One time I spent so long in a supermarket buying groceries for the week, that a store assistant came over to me and remarked; “You’re still here?!”
Hi I’m Deirdre, and sometimes I overthink my purchases. I’m also a social media contributor for Hey Walt. I will be chronicling my financial journey with you, sharing my financial strategies, my budgeting tips and trying to make personal finances fun! My task this week was to write about myself and I was trying to figure out how to squeeze the last 25 years of my life into a nice 5 minute read. From growing up in the countryside of the west of Ireland, to moving to Dublin for college and ultimately moving here, to New York City. It struck me that the way I spend and the way I save has changed as I’ve changed throughout my life.
My earliest memory of budgeting is set on a Friday, after primary school, in the local shop, John Burke’s. John had the best selection of sweets in our village. From penny sweets (that were literally 1c each) to chocolate bars the size of my face, he had it all. Every Friday I was given €2 to spend in Burke’s and I would spend AGES in the shop picking out my sweets, figuring out the best plan of action. Do I buy 10 jelly snakes for 50c or one lollipop for the same price? More jelly snakes, but the lolly would last longer. These are the deep philosophical questions I pondered as a young child. Aristotle and I would have had great chats over a bag of jelly snakes. But I wanted to make sure I was getting the best value for my money and if that meant being the last kid in the store, so be it!
Secondary school was when I started working and earning money. My first job was at 15 in the local hotel waitressing, and honestly I’ve never worked a harder day since. My parents encouraged me to divide my earnings into three sections, one for saving, one for spending and one for the household. They asked me to contribute to the household expenses to help me practice paying bills. At the time, I grumbled, thinking about the jelly bracelets from Claire’s Accessories I could have bought with that money. But looking back, I’m glad they did. It got me used to paying bills and instilled in me a respect for hard-earned wages. Considering the five years of college they’ve paid for and the many years of financial support, I think we’re even.
Speaking of college, let’s talk about being broke. If there’s one thing college teaches most of us, it’s how to survive on a miniscule budget. I say most, because we all had that one friend who would complain about being “broke” while sipping on an iced coffee, buying concert tickets. College is expensive and for a lot of people, it’s their first time living away from home. Their first experience of paying rent and splitting bills with housemates. Who’s the only one buying laundry detergent? Who never pays the WiFi bill? Who left the heating on in their room when the house was empty over Christmas and we all came home to a sky-high gas bill? I remember one special conversation about toilet paper that I had with a former housemate, who we’ll just call Jack. It went something like this:
Deirdre: Hey Jack, can I talk to you?
Deirdre: OK, so I’m the only one buying toilet paper and I don’t think that’s fair.
Jack: Well as a woman you probably use more toilet paper anyway.
Deirdre: Did you really just say that?
Jack: Don’t turn this into a feminist thing OK its only loo roll.
Needless to say, we didn’t live together for very long. But that’s the beauty of the college budget, you’re totally broke and yet you still manage to go out, have a social life and have fun.
Adulthood was when I started to enjoy the benefits of a regular salary. I got used to little luxuries like buying rounds at the bar and organic vegetables. As you get older, it feels like there are materialistic milestones you want to achieve, whether that’s a car or a designer purse or “finding yourself” on a doped-up elephant’s back in Thailand. Maybe you want to bring HIM out on a date and treat HIM to a nice meal. If you’re now a grown-up, you feel like you need to own grown-up things. Throw cushions. Cafetiers. Oil diffusers… These are the unnecessary items that color the move into adulthood, and they feel good!
But what happens if you can’t afford these items. Am I not a proper grown-up if I don’t own a designer handbag? If I don’t have a car? Social media puts pressure on people to exude a certain lifestyle. I know I feel this pressure all the time, so to counteract those feelings, I focus on the long-game. What are my financial and budgeting goals? What do I want to achieve at the end of this year? Achieving these goals will make me feel better than any Supreme hoodie ever could.
Maybe that’s just easy for me because I very rarely make impulsive purchases. 90% of the time, I compare my options, I compare the costs and I will think it through. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it works against me. For example, I’ve located amazing bargains online only to lose them several hours later because I took too long searching on other sites to MAKE SURE I was getting the best value. It’s me in the sweet shop after school all over again!
Going down a rabbit hole of comparisons and overthinking the situation is often mentally draining. You need to trust your instincts and trust that you make good decisions. The $10 to $20 you save is not going to make that much of a difference at the end of the day. Getting stressed and sinking valuable time into one, not so important purchase, will ultimately have a negative effect. As I’ve gotten older, my new budgeting strategy is to think about the purchase quickly, make an informed decision and trust my instincts, and I recommend this strategy to you. Unless you’re about to purchase something really serious, like a house, in which case, you should think about that a lot.
These life experiences have rewarded me with a current financial mindset that is fairly balanced. I want to invest in things that bring long-term happiness, not short bursts of joy. I’m not saying that I don’t treat myself to nice things, of course I do! Life is short and I want to live it to the fullest. But I’m also considering my future-self, because the decisions I make now will somewhat determine where that future me is and how she feels.