The mind games I played that saved..and lost me money
Okay, I’ll admit it. I may have a touch of anxiety but who doesn’t when money is involved.
There may be times when I drift away from what I should be doing and start crunching numbers. IKR, what kind of freak DOES MATH with their stray thoughts but honestly just follow me here.
As a 24-year-old woman with student loan debt, I have financial goals but I also have life goals. I want to travel and retire before I have health problems. So, in my free time I look at ways I can trick myself into saving, and the ways I tricked myself into spending way more than I had.
This is a list of what worked and what didn’t.
Why not start with the obvious?
People will try to tell you there is such a thing as good debt. Let’s be clear. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GOOD DEBT. There is okay debt, which I describe as debt you can pay back in a year or two or debt that you actively turn into an investment.
It can be hard to tell what is an investment and what’s a marketing scheme. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t tell yet AND you have to borrow to play than you’re probably not ready for the loan.
What hurts me the most is that I never needed a loan. At 18, I’d never seen $3000 at any one time. And yet, I needed to hand over that money to my school in two weeks or I’d be sent home to…idk babysit my semester away?
Of course, like most people, I had no idea how my college degree would actually affect my professional life and income. Which is only an example of what I mean by investing vs marketing. I believed in a marketing story, instead of knowing the implications and channels for a return of my investment.
Per the usual disclaimer, this is not to say college is not an investment. It just may not be an investment for you at this time.
Using your resources
One thing I can give myself credit for is finding a deal. As a (former) student, military brat and generally low-income earner (at the time) I didn’t make a move without looking for a discount. In fact, I was prepared not to go to college until I found aid through the military which resulted in a very last-minute move. And for nearly a year I did not make a purchase until checking the promotions tab on the company’s website.
If you or someone you know is a student, elderly, military or belong to any exclusive memberships then check your benefits! You may be able to finesse your way to cheaper clothes, electronics, shipping, cars, rent, etc.
Not knowing how to get money
When we turn 16 the first thing we do is learn to drive. As 18 draws closer, we plan our escape from home. At 21, we stealthy teach ourselves what drinks to order at the bar, making sure not to look clueless in front of real adults. But I wonder why we don’t teach young adults about how to get money.
Even after the 2008 recession, when 2.6 million U.S. jobs were lost, we act as if all you have to do is apply for a job and eventually you’ll get it. Soon you’ll have a stable flow of income to support you until you’re ready to move on. Except this isn’t how life goes and we continue doing all the things society tells us to do until we’re 24 years old trying to pay off debt, save, buy a house, travel, have hobbies and retire while you still have some life in you.
In this economy, the last thing you want to do is be a sitting duck, waiting for some giant company to decide you’re worth less than a full tank of gas an hour. It’s crucial that low and middle-class Americans find a resource that earns them money in between pay periods.
Okay, so here’s where I maybe start to get a little odd and the real games begin. In 2017, after my paid internship ended, I went through a small break before the next one began. I was lucky to have found another internship before leaving the last one but I didn’t start until almost a month after the last one ended. I was able to pay my bills in the meantime but this left me living paycheck to paycheck when the new job started. So, I decided to play a game with myself.
Since I lost about 20 days of work, I had to go 40 days without spending any extra money. My goal was to be able to count the number of transactions, outside of my fixed bills, on one hand.
I started scrapping the bottom of my cabinets, eating weird meals and staying in. I talked myself out of those random convenient store runs and stayed off Instagram to avoid wanting anything new.
Maybe it was the thrill of a challenge or how quickly this worked but the month-ish flew by. I’m sure in retrospect it was a pretty sad picture but it got me where I needed to be fast and I felt accomplished after.
A similar situation followed after the second internship ended and I started my first full-time job. To remedy my loses and meet my savings goals, I decided I would only spend extra money on Fridays. At this time, I was getting paid every week on Tuesdays. After my check posted, I would pay any bills that came up before my next check. This made Friday a perfect day because all my bills would’ve posted and if I didn’t know what my weekend plans were by then that means they weren’t worth me spending to participate in. Doing this also forced me to make a list of everything I wanted to buy, add up all the costs and decide what was truly necessary.
Is it obvious that I just named this method?
Whatever you want to call it this mind game helped me look at my checks in a brand new light. While idle one day at my work desk, waiting on some instructions from management, I decided to add up all my monthly bills plus the amount of money I wanted to save and divide it by the number of checks I get in a month. I think you see where I’m going with this.
Sometimes we don’t always make the amount of money we expect per check. Things happen but the bills are consistent and must be paid. This, plus the previous tip helped me make better decisions about what to sacrifice for the week.
Mix that in with the practice I got from my 40-day challenge and there you have it! It wasn’t pretty but after 6 months I was halfway to my savings goal.
And then life happened. Well, more like I happened.
Don’t fix what’s not broken
I clearly started to enjoy all of my personal finance-tinkering. I was seeing results though, so who wouldn’t? I got comfortable.
At the time, I was moving my money into a savings account that took a week to withdraw from. (Another pro-tip) I decided I needed to learn how to really say no in the face of temptation. Or else I’d be walking around with only $50 in my account for the rest of my life because I had no self-control. So, I attempted to keep the same mentality but without the automatic draft because, um, I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well, the bills still got paid on time, there’s a roof over my head and money in my account so I can’t complain.
If there’s anything that you and I should take away from this article, it’s that personal finance is a marathon, not a sprint. You will make poor decisions. If you don’t you’re weird. Then, you’ll make great decisions. And then you’ll do it all again, inside out and topsy-turvy.
As long as you’re keeping your eyes on your money and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, you’ll do okay in the long run.
So, what about you? What did you do that saved and lost you money?