I’m at Get Rich Slowly

I know! You guys are not reading APW right now, you are watching the World Cup! Me too. But. Virtually, I’m over at the excellent personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly today, talking about my relationship with money and about being totally broke (but pretty damn happy) in my bohemian theatre-making twenties in New York. I’ll be back here tomorrow musing a bit more about my 20’s and my new life as a married woman in my 30’s. My personal process of growing up has been taking up a lot of brain space lately…

But go read my post. And then go back to the World Cup, yes?

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  • Mollie

    APW & GRS, together??? You just made my day.

  • loved the post! thanks so much for sharing :-)

    I too am piss poor in my 20s but holding it together without any debt (tho will shortly be taking on a bit of debt for my second master’s degree — argh). Thanks for being a great example for all of us that 1) it’s okay, 2) we can still have fun, and 3) we won’t always be so destitute.

  • Liz

    i think it’s hilarious that you mentioned mcdonald’s.

    just the other day i was explaining to someone what a BIG DAY it was if i got to go to mcdonald’s, growing up. (happy meals were off limits, however- we would each get a little burger, and split a small soda 3-ways)

    i’m oddly grateful for the way i grew up. it allows me to appreciate how absolutely luxurious it feels to have a full bottle of maker’s mark in the house, or to spend $3 on a latte during a rough day.

    • I agree exactly! Growing up with 5 kids in our family – McDonalds was a rare, rare thing, and going out to “real” restaurants – even more so. Cable TV? Never! Video games? No way. Renting the VCR along with our movie at the movie store once a month? Yessir! But like you said – growing up like that definitely makes you appreciate the small things and learn to deal with money in a way you wouldn’t have had you grown up getting whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it.

      • meg

        We didn’t have a TV at all (though that wasn’t just a money thing, it was a hippy thing) or a microwave… or a answering machine for the longest time.

        And Liz, I wanted to mention that I still remember a happy meal toy I got, because it was such a HUGE deal (sister bear in pink overalls on a little car).

        • My “I’ll always remember this” was a Gumby from a Happy Meal.

  • Cat

    If you swapped ‘professional theatre in New York’ for ‘drama school in Australia’ that could have been me you were talking about (no, really. As I type I’m drinking coffee I felt guilty for buying on the way to work). I hadn’t come across GRS yet, I think that one is going straight in the favourites. Great post :)

    • meg

      Well, I mean, drama school in New York came before professional theatre in New York. But I lived in Manhattan then… our dorms were pretty sweet.

      • Cat

        Go on, rub it in ;) New York was a beautiful dream from our quiet little Uni. I’d kill for your theatre scene!

        • meg

          Well, some days it almost killed ME, which is close ;)

      • Mollie

        I went to NYU, which spoiled me forever with their posh dorms and close-to-everything-living. Pretty sure living on my own in NYC would feel like a disappointment after that. Living on 5th Ave at 18? Not too shabby… and pretty sure I’ll never be able to afford that ever in real life.

        • meg

          Ugh. VASTLY preferred my Brooklyn digs, I have to say.

  • Dianne

    Hey Meg,
    It’s Dianne from the neighborhood in San Berdoo … I have to say I loved your post. Our family, too, was pretty tight with money. My parents raised five kids with the basics but not a lot of extras. In fact, I will never forget the Christmas when, after I had visited a friend who routinely received lavish amounts of gifts, my mother actually said she was sorry for the smallish Christmas we had that year (she must not have realized that I was already beginning to understand that our close-knit family led by an amazing mom and dad was the best gift any kid could ever wish for).

    The problem is this – our family’s careful money situation had the same effect on my oldest siblings that it did on you, but on me, it seemed to have the opposite effect. You know how you talked about being a much better saver than spender? I have always been a ready-spender, not a saver. Do you have other friends who are sort of naturally more like me? Have they asked for your thoughtful advice on becoming more responsible (shall we say, “grown up”?) about money? What do you tell them? I ask this becuase I so appreciate your thoughful approach to a variety of difficult subjects and I realize that most of my friends are more like me in this area and cannot give as wise counsel as you may be able to.

    Okay – now it is back to work for me!


    • meg

      I have zero advice… but I’m really hoping someone else comes forward with some smart advice, because I really want to read it….

    • Cat

      I naturally take the ‘pry it out of my cold, dead hands’ approach to money, but my wife is much more like you (and just so I don’t sound too high and mighty, my approach is no better. They’re just two extreme of the scale). In both cases, the best thing we ever did was go see a financial planner. Sticking to a budget (that includes savings AND spendings) is really, really hard to do unless you really know how to manage one, and that is far from a skill we’re born with! Ours assessed our income and expenditure and then talked us through how much to aim for in savings and how to actually achieve it, how much was a reasonable spending amount and what was best to prioritise for us. It’s SO much easier to stick to a plan that is realistic, makes sense and we know exactly how and why it works. We’ll be totally consumer debt free in less than a year thanks to ours, we tried for years on our own to manage it and got absolutely nowhere. I can’t recommend it enough!

    • Dianne, I totally feel your pain! My parents raised us with a weird mix– we were raised in an affluent town, but we weren’t nearly as rich as everyone around us. My parents bought a house during a good real estate market, and made enough to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. I wore a LOT of hand-me-downs, and McDonald’s was a luxury. TV? Yeah, no– my liberal hippie parents kicked us outside, or sat us down with a library book.

      My brother has always been tighter with his wallet than I have, and now I’m reflecting on that a little. I got through college with zero consumer debt and minor college loans (thanks, scholarships and amazing parents who essentially paid TWO mortgages). When I first graduated, I relied somewhat on my parents as I found my first job and apartment. Now that I’m planning a wedding, however, a lot of financial crunch is looming. My fiance got his undergraduate degree late in life, which meant that up until January of this year, we were living off of my single income. The split second he started getting paid for his PhD in January, that money has gone into savings for the wedding. Where we stand right now is with a substantial wedding savings account that makes me beam with pride, but also a little more credit card debt than we’d like; the last six months of last year was tricky financially, and we’re still riding it out.

      But our situation is mostly because we’re doing SO MUCH in one year– we can’t pay off all our debt AND pay for a wedding, so we’re trying to do a lot of one (saving for the wedding, since those bills are due first), and then a little of the other (paying off debt a bit by bit). If we had an extra six months, we’d be in such better straits, but this is the hand we’re dealt. And on the other side of the wedding, the credit card debt will basically vanish, hallelujah.

      So what about that spending-style? Well. For me, what’s helped is having a goal. I really get excited socking money away into our savings account– each milestone had me doing a little dance at my computer. Lookit, four digit numbers! Then $5000! Holy cow, TEN THOUSAND! Each time had me grinning and excited. And I’m hooked. I love being able to put more and more in there.

      But how do we tighten the belt? I think about my life and what expenditures can be pruned. As much as I love my Starbucks, I limit it to Monday (a glimmer of happiness on otherwise rough mornings) and Friday (woo, TGIF!) mornings. Find your leaks (lattes? shopping trips? travel? eating out?) and figure out creative ways to plug them. We’re eating less red meat, and getting creative with beans and rice; I’m not drinking my delicious fancy british cider; I’m drinking box wine (not TOO bad!). When I think about shopping, I think about wants and needs. My mother had a rhyme passed down from her mother that I like: “Use it Up. Wear it Out. Make it Do. Do Without.” I have it printed by our door, as a reminder.

      I know this isn’t really all that helpful, but from another ready-spender– keep trying. Aim for your goal and even if you miss, you’ve done well. We can do it! Good luck!

      • Vanesa

        I second the “find your leaks” strategy. If you’re constantly battling with yourself over spending on one particular type of thing, eventually frugal-you is going to lose to I-just-want-to-treat-myself you. If you know in advance what the weak points in your money spending defense are and plan for ways to meet those desires, you’ll be happier than you would be trying to fight it. I think of it like the “planned indulgences” people talk about in the weight loss world.

        The best strategy I’ve ever seen for fighting the I just want to spend money urge, is my dad’s. He grew up pretty tight on money. When he and my mom got married, it seemed to him like he had SO MUCH MONEY compared to what he was used to. Add to that my mom’s natural tendency to spend everything, and they quickly ended up in debt. After my parents’ divorce (not debt related), my dad realized how out of control their spending had been and how badly he needed to get his spending back in line with his income. His solution? Cash allowances. He created a budget with saving and paying off debt in mind, then he took out a certain amount of cash spending money each week. He pays for EVERYTHING in cash. Groceries? Cash. Furniture? Cash. Entertainment? Cash. He never takes out more than his allowance and he never puts anything (other than emergencies) on a card, even a debit card. The way he handles is that when he’s out of cash, he just stops spending. So, if he spends all his money on frivolous stuff that week, it means he eats beans and rice all week. If he finds great coupons and saves money on groceries, it means he can spend money on something fun.

    • Lisa

      Hey Dianne,

      I’d suggest tracking your spending. It’s really hard to make a plan unless you know exactly where you’re at right now. Once you know, then you can decide where you want to go. Take a few weeks and write down everything you spend. It sounds like a pain (and it is) but it’ll help you figure out what you’re spending. Then you can make a spending plan based on where you actually spend your money and on what changes you want to start incorporating. I’d suggest checking out some of the back articles on GRS. There’s a section on basics that I return to time and again… maybe they’d be useful to you too.

    • liz

      dianne, i’ve been through a bit of both extremes. raised broke, then paid my way through college while working (at times) 4 jobs at a time. i spent my college years turning down a lot of funt hings to do, as i paid for textbooks and scrimped.

      then, i got a well-paid adult job. and my wardrobe expanded, i enjoyed lattes everyday, and splurged on going out to dinner weekly. i was so used to not having money, that i spent my money as if i was afraid it wouldn’t always be there- as if it would somehow evaporate.

      we’re broke again, and i swing between my old tight-fisted money handling ways, and wanting to enjoy the little money i have in crazy spending sprees. what helped me is to set solid, tangible financial goals. not just having x amount of dollars in savings (yawn, who cares?)- but, if i save this much, then we can buy this at the end of the month, and still have savings left.

      for my ocd little self, it helped to set up an excel spreadsheet with bills mapped out week by week (this week, i bring in x much money, and i have x number of bills to pay), and then figuring out how much is left over at the end of the month. having a visual representation of these floating numbers helped me to think of my financial goals in a tangible way- the way lattes and skirts were tangible.

      also, budgeting is like dieting. you need to allow yourself wiggle room. factored into my weekly expenses is a catch-all of “splurge spending” (which should be a small percentage of what you make). josh and i can go crazy one night and go out to dinner- i still feel like i’m spoiling myself, but the bills are still getting paid. i’ve also learned not to beat myself up when the bills DON’T get paid because we went out for drinks with friends that we never see and didn’t plan to. if you allow yourself a little yummy snack on your diet, you’re less likely to binge on pizza and ice cream and blow all of your hard work. same goes for finances- if you let yourself splurge here and there, you won’t end up on a crazy shopping spree.

      • Dianne

        Thanks to Meg, Cat, Sarah, Vanesa, Lis and Liz – great ideas, all! I think I will bookmark Get Rich Slowly and start pulling my head out of the sand when it comes to money. I need to gain mindfulness in too many areas in my life (money, diet, health, etc.) and this exchange has helped me to reflect on that. Geez – you’d think after surviving cancer three years ago, mindfulness would be on the top of my list, but, no – it’s all to easy to revert back to old ways of over-focusing on work and the demands of juggling way too many hours, a ridiculous commute, and a consulting business on the side. :-)

  • Awesome post, Meg!! And perfect timing for me to read. I’m very much like you when it comes to saving and spending. My fiance and I just bought a couple of really, really nice and not cheap pieces of furniture this weekend — classic pieces that will probably outlive us — and yet, I nearly had a panic attack spending the money on it, despite the fact that I could afford it.

    I promise to practice being more rich in the sense you describe it!

  • Thank you for sharing your guest post. I’m going to relish reading it, because I always enjoy your insights about money.

  • Fantastic post… it’s wonderful to hear some voices from the balanced (or learning to be balanced) approach to spending/saving. It’s like hearing about balanced eating habits and remembering that everything is better when one can get out of the binge and purge cycle.

  • Emily

    Meg, from a girl in her 20’s trying to figure her shit out, thank you for this post!

  • Awesome post! As a saver about to merge finances with a spender, I really, really appreciate this. I think that since we both have strong values in common, we can get on board together with “spending for our values, and not buying cheap sh*t” (poorly paraphrased, sorry!).

  • Alyssa

    Yay! I’m a big fan of Get Rich Slowly, though sometimes a few of the commenters on there make me want to throttle them…. (Such as #35. I mean, REALLY, m’am?) But I think it’s a great resource and often a fun read!’

  • ddayporter

    that was an awesome post – and thanks for sharing the site, I’m definitely bookmarking it, seems like a place I should be hanging out. I loved reading the comments too, some from long-time readers and some from people going “wait, practical brides? what?” one of the Mikes (#5) sounded like a great candidate for a first-ever straight-male wedding grad..

    anyway more to the point, even though we’ve heard similar advice from you before, it was still a great reminder. I am more like Dianne above, whose similarly umm, restricted, upbringing had the opposite effect – having been deprived as a child I want to have everything now, because I make my own money and I can. Although, there’s a huge difference between the responsible frugality that you describe and the single-mom-with-3-kids-on-food-stamps situation that we had (I’m not even kidding, when I was 8 we were living in the woods in a house made of particle board and plastic, with no electricity or indoor plumbing). As an adult I’ve built my sense of pride around being self-sufficient, paying my bills on time, but also having the ability to buy new clothes when I need them or little luxuries here and there that I don’t need but it feels great to be able to buy. I was doing great for the first few years out of college but now all my income is going towards my baby family household and I feel like I have nothing again, and it HURTS.

    ..On the other hand. the first few years out of college I was also a lot more comfortable with maintaining a certain level of credit card debt, and I’m happy to report that even on the most restricted budget I’ve been on as an adult, I’m closer than ever to being totally consumer-debt free (don’t ask about student loans). and I have my husband to thank for that, 100%.

    • liz

      oh, the student loans.

      damn them all to hell.

      last time they called to ask for my money, i told them i wasn’t paying until i started using my degrees. didn’t go over so well.