How careful spending in my teens taught me to be a better saver as an adult
I spent my younger years squirreling money away. Now I'm an adult, and so glad I did.
My mother jokes that I still have the first dollar I ever earned. That's not exactly true, since I spent my initial Tooth Fairy earnings on a Beanie Baby. But still, the statement holds some weight. In my teens, my paychecks went toward fast food and small increments of fuel for my car, but a good portion of those funds was also spent contributing to my high school senior trip and other extracurriculars. Many times during my adolescence, my single mother faced a number of layoffs, allowing me to value the weight of a dollar and thus, save as many as of mine as possible.
Being frugal from a young age has enabled me to have a safety net in the event of my own unforeseen career setbacks. On the flipside, it's also allowed me the luxury of some guiltless spending when it comes to the fun stuff (like vacations and expensive purses). Here are some smart saving tips young adult me thanks teenage me for every single day.
1. Allow yourself small extravagances
If you feel like you're denying yourself something, don't. One cup of coffee a week before work isn't going to break the bank and will feel like a treat when you have it. There's a great dress that isn't on sale? It's cool, I give you permission. By not shying away from opportunities to give myself a little gift here and there, I never really felt like saving was a burden. For me, the hardest part is not making these indulgences a habit, and that's the key.
2. Pick an affordable college
I wish I could claim that this was a conscious decision to save money, but alas, I got extremely lucky. Opting to forgo the "typical" college experience instead to commute to a nearby university that had awarded me the most scholarships proved to be one of the best accidental financial decisions I've ever made. Taking advantage of my high school's dual credit program with a county college in addition to AP classes and summer courses allowed me to graduate a full year early and minimize loans.
3. Eat all the food in the house before going shopping again
You've been there: You open the fridge to find one egg, half a cucumber, and the remnants of Monday's dinner and you really want pizza. Suppress the urge. I'm no stranger to the weird-assortment-of-frozen-vegetables-covered-in-sriracha-for-dinner. Scavenge what you can and then make a plan for a full fledged shopping trip. It'll prevent you from overspending on multiple food store visits and save you time.
4. Assume you're spending more than you are
When you're 19 and living in New York City working an unpaid internship, it can feel like you're hemorrhaging money. Which is pretty accurate. I constantly remind myself of that summer and all the extra hours I put in at my paid gig to make up for the extra expenses. While I'm no longer 19 and working an unpaid internship in New York, maintaining that mindset makes every purchase more consequential. This is especially true every time I enter a Target.
5. Find ways to feel better about working a lot
There's going to come a time when professional responsibilities will get in the way of personal plans. And you're going to feel jealous that your contemporaries are bonding at a baseball game while you've picked up a shift. I've been there, and one thing that eased the pain was knowing there was a paycheck coming that would fund the next group outing. And it helped to know that by being in a position to earn money instead of spending it — albeit even for just one night — was helping to ensure a healthier bank account.
6. Talk about money
In your teens, money discussions often revolve around splitting the bill at Applebee's. But by talking with my friends and discovering which ones were making more than minimum wage, I was able to scope out better gigs myself. When my best friend started working at a retirement home that paid a higher hourly wage than the one she previously was employed, I, too, applied there. Now, as an adult, when salary and wage are taboo topics, I feel more inclined to discuss such subjects. Knowing what your work is worth with other clients and employers proves crucial to financial advancement.
7. Live like a broke teen
This doesn't mean eating ramen and sleeping all day, but moderately pretending that the money you're earning will only cover the necessities isn't the worst way to be. By being slightly paranoid and holding on to those "what ifs" (What if I lose my job? What if an accident were to occur?), you'll make squirreling some of your money away a little bit easier. I learned that lesson young and I'm glad I did.