This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.
It’s been several months now that I’ve been on a savings lockdown. It’s been going well, except for this past weekend, when I had a relapse. I over-splurged on everything — food, shopping, beer — and I’m officially hungover. My buzz started when a client check came early, making me feel super rich and burning the hell out of my pockets.
Oh, I know. It’s OK to splurge sometimes. But — just believe me when I tell you that I went overboard, and I knew I was going overboard at the time. The whole weekend, I kept repeating this phrase:
“You know, I work really hard. I don’t care.”
And it’s true! Well, the first part is true. I do work a lot. But the second part was a lie. I do care; I definitely care.
But this isn’t about the aftermath of a spending binge. This is about excuses. And this past weekend, I resembled the person I once was: a gal who made a handful of money excuses. Here’s how those excuses held me back and what I did to overcome them.
Excuse #1: I work hard. I deserve to spend
A sense of entitlement isn’t always unfounded. Entitlement isn’t always complaining about something that’s free or believing you’re owed something that’s out of your league. Sometimes you just work damn hard and deserve to be rewarded for it.
But there’s a difference between deserving something and being able to afford it. Over the weekend, I felt entitled. I felt I deserved to spend my money, and while I had it to spend, I also had a budget to consider: I recently made the decision to sock away my money for a big purchase. When I kept saying, “Screw it,” I was really only screwing over myself.
In my younger days, I felt entitled, but I didn’t really have the money to spend — not if I wanted to eat or pay my bills. It took me a while to shed this entitlement, and for a short time, I entertained it and got into a several hundred dollars worth of credit card debt.
How I overcame it
I guess I haven’t completely overcome it, as it still creeps up on me sometimes. But at least I know better now and it’s not habitual.
Giving myself an end-of-the-month splurge budget has been helpful. It allows me to reward myself for my hard work; thus, those feelings of resentment and entitlement don’t creep up on me as much.
Mostly what helped, though, was learning to put less stress on Stuff. That’s the problem with entitlement — it’s often linked to lifestyle inflation. So the more you get, the more you think you deserve.
Excuse #2: I’ll earn more later
This was the excuse I believed the most. After all, I hoped I’d start making more than $23,000 a year someday! And I did, but it took me a while to realize that the time to save is now, regardless of how much more you might make in the future.
How I overcame it
I wanted to seize the day. For the first time in my young life, I was earning more than $10/hour. I wanted to enjoy it. Then I realized it’s possible to enjoy the present while saving for the future. Automatic savings helped with this, as did a reasonable budget.
Really, though, I just got older. Once I started to feel like I was catching up with my future, I became more serious about my finances. I think this is just growing up.
I wish it were as easy as telling young readers to save now and develop good financial habits now. But the people willing to take that advice already know it.
Knowing that “the future is now” has helped me in other financial situations, though. It’s the reasoning behind choosing a Roth over Traditional IRA, for example. You have to consider your future self.
Excuse #3: I don’t care about money
For someone who didn’t care about money, I sure was spending a lot of it.
I first used this excuse with my student loan debt. I told myself I didn’t mind carrying debt for years, because I didn’t care about money. I’m not materialistic, I told myself. Of course, as a full-fledged adult, I now know this is a justification for financial laziness. It’s not about materialism; it’s about independence.
Later, I used this excuse when I was too afraid to ask for a raise, which is probably even worse. I actually tried to convince myself that worrying about a raise meant I was being materialistic. I tried to tell myself I should shut up and enjoy my job, and, apparently, continue to be taken advantage of. Another version of this excuse I’ve heard is: “I’m an artist. Money isn’t important.” I won’t get into this one, but this guy had an interesting perspective on taking control of your finances despite the career you think you deserve.
How I overcame it
I wanted to go to Europe. This was one of the first major purchases I saved up for, and it made me realize that, yes, I do care about money, or, at least, the things I can trade it for. Some of my favorite things cost money, so I might as well stop pretending I’m above it. If I wanted to be a part of this civilization and enjoy its accoutrements, I realized that I’d better be willing to play the money game, because “finding yourself” trips to Europe aren’t just handed to you.
Excuse #4: My situation is different
Before I decided to move back in with my mom to pay off my student loan, she told me about her friend who saved up money to go back to school. This friend sold her car so she could pay her tuition. This friend sacrificed the luxury of a vehicle and used public transportation until she earned her degree. Then, she found a higher-earning job and bought a new car. A better car, my mom said.
“So I’m supposed to get rid of my car?” I asked. “We live in Houston, that’s not possible.”
And it really wasn’t, but I was missing the point. The point was, and it was true for my situation, that there are options for saving money and paying off debt, but those options are often disguised as sacrifices.
But instead of learning from my mom’s story, I decided to extract one detail and use it to support my habit of making excuses. I reduced her advice to “you should sell your car to pay off your student loan.” I took good advice and turned it into stupid advice that was easy to reject.
How I overcame it
My mom tried explaining her point to me, but she’s not terribly good at defending herself, so I got away with my excuse. That is, until I got absolutely sick of being in debt. I hated debt so much; I became motivated to take action. I realized my “opportunity disguised as sacrifice” was moving back home. Of course, I thought this was all my idea, and I never really gave my mom credit for her two cents. Sorry, Mom.
At the same time, there are people out there who’ve already sacrificed a lot and legitimately don’t have any options left for saving money, getting out of debt or earning more. But these people usually aren’t defensive and petty, like I was. They already know they’re doing the best they can, while I knew I had options. I just wasn’t ready to embrace them.
Excuse #5: I’m doing better than my friends
Among my friends, I was usually the frugal one (or so I assumed). I didn’t go out as much; I seemed to be more careful about purchases. If I ever felt guilty for overspending or not budgeting well, I took solace in the fact that I was doing a better job with my finances than my peers.
How I overcame it
Ultimately, I learned that I didn’t have the same goals as my friends. Hell, I didn’t really know what their goals were, or even how much they earned.
I stopped comparing my situation to those around me and made a list of where I wanted to be in five, 10 and 25 years. I came up with a financial plan that suited my own needs. Instead of comparing myself to others, I compared myself to my own potential.
And that’s really what it’s about, potential. Making excuses is easy. Losing sight of your long-term financial goals is easy, too, especially when you’re working your ass off in the process.
There are a handful of solutions that helped me get over these excuses, but ultimately, it’s about realizing these are my goals, and by making excuses, I’m only hurting myself.