Before anyone points it out, I understand I am in a socio-economic “privileged” position, relatively speaking at least. No, I am not rolling in dough nor would I consider myself coming from the upper middle-class or beyond. Yes, I worry about money. Yes, I try to be as personally financially conservative as possible. But yes, I spend money on unnecessary things – less and less as I get older but still. And yes, my parents supported all my education endeavors financially to make-up for what scholarships didn’t. And yes, family and family-friends still send me what I call, ““you-are-a-pauper-in-grad-school-here-you-go” money.
My parents have five children and both being professors (plus always being involved in a few side projects), educated their children as best and as debt-free as they could. My mother has always been very proud of the fact that she didn’t build many houses, and doesn’t drive fancy cars but she “built” children. And certainly contributed as much as she and my father could, to less fortunate family and friends. It’s African; it’s what we do. That my parents sacrificed money and time and personal desires for me and my siblings is an understatement. And without a doubt, any future success I have in life is owed to them. They taught me to value what I know, what I can do, and who I am and can be, over what I can “show” or have. And it is a lesson that I am most grateful for in my adulthood.
Handling finances is something I am learning to be good at. Because it’s not something that comes “naturally” to me as it does to for example, one of my brothers who also lives in Chicago, or my mother, who simply has a natural “saver’s mentality.” And although in theory I have some aspects of this attitude, it has not always been reflected in how I handle money. Sometimes things have been good, sometimes they have been not so good. Mostly, I think I have just been lucky, relatively speaking of course. A $500 debt keeps me up at night. To others, that does not even count.
But ultimately I think people of this generation, especially in this country, who are of similar privilege need to realize that living beyond our means has got to stop. When I think of the amount of money people spend on rent, eating out, shiny new things, clothes, travel, etc., I am in awe. And then the next point of conversation will often be how broke they are. Which admittedly has me condescendingly thinking to myself, “Wait, how am I the one who is not screaming bloody murder at college debt, but I still cannot afford this lifestyle?” Well, it’s simple – I can’t.
It’s incredibly annoying for me to listen to fellow (middle to upper-class) Gen-Ys go on and on about their financial situations when they are rocking the latest Prada bags, and spending money that I would use on an entire trip abroad, on rent each month. It’s incredibly frustrating that people don’t count their everyday $4 Starbucks drinks as purchases worth worrying about, when that $100 they would have spent at the end of the month purchasing those drinks, could have gone to paying off more debt. It’s incredibly worrying to listen to this when $50 later, it’s 10 p.m., and 4 signature drinks in, on an ordinary Wednesday.
And to some extent I get it – it’s poor planning and a lack of adherence to reality – something I think we have to break out of in our twenties. And the earlier, the better. Because here is the truth: There is no shame in not being able to rent a $2000 apartment. As long as you’ve got the basics, you will be fine. (Why pay so much for rent anyway? Might as well just toss your money into the garbage. But that’s just how I look at regular, large sums of money that are not investments or future investments.)
There is no shame in going to re-sale stores (and finding good quality for 90% off) rather than succumbing to marketed labels of which you are paying more for the brand value than for the quality of the item. And there is no shame in cooking your own food or staying in on Friday night or indeed being that person who pre-games on $10 Svedka Vodka and takes public tran to fancy places because you’re all about enjoying life on the lowest budget possible. There is no shame in not having nice things because as life would have it right now, you just cannot afford them.
We have got to learn to live within our means and as much as possible, below our means. We have to got to learn to be savers – whether we force ourselves into doing it by having a few places that we send money to before we even see our bank accounts on pay-day, or whether it’s a natural inclination. We have got to learn to say “no” to brunch or lunch or dinner if it’s the 5th time in a row and can pay double our usual amount on our credit card bills instead. We have got to learn to say “no” to instant gratification and to convenience, and to ourselves. We have got to learn to say “no,” period.
As for me, I’m learning to be more financially responsible because without financially responsible parents, I wouldn’t be where I am. And indeed like everyone else, I dream of being able to just jet anywhere in the world without wondering how I can “pull it off.” I dream of having a nice place that is hopefully my own and a good investment at that. I dream of a healthy savings account and financial investments that make money. And I dream of having nice things that would simply make life a tad sweeter, even though I will always be more into purchasing experiences over “stuff” because I am simply not a “stuff” person. I dream of being able to afford to live like this…one day.
But till then, I’m not going to be ashamed of not having nice things or for the sake of relativity, the nicest things. I am doing the best I can with what I have. I am trying to do better and to be better about money and other things. I am trying to work on this mentality and just trying to work, while still living a full life so that some of these dreams can come into fruition without losing my integrity or forgetting to have fun along the way. And I think time and the future are on my side. If you are already in this place or steadily on your way, good for you! If you’re not, please, let this be your wake up call.