Several years ago, I was 24 years old and four months pregnant with my little girl. I was working part-time in sales and had no clue how to make an adult-ish life out of my hourly, teenager-ish salary. Seven months later, my newborn was in daycare and I was working 19 hours a week, earning $11.52 an hour, as an English Language Development Aide for the high school from which I graduated.
I went to work every day grateful for the opportunity to connect with students on what used to be my campus, but I kept questioning how I graduated from college and worked hard in the first few years of my post-baccalaureate life for the summation of this position.
Living Paycheck to Paycheck
When my whopping pay of $864 was deposited into my account each month, you could catch me running into Target to purchase diapers, bottles, new onesies, and maybe an item or two for myself. By “an item or two,” I mean a new dress, my favorite candle, and everything I could possibly reward myself with that was located in the toiletry aisle. I deserved a treat for all the deprivation I was forced to endure throughout the month. All the coffee and lunch dates I turned down because I couldn’t afford it was such a sacrifice in my fiscally irresponsible mind.
Each month of that school year was the same story. I would get paid, spend my pay, and wait for the next pay period. The reality was, I didn’t make enough money to get ahead and create a comfortable home or future for my daughter and me. However, the truth was that I wasn’t being wise with my resources. I spent from a place of fear, insecurity, lack of knowledge, and instant gratification.
Walking through the aisles of my local stores was a pseudo-spiritual experience for me. I would get a high from seeing all the things I wanted and even found myself putting a dress from Neiman Marcus x (Target’s designer collaboration) on my vision board! I would see other moms with carts full of toys, snacks, cute pieces from Isaac Mizrahi’s home collection, nail polish, and all these other items that represented the life that I wished I had. I wished I was that mom.
I Wanted to Provide for My Family
Deep down, my desire wasn’t for the stuff. My desire was about what those things represent. They represented a mom who could provide for her family. They represented an escape from my current reality. My life and spending cycles continued that way for the next several years, even when my income changed and I opened my own boutique. I had the income, but my mindset hadn’t changed. My thought trajectory was still bound by the feeling that I had to prove to others that I was good enough to belong or coexist in the mom or young professionals circle.
When I started dating my now-husband, I noticed he was interested in finance and was good at saving his money. We had plenty of conversations about his investment opportunities and making small changes that would benefit him financially in the long run.
With each of those conversations, some uncomfortable and painful, my mentality shifted and I began to move from using my resources to feed or satisfy my insecurity toward using my resources to create a life, brick by brick, that I was proud of. One that would be an example to my daughter of what to do, instead of what not to do.
Being Wiser with Money Called for a Lifestyle Shift
I changed what I was listening to and watching. Instead of the watching reality shows that I loved, inciting feelings of envy and, frankly, self-deprecation, I began listening to Suze Orman and watching cooking shows to learn how to make the meals I love to eat out. I began watching HGTV for simple decorating ideas. I learned how to maintain all my curly hair without going to the salon weekly, as I had been accustomed to growing up. You guys, I came a long way, thank God!
I started reading financial wellness articles in magazines that had basic tips for living below your means and ensuring that there was more money than month, instead of the other way around. I also started looking into professional development tools that would partner with my current skill set and potentially qualify me for greater opportunities. Layer by layer, I began changing my attitude, which changed my actions. Or, at least in the beginning, the changes in my attitude replaced the former tools in my financial toolbox to more suitable tools.
Although I am still learning and growing in the process of financial health and wellness, I believe employing the following tips have helped in my journey and my prayer is that at least one of them will resonate with you!
5 Tips for Smart Spending (and Saving!)
Meet with a Financial Planner
A Certified Financial Planner is a huge asset to your toolkit! First things first, financial planners do not charge you! I currently work with an amazing CFP from Northwestern Mutual. She looked at both my and my husband’s income, our assets and expenses, and created an investor profile for us. With that, she reviewed our retirement, Roth IRA, and monthly savings contributions. She also created a budget for us, one that included not just necessary expenditures, but travel and entertainment allocations. The adjustment, in the beginning, isn’t easy, but it’s worth it!
Shop Online and Pick-Up In Store
I could write an entire book on how I beat my addiction to Target! One of the first things I did was start shopping online and picking up my items in store, instead of going through each aisle and shopping out of impulse and distraction. I’ve been out of the U.S. for two and a half years, but I even heard that you can shop on Target’s website and have them bring your purchase out to your car in designated parking spots. Talk about time and money saver! Shopping online and picking up in store keeps you focused and intentional about your purchases.
Put Your Money to Work through High Yielding Savings Accounts and Investments
There are so many applications and programs that help you invest. I personally like Robinhood and Moneybox. Moneybox will round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and invest it into a stock. Robinhood is another stock market-related investment program that makes investments easy. You can put something as small as $20 aside a month to invest. The stock market, as you know, can be risky, but putting money aside each month that will benefit you long-term is the type of risk that’s worth it!
Also, instead of just putting your money into the savings account that is typically attached to your checking account, look for high yielding savings accounts and set up a direct debit to that account. Set it up, forget about it, and watch the interest accrue and compound!
Track Your Spending Digitally
I am kind of an old-school girl who likes to write things down but mom-life is no joke, and I don’t have time to write down every purchase I make. However, my main checking account is connected to the app, Mint, and every dollar I spend is captured and categorized through Mint.
Check Your Motives
Detach your self-worth from your salary! I can’t emphasize this enough. You are more than your salary. Your worth is not connected to the amount of money you earn or have. If you’re spending, like I was, to satisfy feelings of insufficiency or to prove to anyone else that you’re as worthy or valuable as you are, stop! Be vulnerable enough with yourself to ask why you’re spending, especially when your spending habits interfere with the goals you have for your future. If you don’t check your motives, unhealthy spending cycles that have an adverse impact on your emotional health and your forward momentum will continue.
Let’s be intentional, wise, goal-oriented, and confident women in our hearts and in our spending. If I can do it, I believe wholeheartedly that you can too!