I grew up in a family didn’t talk about money. But I still saw how stressful life could be if you don’t have enough of it. As a teenager, I watched my oldest sister borrow money from my middle sister (I have two older sisters and am the youngest in my family). When I was in college, my middle sister borrowed some money from me. They’re both responsible, resourceful people – but needed that boost that most young people do in the U.S. while starting adult lives from scratch in a first apartment, first job, just out of college situation…and don’t have the option of parent support.
Naturally, I started thinking “Who am I going to borrow from if I need help?” So I chose to go to the college that gave me the most money in financial aid and scholarships. And in my freshman year of college I decided to set a goal of earning $20K by the time I graduated college. I saw that cache as my cushion to avoid getting into debt while setting up my post-college life. It was a huge amount of money to me at the time and I didn’t really believe I could reach my goal.
I worked part-time jobs during the semester and interim jobs in-between classes when everyone else went home for break. I did a lot of volunteer work too. I didn’t feel like these jobs were a burden. I saw them as opportunities to explore new fields, gain new skills, and meet new people. I learned so much from those part-time jobs and made some friends in the process.
But I did overdo it a few times in my quest to save as much as possible. There was one semester that I took off from classes and lived at home with my parents in Brooklyn. I worked three jobs and seven days a week. I would be so tired when I came home that all I did was watch movies (thank goodness for Netflix and my then-obsession with film). I don’t think I would do that again.
At the end of my junior year I hit a turning point. I realized that I was going to reach my goal of $20K by graduation. But for what? I realized that I wasn’t going to need that much as “startup” money. And I wasn’t enjoying it. So I bought a round-trip ticket to visit Greece during winter break. That was when I discovered that I needed to find my balance been saving and spending. That started my reflection on what money is really for. My current answer: freedom, especially from having to make choices based on money.
At the end of my senior year, I started getting real about managing my money. I got my first credit card, signed up for a Roth IRA, and started reading non-stop about saving, investing, and retirement. The blogs that helped me were: The Simple Dollar, Well-Heeled, and Boston Gal’s Open Wallet (who stopped posting, unfortunately). I talked to a few friends about my newfound interest but they quickly got sick of it. Eventually, I started reading books about personal finance.
Around this same time I was developing my ideas around a minimalism. The next post will talk more about that.