A year ago, one of my oldest and closest friends came to visit me in Los Angeles from my home state of Ohio. Our friendship was sealed one fateful day in our 8th Grade science class. We were launching these pop-bottle rockets and one bottle started going wayward. As the class began to run away from the rocket, my friend and I ran towards it. It landed exactly between us. We looked at each other and we knew that we had just become best friends.
While she was in town, we had a chance to catch up on what had been going on with the both of us. I told her about how my boyfriend loved listening to video game podcasts and she told me that her husband was obsessed with personal finance. “He really loves reading this blog called Mr. Money Mustache.” She told me, “It’s about a guy who saved all his money and retired at 30.” I laughed, that’s ridiculous I thought. “Your husband’s crazy.” She then explained how they had a set budget for their meals, didn’t eat out often, and they switched their phone plans to something a little more economical so they could start saving for an early retirement. “But you have to enjoy life!” I thought to myself and then proceeded to make dinner reservations.
A few months later I began to feel this colossal weight coming down on me. I couldn’t find what was causing it or how to fix it. I felt frustrated in my current situation. Every day had become the same, I would get up, work, go home, go to bed, begin it all over again. I enjoyed my job but I did not like how many of my creative projects were being pushed to the back burner. I found myself filling up with Want. I wanted to buy a house (which is downright unaffordable in my city), I wanted to be financially independent, I wanted to be a good songwriter, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted nice clothes, I wanted a dog, I wanted and wanted and wanted. That Want was driving me absolutely insane.
I began talking about financial independence as means to cure the Want almost non-stop with my boyfriend. So much so that he told me if I was a toy, you would pull my string and I would say “financial independence.” The funny thing was that I didn’t know how to even begin to reach financial independence and that was causing me even greater stress.
My finances, which were always in a state of “Fine” to “Ok” and sometimes “Good” were about to be hit with a destructive force called my own spending. I was a bonafide spender and true believer in “forgotten money.” This is the money that you spend and you forget about it because more money comes in to replace the money you spend, so it’s like you never spent it at all. Does that make sense? No! Of course it doesn’t. It’s just something stupid I kept telling myself.
I was also a very impulsive Amazon shopper, once remarking that it’s a little like Christmas whenever you get a package from Amazon. Amazon makes it so easy to buy things through their app, that as soon as the want for something pops in my head (a backpack, some book about animal rights activists, copper mugs, cameras, etc), I can buy it. In fact, I spent almost $200 in a 3 month and I honestly cannot remember most of what I bought except for the season pass to Orphan Black which was $16 in itself.
I feel like my money story is a lot like others who determine that they want to live a financially savvy life. Luckily I came out of college without any loans and I was able to find a good job. However, with every promotion and every raise, I began to buy more and more. I would throw cash around like it was going out of style. Just weeks before deciding to change my habits, I even contemplated getting a new couch because I was tired of looking at the one I have. I even read this article by David Cain and proceeded to go to the mall to buy $50 worth of shoes I didn’t need.
Yeah. Things were getting bad.
Then just a little over a month ago, I followed a little bit of click bait to this article on Forbes.com about Cait Flanders, a young woman who saved 51% of her income by implementing a no-shopping ban for a year. Cait simply used the stuff she had, stopped getting takeout coffee, and stopped eating out constantly. In the article, she mentioned that she was inspired by an article by Mr. Money Mustache. A spark clicked in me. “Wasn’t that the same site that my friend’s husband loved?”
I hurried over to the mustache and began obsessively reading. I read page after page of simple financial advice. Don’t buy stupid stuff. Don’t eat out that much. Cook at home as much as possible. Live close to work so you don’t have to drive. Invest yo’ cash. I had such a duh moment. Of course I could reach some form of financial independence if I just saved my damn money!
I quickly realized that my careless spending wasn’t bringing me joy. In fact, it was stressing me out. My boyfriend and I live in a 720 sf house, there’s not much room for extra stuff. My endless book and clothing buying was really clogging up our very limited space. I saw how my possessions were suddenly starting to own me. It was time for a change.
I recently told my Mom that I wanted to save more money. She congratulated me, “that’s great honey!” she said. I proceeded to tell her about how much money I had spent at Starbucks and at restaurants over the past couple of months and her tone changed. “I want you to be able to enjoy life.” I responded, “Starbucks doesn’t bring me joy, Mom. I can manage without.”
That’s the truth. I’m trying to find out exactly what makes me happy in life. I’m going to guess that it’s probably not new shoes or cappuccinos.