A friend once confided in me that she was broke. She’d been working longer than I and made more. She lived by herself in a one-bedroom apartment. She drove a nice car which took premium gas. One day she showed me the vintage coat she found for $150 at a thrift store. When she hurt her ankle, the doctor’s copay made her late on her cable bill.
“I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle,” she insisted. “I have the car, but I only go out to brunch on occasion and I don’t buy a ton of stuff.”
I made sympathetic noises while being quietly horrified. Cable? Living alone? A vintage coat!?
The situation doesn’t sound extravagant to me. It sounds like an emergency. Though my friend’s lifestyle is tame compared to some, a medical copay makes her late on monthly expenses. Here’s her margin: nothing.
Instead of living on no margin, let’s talk about paying it forward:
You’re borrowing from your future self.
“Maximizing your Luxury and Convenience right now may feel like a reward to your present self, but the belly full of expensive food will be converted to a turd on the conveyor belt by the time your future self retrieves the results. You leave your future self poorer, fatter, and with fewer skills. You may create a pleasant memory or two, but memories of hedonism are less satisfying than those of hard work.
In fact, if you’ve ever blown a dollar on frivolous spending, and years later find yourself a dollar short due to the arrival of hard times, it’s not the hard times that broke you. It was that dollar blown long ago. Because a dollar is not an ephemeral phenomenon like today’s weather, it is a permanent accessory that sticks with you for life if you allow it to do so.
All this may sound harsh, it’s really just an expansion of one of my favorite concepts in personal finance: the idea of a present, past and future self.” – Mr Money Mustache
If it isn’t extremely productive or pleasurable, stop.
“A lot of career-related writing targeted towards women emphasizes work-life “balance.” So you should really take some time out and nurture yourself, right?
Actually, I’d keep that to a minimum right now. “Balance” is not for the young and sprightly — instead, think of work-life balance over the course of your entire life. Do you intend to retire some day? Would you like to have a baby and invest substantial time in caring for it? If there is some phase of your life during which you will be working 15 hours a week, then maybe you should work 60 now.
This isn’t as difficult or unreasonable as it might seem. In 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam points out that, of the 168 hours each of us has every week, spending 56 hours sleeping and 60 hours working still leaves 52 hours left for other activities — over 7 hours per day. So, cut out all the fucking around, and you can easily step up your career and life.
Here’s what I mean by “fucking around”: I mean anything that is not extremely productive or extremely pleasurable. For me, that happens when I feel like I’ve been online long enough to read everything interesting … and yet I am still on the internet. Or when I am on the train and have read all the guilty-pleasure articles and find myself perusing announcements about the weddings of actors on shows I have never watched.” – Jennifer Dziura
Watch your sense of entitlement.
“It all starts, I think, when a voice shows up inside your head one day and whispers, “You deserve it.” I remember the first time I heard that voice. Big Idea was booming, and I was beginning to hire real “executives.” Coming from companies like Kraft and GE, they were used to being paid like executives and living like executives. They drove executive cars, lived in executive houses, and ate executive meals. Up until this point, I had always lived modestly, though more out of necessity than deep philosophical conviction. But now I was hanging out with executives, and their lives looked like fun. And then that little voice showed up in my head and said, “You’re an executive, too, you know. After all, they all work for you.” Good heavens. The voice was right. I was more than just an “executive”- I was the CEO of a successful company! I was the executive of the executives! “Look at all the hard work you’ve done,” the voice continued. “Look what you’ve built. Don’t you deserve it?” And suddenly my cars started getting nicer and my meals fancier. I started eying nicer houses in nicer neighborhoods- “executive” neighborhoods. And suddenly everything at Big Idea started costing more. Meals, travel, equipment, everything- because we were successful, and we deserved it.
The little whisper- “You deserve it”- comes, I believe, from the worst part of our sinful natures, the part that always wants another cookie, a bigger house, a nicer TV. I’m pretty sure it’s the same voice that told Hitler he “deserved” Poland. Advertisers know the power of that voice, and they use it relentlessly. The new car, the ridiculously high-fat dessert, the fantastically overpriced watch- do you need it? Of course not. But youdeserve it. I have come to hate that voice. I will avoid any product that tries to influence my purchase decision by telling me I deserve it.” – Phil Vischer
Every dollar and minute you spend now is a dollar and minute your future self doesn’t have. This goes two ways: doing the hard work now of learning skills, setting up projects, establishing contacts, and investing in good products, means that your future self will be spared these efforts and expenses. And every dollar spent on retail therapy, mediocre pleasure, and time wasting nothingness is money and time your future self can never get back.
Make your choices: extravagant and modest ones, and know that whatever you choose, you’re paying it forward.
(photo taken by Eva Jannotta)