Cut your HBO subscription! Make coffee at home! Gym membership? Oh no, that’s gotta go. You’ve probably heard Suze Orman yell about all these things. You don’t need me to.
Not like I would anyway. I don’t give two hoots how much avocado toast you eat. As long as it’s within your means and monounsaturated fats make you happy, eat it every damn day, for all I care.
Still, it’s time we all got serious about saving. You’ve probably heard the scary statistic that came out in 2018, which indicated that nearly 40% of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 financial emergency. Oof. We’ve become a little too comfortable leaning on credit cards, mindlessly spending, and becoming serotonin drunk from our online shop of choice.
You can’t control the market or inflation or if your appendix bursts while you’re in Siberia, which—believe it or not, but definitely believe it—happened to my friend. What can you control? 1. How much you spend on non-essentials. 2. How much you allocate towards savings. 3. How those categories align with your values.
Remember, the ability to grow savings is a luxury. So many Big Life Problems root against you: the healthcare system, the gender wage gap, the price of childcare, systemic classism, student loans, disadvantages due to disabilities, unfortunate life circumstances that bring you to your knees and $0. So! If you have the chance to save a few pennies every paycheck, my goodness gracious, you better take advantage. Now, let’s dig into important don’ts so you can rest a little easier every month when those bank statements bombard your inbox. That way, someday, we can all retire early to Santorini.
Chances are you’ll never stumble into your bank login to see an extra $10,000 rotting in there. You may never feel ready. Good news is you don’t need a stack of cash to kick off your savings habits. Start small—whatever that means to you—and be consistent. Are you starting with $20 a week? Great. It’s like an NPR member drive: if you can give more, give more.
No matter how aggressively you invest it, you’ll see your savings snowball. Little goals turn into bigger goals; little numbers turn into bigger numbers. It’s math, but fun math that you can someday spend on a trip to Italy. Risk equals reward, especially when you have time on your side to recoup from dips in the market before retirement.
While sipping an overpriced oatmilk latte with my financial advisor (which I only ordered because god bless a company card) we discussed how I got here. Here—my early 30s with no debt, a strict, solid retirement plan, and more IRA accounts than I used to know existed. Do I have a lucrative job? No silly, I graduated from journalism school. A secret trust fund? Pff, please.
I’ve never spent money on things I didn’t have money for. I’ve never ordered the most expensive entree. I drove a ‘99 Buick whose windows went down, but not up for an embarrassingly long time. I squeeze every last bit out of the toothpaste tube. You’d think I was born in the Depression Era, but these are just residual habits from being a millennial who graduated in the recession.
“Oh no, I just haven’t eaten lunch in a decade,” I joked. An exaggeration, of course. Point being, I’ve never spent money on things I didn’t have money for. I’ve never ordered the most expensive entree. I drove a ‘99 Buick whose windows went down, but not up for an embarrassingly long time. I squeeze every last bit out of the toothpaste tube. You’d think I was born in the Depression Era, but these are just residual habits from being a millennial who graduated in the recession. I used my youth’s metabolism and low standards of living to grow my little baby nest egg.
Make your money work for you. When you play the long game, invested money makes much more money. Keeping cash in a nearly-no-interest checking account is only losing value.
Do your research on the accounts (like Roth IRAs, mutual funds, Traditional IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, etc.) that work best for the amount of money you want to invest, whether or not you’ll need to access it soon, tax incentives, and so on. At the very least, comparison shop interest rates with banks instead of settling on the one you’ve been with since the first week of college, when they sucked you with that free crewneck sweatshirt. Personally, I love Ally. Without brick and mortar banks, their expenses are shaved and you get to enjoy a 2.2% interest rate.
How much is your monthly gym/phone/whatever bill? You don’t need to become obsessive about it, but don’t be naive either. I check in on my accounts a few times a week, even if I know nothing has been deposited or withdrawn. It keeps me, well, accountable and calm whenever I need to pull out my credit card.
That may be too much for you; that’s fine. Find a balance of knowing enough to make you feel in control. Hate to break it to you, but crossing your fingers and hoping a payment goes through doesn’t cut it.
Like other important things in life, building savings takes a village. Assemble your A-team to help you make the most of your money: a detail-oriented accountant, a financial advisor you trust, and bosses who advocate for your worth. Check, check, check and you’re on your way.
There’s nothing sexy about living within your means. Until, that is, you’ve lived within your means for so long that you can afford an island in the Caribbean—that’s sexy. Until then, pleasepleaseplease don’t starve yourself of all the aspects of life you love most. (Unless you exclusively love Birkin bags and caviar for breakfast, in which case, I may not be able to help.)
Scroll through your credit card statements to take stock of what you’re spending on, then gauge how much joy each purchase brought you. It’s the Marie Kondo method for money. Personally, I get the greatest emotional return when spending on travel, as well as my physical wellbeing and mental sanity. So my statements are littered with flights to Amsterdam, yoga classes, and therapy sessions. For you, it might be weekly happy hours, hardcover copies of your favorite books, or gifts for your nieces and nephews. No one can decide what sort of spending makes you happy except you.
So, all that said. See you in Santorini?
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Follow along with her (or don’t! that’s fine too!) on Instagram.
BY Megan McCarty - June 26, 2019