, a philosophy I stand by totally is that of owning your mistakes, while not being too hard on yourself for making them. I’m ready to own up to the money lesson I haven’t learned — and don’t think I really want to, either.
The One Money Lesson I Still Haven’t Learned
I Don’t Track Everything I Spend.
I know — I’ve just admitted to one of the cardinal sins of personal finance, but hear me out.
With apps like Mint and banks like Monzo (based in the UK, where I live) that allow you to sort your purchases into categories after you’ve made them, tracking is so much more convenient now than in the handwritten money diary days. However, it’s not just that I don’t feel encouraged to track my spending, but that I’m not sure I even need to. I understand that I have a very privileged and specific current financial situation: I’m a 21-year-old student living at home, with a part-time job as a primary source of income alongside a student loan. And as per my age, I don’t have a lot of expenses — my car and insurance being probably my largest outgoing. Because of this, the thought of noting down every coffee, online purchase, and grocery trip I do seems to me both unappealing and unnecessary.
Many consider tracking every single outgoing expense as integral to maintaining healthy finances, and I don’t disagree with the premise of awareness. Of course, it’s important to know your financial confines so that you can stay within them. While I may be non-traditional in my ideas about spending, I’m not irresponsible because of them. However, for someone my age, with no other parties dependent on them, this doesn’t have to be done by painstakingly noting every penny spent. If I both spend and earn differently from older adults, where is the need for me to monitor my finances in the same way as them?
So, what do I do instead?
I have my own sort-of tracking that doesn’t focus so much on how much I spend, but what I spend it on. In the notes app on my phone, I keep a list of things I really want to buy, ranging from luxury “one day” items that are currently out of my budget to the things I’m hesitant to take the plunge with (hi, white leather jacket). When I feel tempted to spend on something, I consult the list in order to remind myself of what I’d rather put the money towards, as opposed to the instant gratification of an ultimately wasteful purchase.
This means I’m buying only the things I really want and need, while still having that awareness of what I’m spending. The only real difference is the focus on what rather than how much. My method still has many of the same benefits of traditional tracking: I’m able to confront my spending habits and spend less impulsively while not having to get caught up in the numbers. Ultimately, it’s about finding ways to remain responsible on my own terms. And alongside tracking, checking my balance is something I force myself to do regularly, even if I know I might wince at what I see. For me, it’s those two practices in conjunction with one another that form the best way for me to spend the money I want, while still practicing a level of responsibility that won’t detriment my present or future position.
The Money Lessons I’m Still Trying To Learn
One of the most interesting things about personal finance is the adoption of different practices for different needs. Don’t be fooled, though — while I may have perfected one method, it doesn’t mean I’ve got it all sorted by any means. I’m currently obsessed with identifying gaps in my habits that cause me anxiety or embarrassment, and then putting in the work to change them.
Aim #1: To Shop More Sustainably.
For both the environment, and my wallet’s sake. Currently, I’d say my wardrobe stands at 60% thrifted, 25% fast fashion, and 15% high-end brands. This is certainly a more recent development. Historically, and like almost any teenage girl, I’d been obsessed with Forever 21 and New Look. However, my switch to thrifting came when I moved to university in a town that happened to have a whole street of incredible charity shops. And when I say incredible, I mean it. In my three years living there, amongst many other treasures, I scored a Burberry jacket, cashmere coat, designer jeans, vintage silk shirts, and blazers in every color to create the capsule wardrobe of my Pinterest dreams.
If it’s not thrifted, what’s in my wardrobe is probably sourced from more luxury retailers, but on the cheap through outlet centers or sales, or as a last resort, from a fast-fashion store. This is still something I’m trying to improve (though not that the industry makes it easy). I find the way fashion marketing is structured lures us into bad habits in terms of spending and the environment. Take student discounts, for example — the holy grail of all who study — which is offered predominantly at fast fashion stores, who have low prices that attract students in the first place, making it hard for those on a budget to stay ethical in their purchases. Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, $100 on recycled plastic bottle gym leggings just isn’t feasible when H&M do them for less than $10. However, what I try to do to mitigate those sins is to get a longer life out of bad-quality items by taking good care of them — washing and drying properly, dealing with stains promptly, and storing correctly. And it goes without saying to always recycle them when they do eventually reach their final day.
Aim #2: To Invest In My Future.
I recently found an old payslip from a restaurant job I held a few years ago. According to that piece of paper, I’d earned thousands from my hours of waiting tables, and yet I (very shamefully) had absolutely nothing to show for it. That isn’t down to a cavalier attitude about money and my future, though. Truthfully, the thought of being able to afford a house one day absolutely terrifies me. So why haven’t I done more to ease the burden?
In all honesty, I’m just not at a stage in my life where I am able, or willing, to squirrel away everything I’ve earned. But I’m prepared for that to change in the coming years. As a small but significant starting point, this summer I will begin paying into a Help To Buy ISA, in which the UK government will boost any amount I save by 25%. To be transparent: this will be made a lot easier due to being able to live virtually rent-free. And I wouldn’t have even thought to do it had my parents not suggested it.
As with so many parts of my life, I’m still figuring money management out. So while I’ve shared here some advice I personally don’t follow, I do think it’s always important to at least hear out suggestions. Over any other judgments – total transparency about the money we have and that we don’t is what’s most important. Just because a particular mantra doesn’t sound like it will work for you doesn’t mean it can’t be adapted to find something that is wholly responsible, but also suits the dynamics of your life.
Amy is a writer living in London. She hopes to do just about everything, including: see her name on the spine of a book, study for a Doctorate, and own twin golden retrievers. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.