On Budgeting and Other Adult-y Things

Remember when you were a child and Mom and Dad paid for everything? You got an allowance and were allowed to pick special treats out at the grocery store and got a car on your sixteenth birthday and got a new school wardrobe every fall and and and…

Well, I don’t actually remember any of that. From the beginning of my life, my parents struggled. Over the course of my childhood, things fell by the wayside. I rarely had new clothes in school until I started earning money outside the house (first job: mother’s helper to my aunt at the age of 11… and I haven’t stopped working since). I don’t remember ever earning an allowance; instead, it was expected that I clean up after myself and help my mother with my younger siblings–it was my responsibility to take care of things and I never expected to be rewarded for it. I got a 1988 banana yellow Cadillac ElDorado from my dad for graduation–which I felt guilty for. It died six months later, causing me to take out a car loan for a newer car that I ended up paying off by working two jobs throughout college.

Money has always been interesting for me. I’ve NEVER been able to save money for “emergencies” or hypothetical situations because those are intangible things with no real end goals. I often spend money on things that make life easier, faster, and more convenient, i.e. buying coffee shop coffee rather than making my own or buying lunch when I’m perfectly capable of cooking for myself. I also spend far too much money on clothing, because retail therapy is my true weakness. I also love traveling more than anything and willingly spend copious amounts of money whenever I’m in a place that isn’t “home.”

At the same time, however, I’ve been imbued from a young age by a sense for budgeting. I’ve learned how to budget for specific things, like paying bills and car payments and saving up for specific things. I rarely have trouble paying something back and I always feel guilty when it takes me longer than it should. Because my entire life has been paid for by me, I feel a small sense of entitlement to spend my money the way I’d like to. However, I also recognize my responsibility to my loans, my credit, and my future.

So here I am, at the ripe old age of 24, planning my next investments. By November, I’ll have served two years in AmeriCorps and effectively have cut my student loans in half (my dad always said that someday it would pay to be poor–for me, it paid in grants for college. I’m very lucky to owe so little in student loans). I’ve learned new skills that allow me to barter for goods and services. I’ve felt financially stable for an entire year–which I find to be a good starting point.

So, what’s next? Finish paying off a small personal loan and my credit card by the end of the year. Sell my car and purchase a new one to continue to build my credit. And… *drum roll please* begin saving to buy a house. A HOUSE! My mom bought her first house when she was 48. I want to own a house at some point during, or soon after, my 25th year. I think that’s a pretty good legacy.

I know a lot of people that aren’t good with money, for a myriad of reasons. I certainly don’t always have the best intentions when it comes to a dollar, but I do know what it takes to meet a goal. I’ve learned to live with very little cash at hand because otherwise I know I would spend it–I’ve been living pretty freely with the stuff because I’ve felt secure for a while. So, I need a few tangible end goals to throw money at in order to keep my habits (coffee, restaurants, clothes, travel) in check.

I trust Mint.com incessantly. I can see all of my financial holdings–income, debt, personal property–in one place and manage it as I prefer. It’s quick, easy, and pretty and leaves very little to be desired. The analysis function indeed gave me a swift kick in the ass last week when I realized I spend an average of $5 a DAY on coffee. A DAY?! ON COFFEE?! American consumerism at it’s finest, folks.

So, what did I do? I decided to start saving… for something tangible. It gives me the motivation to cut back. It reminds me to build coffee and lunch-making into my schedule. It works and it’s been a foolproof method for my entire life. Some people can save for emergencies and some people have no IDEA how to save anything–I fall in the middle. And I’m proud of that.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for raising us in poverty. Strange bit of gratitude there, I know, but coming from nothing makes me really appreciate the some things I have now. Plus, I know many many people that were far worse off than us and being able to survive like that is far more impressive to me than being able to earn a dollar.

Money is a factor in everyone’s life–having it, not having it, spending it, not spending it, not knowing what to do with it, not knowing what to do without it. I’ve come to terms with that unfortunate truth. For me, my next goal is making sure that those factors never conquer me. I never want money to be a make-it-or-break-it point for me. Ever. I refuse.