I think it’s difficult these days, among the shopping malls, TV ads and designer handbags, to stay a grounded, financially competent young adult. The messages all around us are screaming, “SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!” So what is one to do? Once upon a time I was 18 and newly graduated. I thought the money I made should go to new CD’s (back before the iPod became a big deal), concert tickets, clothes, and the like.
Now? Not so much.
Why? Because I learned that there were things more important in life than frivolous junk. Furthermore, college came knocking at my door, then leaving my parents’ house. I think it’s the point at which you see the bills that reality jumps out at you and you realize you’re broke. So how did I clean up my act? The honest answer to this is that I spent way too much time on the internet, but for those of you who may be facing the same complications I was, here are some useful tips to help you:
1. Start tracking every penny you spend. Does that sound tedious? It absolutely is. But in the end, it will allow you to be conscious of where you spend your money. Get a notebook, or start an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever is within your skill level, and track every penny you spend, every penny you make. I find it easiest to put each entry into a category (dining out, transportation, entertainment, etc). This makes it easier to total them up at the end of the month. When the time comes to total up, look at where your money is spent and determine whether or not you find those purchases worthwhile. More likely than not, you’ll find that you’ve blown quite a chunk of change on Doritos, or makeup.
2. Start to Read. Whether it be fiction or poetry, or (better yet) financial books, reading is a very inexpensive hobby. Much cheaper than a trip to the movies or taking a dangerous stroll around the mall. I have always been a bookworm, which has been to my advantage financially-except for the fact that I have spent hundreds of dollars on hundreds of books. So in addition to reading, I want to add that you should discover your public library. Not only is it a nice place to get away from the commotion of everyday life, but it’s a place where you can find books of just about any genre, as well as magazines (cancel that silly subscription!). Many libraries also have computer catalog systems that allow you to request books from an entire district, ready to be picked up.
3. Realize that the real world is not too far off. It hit me out of nowhere. College graduation is nearing; boyfriends are actually sticking around long enough that a ring could be a possibility, and my career is (slowly but surely) starting to look bigger than a pinhole at the end of the tunnel. BAM! My sights became a little further than my rent payment and Christmas presents at the end of the year. When will I buy a house? When will I get married? When will I want to start a family? Retirement?? I haven’t even started my career yet! These things sneak up on us, so it’s best to acknowledge they will happen, and soon. If you’re like me, you have a nice stack of debt that you have to think about, and think hard. Who wants to be paying for college when they’re 50?
4. Live (more) simply. With gas prices these days, why buy a hummer (what 20-something can afford one anyway?) Do you really need that Coach bag? Will you fall over and die if you don’t get the new Blackberry? Really? I think our youth needs a serious look at their perspective. The wants in this country turn to needs so readily that we never stop to think about the purchases we make. We just assume it’s something we have to have, so we buy it. This really is not the case. There are people all over the world surviving on less than the bare minimum. I’m not saying deprive yourself to the point of poverty, but don’t spend your rent (or grocery) money on shoes or video games.
5. Realize that you are not what you own. I have no qualms with expressing myself through my appearance. I happen to love clothes, shoes, and jewelry. But just because I spend more on a specific doesn’t mean my value as a person is any better. Anyone can look at Paris Hilton and know that the amount of money you spend doesn’t guarantee you a personality, or intelligence. Furthermore, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good. Crazy as it sounds, I shop at thrift stores for the majority of my clothes (though I am loyal to my $30-50 AE Jeans). I make my own jewelry, I stopped coloring my hair, and I tan outside instead of in a box-while I read (see tip #2). Focus on the quality of an item rather than letters or logos splattered all over it, unless you like having the personality of a pile of leather and gaudy metal buckles.
Obviously there are countless other pieces of advice I could offer, but I think the important thing about improving finances is changing your attitude concerning them. Until we do this, we’ll keep going through life wondering what more we can have. I say we need to look at what we have.