Hi. I’m Chelsea.
I’m a writer living in New York City, and I have a problem — a problem that I’m finally trying to be accountable for, and be honest about, and (hopefully, bit by bit) change.
I spend money on stupid shit.
I spend money on a lot of stupid shit.
Thus far, my idiotic spending has been mostly limited to “not saving that much money at all,” and not “burying myself in massive credit card debt,” but that’s not really because of anything smart or proactive on my part. The main reason that I don’t have credit card debt is because, like many pre-economic crash 18-year-olds, I was offered a credit card at my high school graduation that I promptly maxed out and didn’t pay back for a good four years.
That’s paid off now, but the shoddy credit that lingered as a result enabled me to only get a credit card with a comically low limit that (at least thus far) I am religious about paying off. Hopefully, if I continue this indefinitely, eventually a bank might look at me as “reasonably sane adult who made some adolescent mistakes,” and not “perpetual teenager who should be given one of those Junior Savings Accounts that comes with a free Hello Kitty backpack.” We’ll see.
In any case, I’m lucky (I think) in that I’m not really a debter. I’m just a spender, a completely financially illiterate and “fly by the seat of one’s overpriced pants” kind of spender. My budget planning consists of “avoid looking at my checking account until payday, at which point I look at it in joy, and go into ‘I’m so paid’ reckless spending mode.” And this is unfortunate, because it leaves me with a very rocky “let’s hope I don’t fall ill or ever plan on buying a house” kind of future.
I manage to save a little bit, mostly out of this childish fear of seeing my account get too low, but I mostly go through life as a child with an adult salary when it comes to personal finance. And this needs to stop. Because, at least as far as I can tell, my money generally goes three places:
“Going out” money, which includes but is not limited to: coffees a few times a day (??) at work, “drinks with the girls,” “dinners out” – both fancy and decidedly non-fancy, and yet the non-fancy ones somehow end up costing at least 40 dollars anyway – house parties I buy expensive bottles for, quick after-work happy hours, brunch, and pre-dinner cocktails. Basically, I go to restaurants and pay exorbitant amounts of money for duck confit or chocolate cake or bloody marys, and regret it 6 out of 10 times.
Convenience money, which is all things “I don’t really need this but damn it feels good to have it,” such as constant manicures, ordering Seamless, buying episodes of dumb Bravo shows on YouTube, taxis when I could easily walk or take the metro, and upgrading on personal items when the old one is in perfect working order (such as my wallet, which I have a tendency to replace every six weeks for no reason).
Keeping up with the Joneses money, which is possibly the category that upsets me the most, as it only seems to put me into emotional distress on top of costing me financially. New York (and my previous home of Paris) are highly competitive, ostentatious cities, and ones that put an enormous pressure on even otherwise uncaring people to look and spend a certain way. This money includes things like living in a too-big, sexily-located apartment, buying lots of “young professional” outfits that I don’t usually have a place to wear, decorating my home with an ever-expanding collection of useless knick knacks and throw pillows, and agreeing to things I should not be buying simply because I don’t want to feel like the town loser who can’t go.
When I look at these things objectively, I can see that most of them are unnecessary. I love to cook – I should be making most of my meals at home for a fraction of the price. I am not particularly attached to my apartment, I could downsize. I don’t need to be constantly tweaking on caffeine, I could cut 15 dollars of coffee money out of my daily budget in a second. But when I don’t force myself to look at them as a collective issue, it becomes impossible to improve.
And, much like any diet, I don’t believe in cold turkey. I don’t believe in changes that can only be sustained for a precise period of time, and just as a life totally void of pasta or chocolate is not worth living, neither is one where you can’t treat yourself to a night out at a great restaurant or an adorable throw pillow. But finding the right balance, where you are neither spending for no reason, nor depriving yourself entirely, is something I haven’t pursued. And as a deeply social person, the “going out” element of it – and how expensive just leaving your goddamn house can be in this city – has been hard to overcome.
But there is a time for everything, and 25 feels like the right time to become the kind of savvy, conscious person who has control over her financial destiny. I don’t want to be in panic attacks about going on a spending spree one weekend where I can neither remember what I bought, nor have any sense of value for what I’ve gotten. I want to have fun, but do it in enough moderation that it can be part of a greater, healthy life.
And in doing this – in forcing myself to moderate out the indulgences – I hope to become healthier in every way. It’s going to be a journey with a lot of ups and downs, and one where I will need (and solicit) plenty of help and collaboration. But it’s one I want to go on, because this is 2014, and we have applications on our phone that can tell us every detail of what we buy every day. It should not be this hard. I know that my problems are not everyone’s (and that mine are easier than a lot of what people deal with), but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve.