In high school and college, I used to be horrible with money. Even though I held a steady part-time job in high school and worked for the school newspaper at USM, I would spend my money as fast as it would come into my bank account. This week marks one year since my college graduation…and wow, I have learned a lot about myself and living on my own.
No longer can I just spend my money freely because other things have to be paid first—bills, groceries, toiletries and the worst of all—car services. When I reflect on my spending habits in college, I’m flabbergasted. It’s truly embarrassing. I would pop into a boutique every week and buy clothes! The next week, it would be a pair of shoes or the latest and greatest from Target. (Don’t even get me started on Target, it’s a dangerous place for women.)
But I have to admit, I’m more fortunate than a lot of recent grads. My parents left me with zero student loans to pay off and helped me through college. And I’m thankful to not have to write a student loan check every month. So thank you, Mom & Dad. I’ll repay you someday.
I’m blessed beyond belief, but it’s still hard living as a young person alone and learning how to manage one’s finances. When living in a consumer-driven society, we are constantly being pulled in so many directions and wanting with so many different things from clothes to home decor to tech gadgets. It’s exhausting!
While trying to simplify my life with fewer things, here are the lessons I’ve learned about money in the past year.
Lesson No. 1 — Money goes incredibly fast.
If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s spend money. And that sounds really materialistic and bad on my part, but I’ve learned immense self-control over the past year. There were some things in my life that happened that caused me to have a financial setback. And I’m still trying to get back to a place where I feel comfortable each month and can put money into savings. Now, I’m much more aware of where my money is going and not just swiping a credit card and not holding myself accountable. Everything is accounted for and it really keeps me on track.
Lesson No. 2 — Stick to a budget throughout each month.
In addition to Lesson No. 1, this is why a monthly budget is absolutely essential. At the beginning of every month, I create a new spreadsheet and I list out all of my expenses down to gifts and my Netflix subscription. A spreadsheet is an awesome way to manage your money because you can see where you are spending most of your money on. This is also a smart way to figure out where you can cut back as well. For me, it was my rent and utilities. After a year, I decided I really couldn’t afford to live in an updated apartment by myself. So in two weeks, I’m moving in with one of my good college friends and will be saving an average of $450 a month. It’ll be worth a few sacrifices.
Lesson No. 3 —Have a purpose for everything you buy.
Do you really need that extra Target candle or that adorable lamp from Anthropologie? These are questions I challenge myself with every week. It’s a daily discipline to change my perspective and realize that less is truly more. And sometimes I do cave and buy something I love. And that’s OK! Just as long as I can save, pay the bills and make a kale salad! (Foodies rejoice, haha!)
Lesson No. 4 — Save cash for a rainy day or emergency fund.
I recently read an article in the Atlantic that more than half of Americans wouldn’t have $200 extra to pay for an emergency such as a flat tire. That’s scary to me and I don’t want to add to that statistic. Even if you only have $500 saved up, that could help you get out of a situation instead of asking a friend or family member to loan you money. A rainy day fund isn’t fun at the time, but you’ll be thankful when life happens and it’s there waiting for you.
Lesson No. 5 — Set spending money aside to treat yourself.
Right now, I take $50 cash out every month for eating out and coffee shop trips. It may not seem like a lot, but that’s the point. I realized those $3 Starbucks charges on my debit card were tedious and should just be paid in cash. And my rule is once that cash is gone, my spending money is gone for the month. The weird thing is I’m more likely to spend less cash than swipe my debit card a few times. It must be a mental thing of actually seeing money disappear.
If I have a weekend trip planned for that month, I will usually save some money the month before. It’s a challenging goal, but it helps me stay on budget and not grab a handcrafted beverage three times a week!
Lesson No. 6 — Create financial goals and commit to them.
I’ve had to give myself a lot of grace when saving money. Some months, it’s been impossible for me to save money, so I knew something had to give. And then I made the decision to move in with my good friend so I can have some cushion every month. My goal starting in June is to save $200 every month and so by next year, I’ll reach my financial goal. It’s also wise to start a 401K if your job offers it. I’ve already saved a lot that way, and I hardly notice the money being taken out of my paycheck.
Lesson No. 7 — Choose contentment over possessions.
One thing I’ve had to understand is that my possessions, money and self-sufficiency don’t define me and they don’t make me a better person. When I feel inadequate and feel myself wanting things I can’t have, I have to look inward instead of outward.
A book that had helped me along this financial journey is Living Well, Spending Less by Ruth Soukup. I’d recommend it to anyone because Ruth really puts money in perspective and made me realize that we have to stop wanting so many things and just live in the present and appreciate what we have. And that’s because we have more than most people in the world could ever dream of—a warm bed, three meals a day and a hot shower.
The second chapter is titled “Contentment is a choice.” And one of the first Bible verses mentioned is this one:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food, clothing, we will be content with that. — 1 Timothy 6:6-8
It’s mindblowing how there are so many verses in the Bible that apply to our lives, especially about money and possessions. But she’s right, contentment is a choice. And it’s a choice I make every time I get out of bed in the morning.
This verse also really resonated with me:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law. — Galations 5:22-23
How powerful are those words? We can know rest assured that the things that really matter are intangible and the Bible lets us know what our priorities should be every day. Be kind to people, be a cheerful giver and enjoy each day as it comes, no matter what dollar sign remains in your bank account. Ruth mentions that the “Bible tells us to store up treasures in heaven, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also.”
Where are your current treasures? Are you struggling financially, yet always wanting more and more stuff? I would love to hear your thoughts about how you save money and budget. I hope my money lessons have brought you some comfort and balance to your life!