I think my first major score in my finances was something I didn't even realize I was doing. It was doing well in high school. My parents forced my hand to accept attending a public school (smart money move there), and I got several scholarships, etc. So much, indeed, that I received a refund of some of it during my freshman year, because it totalled more than tuition (and was thus converted to a stipend). Next, I managed to get out in three years, saving a full year of college ...
I worked for several years out of college, making several truly poor financial decisions (moving abruptly to Chicago right after graduating, sans job or apartment, and blowing all the money I had until getting a really bad job that I quickly quit after about two months, then moving back in with my parents and crying on the couch under a quilt while watching TLC for a month) but eventually got it together (landed a paralegal position at a law firm while deciding about law school). At this point I had zilch in savings.
I worked hard for that law firm, and I managed to save about $4,000 over two years. Not much, okay, but I wasn't exactly making much. Then I decided to go to graduate school in the humanities rather than law school. In terms of future earnings, this may appear to be a poor move, but in terms of my sanity, it was perfect.
I was accepted to a few graduate schools and chose one that was reasonably well-respected AND gave me full tuition remission plus a stipend through the PhD. To this day I'm not wholly convinced they meant to admit me (my name is VERY common, and it's a joke with my friends that there's another person with my name out there who doesn't know she really wasn't rejected by my school), but the deal is awesome.
So ... that's where I am. I work hard. The lack of student loans rocks (especially now as my friends stare at huge law school loans), though the stipend for grad school is very small. I supplement it by doing contract work for my old law firm, freelancing as I'm able, and just generally living small. When I was in my first job at the law firm, I took a "world is my oyster" approach to money, very frequently treating my friends who were still in school and buying random stuff I didn't need. Those days are over, but I don't regret it. It was fun, and I learned that what it leads to (tiny savings!) is no fun.
I will cop to this: I have had help from my parents in times of need, and I am lucky that they are incredibly generous and always telling me that I can try anything because they will catch me if I fall. Not everyone has this, I realize. But I'm no trust fund baby, either. I have never asked them for help, but I am learning humility and will need that humility if I ever do have to ask.
Ultimately, I think my own experiences have taught me that I want enough money not for lots and lots of things, but to be able to take care of my family (parents included, though unlikely needed), to help my loved ones generously when they need, and to occasionally buy something silly. I'm trying to learn to stop chasing the Joneses. No easy task. But my parents taught me to value love over money and myself over my bottom line.
I'm working on it.
(And I really like the Wii but can't buy one on my budget. If I get it, I will probably give it to my boyfriend for Christmas, because he likes them more than I do (and he'll let me still play!).)
Have you paid off your debt? Managed to save for your dream home? Had an awesome investment pan out? Share your personal finance success stories here.
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