I believe in paying attention to your money. I think that how you care for it and what you spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in the context of the universe and energy and whatnot. Money ignored is money that won’t be around for long. So here’s an incredibly long and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money. To see the entire series look for the tag “Money.”
When I was first out in the world on my own, I started reading heaps of personal money management books. It got so I would just wander over to the section of the Dewy Decimal System in the library to see if there was something I hadn’t read that caught my interest. Most of them say the same thing in different ways, so after you’ve read five, you can move into skimming mode once you hit say, the “how to budget” section. From time to time I dip back in if a book interests me. I’ve gleaned good advice from these books, and all for free. Thank you, public library system.
If you are looking for somewhere to start I recommend Your Money or Your Life, All Your Worth by Warren and Tyagi. I have also found the debt-free philosophy of Mary Hunt to be inspiring. Also, anything by Suze Ormon is good. You can also follow my example and find the personal finance section at your local library and choose books at random.
Since my first job in high school, I’ve always put some percentage of money aside. Not that the money has always gone toward my far-future. In fact, the savings from that first job financed my personal spending in college. I’ve saved various percentages of income over the years, from as little as $50.00 per month during the grim, incredibly boring and low-paying job I got after graduate school all the way up to 20% of my net pay in a brief heady time when I finished paying
for my certificate program and other things hadn’t cropped up. With all that saving, I’m probably sitting on a pretty big pile of cash right now, right?
Not so much. Though it’s a bigger pile then I’ve ever had.
In my mind, “saving money” is a particular thing where you put money aside and never, ever touch that money so it grows and grows until you retire when you can use it. I’ve never met that standard with my savings. A graph of my savings account over the last ten years would show peaks and valleys. For instance, I saved over $5,000 to fund my move from Massachusetts to Portland. Well done!
Those were the years where I had no debt and my living expenses were quite low. I made the most of my savings, concerned about the many potential expenses that could crop up during the move. So the move took up $2,200.00 of
the savings and the subsequent unemployment while looking for work ate away at some of the rest. I took on temporary work and the company hired me and I had a brief period of saving until I entered graduate school.
Beginning with graduate school, I began to draw down the savings. This was not an easy time for me. Once, while once again withdrawing money from savings, I sighed while handing over my paperwork. The bank teller inquired as to what was wrong.
“I hate having to pull money out of savings.” I told him.
“But that’s the point of savings accounts,” he replied, “so you can draw from them when you need them.”
This concept was exactly the opposite of my “put money in account never touching it until you retire” savings concept, but I had to conclude that he was right. Without that savings account I would have exited graduate school with not only student loan debt, but also credit card debt. It’s always better when you can be your own emergency credit card and I still hear that bank teller’s words from time to time today.
So the savings account was humbled by graduate school, but the six months of unemployment following graduate school made an ever bigger dent. I counted on steady temporary work, as I always had found in the past, but temp work didn’t materialize over the summer. Nor did any jobs. The temporary work picked up in the late autumn, giving me a new appreciation for the paycheck incredibly mundane tasks provides. Then I made a rather large financial mistake and took a job I was extremely overqualified for.
In my year and a half as a secretary, I went slowly crazy, both from boredom and disgust at my pay rate. I was paid less than $10.00 per hour, which at the time was only a few dollars over Oregon minimum wage. I’ve never had to watch my finances so closely. My rent took nearly half of my gross pay and I shopped carefully for everything. If I had loved the job, or even liked it, I would have done these things happily, but there was little work to do at my workplace and that made the scrimping even more grim. I was barely putting anything aside, and my goal to save $5,000 was being fed by a trickle of $50.00 per month. I didn’t want to do the math to see how long that would take.
Things improved when my boyfriend and I moved in together. The rent we paid together on our one bedroom was only a bit more than I paid on my studio and sharing expenses really gave me some breathing room. I eventually landed my current job, which came with an $8,000 per year pay raise and my savings could begin again in earnest. Over the last six years, the graph of savings has been more of a steady upward climb, though it has dipped now and again, as
things have cropped up. I accept those dips, and set my course to recover the savings as soon as I am able.