What it Means to Save: A Year in the Life
Logan may not have retirement savings, but I do. She has precisely $3 in an emergency fund, while I have many many times that. I have been conditioned to save for most of my life, while it appears as if Logan has been conditioned to spend. We embody different life stages—she is yin, and I am yang.
It’s important to have a voice like Logan around because the truth is, the majority of people out there are like Logan. There are a fair amount of young people like me out there who save their money and spend as responsibly as they can, but we are certainly outnumbered by people who blow the little money they make on meeting friends at the bar, or at concerts, or at hot new restaurants where the bill always arrives in the triple digits.
These are people who experience FOMO. These are the people who smile and pull out their credit cards to pay for their fun so they can project an image that they are “making it,” but then go home at the end of the night to slowly drown in their secret debt. For most people, this is their secret shame, but for Logan, it’s a public one. It’s something that we need to have an open dialogue about, and I am more than happy to help Logan and people like her work through their money issues. This is part of the reason this site exists. You don’t have to face your secret debt alone. We can talk about it.
But let’s talk about me for a second. You’ve been stressed out with plenty of Logan stories lately, and I wanted to take some time to tell you my story—to show you that being responsible doesn’t mean being boring. It doesn’t mean that you can’t live in the moment, or enjoy being young, or that you’ll look back at your life one day and regret that you didn’t do the all things that would have made you happy. When I think about the last 365 days of being “responsible” with my money, I don’t recall a boring year. I recall a life fully lived.
I hoarded my paychecks in the winter, and dreamed about living without roommates. By the time it was spring, I saved enough money to move into my own studio in a quiet neighborhood next to the park. I sat around my apartment in my underwear because I could. I made messes and cleaned them up, and sometimes left them around my apartment because they were my messes and no one else’s. For the first time in several years, I lived without a television.
I went running in the park by the water, and when I didn’t feel like running, I walked, or sat on benches and read books, or sprawled out on the grass and stared up at the blue New York sky.
I put more money in my savings account, and even more in my retirement account, and stayed in to watch Netflix movies, bought furniture from Craigslist for my apartment, and moved that furniture around until I was satisfied.
I cat sat for all of my friends when they left town. And then I left town.
I found a $250 roundtrip ticket from New York to Madrid, and took a week off to go to Spain, where I went to museums, talked to young people protesting in Puerta del Sol square, drank wine in the afternoons, and had tapas in the evenings. I took a day trip to Segovia to see a castle, went on walks and stared up at the sky. It was the same blue sky I stared at in New York. I bought no souvenirs, and only came back with vivid memories.
I developed crushes that lasted for a day. I developed crushes that will last me for a lifetime.
I talked to young people protesting in Zuccotti Park about their student loan debt, about being unable to find a job, about what they do when it rains. I showed them photos of the young people protesting in Madrid.
I was shaken, and got hurt. I celebrated birthdays.
My best friend told me she had met the man of her dreams, and called me when she got engaged. I took some money out of my savings account to buy a new suit for her wedding in California. I asked her if I could be her “secret best man” and we laughed and thought it was perfect. When I met her husband-to-be, I realized that the best man she would ever meet was already marrying her. I hugged him and told him to take care of her.
I was humbled. I was thankful. I went to an LCD Soundsystem concert. I saw a free Broadway show. I did my own laundry, and cooked big meals I could eat for a whole week. I had no-spending weekends. I made a dent in my student loans. I made a turkey on Thanksgiving. I put up a fake tree in December.
I dreamed about quitting my job and launching a website. I became terrified when it became a possibility. I worried that no one would like me. I developed stress rashes. I wept. I was overjoyed. I believed in myself. I looked at my bank account balances and knew I would be okay for a while.
I went out to brunch a few times, but I preferred to host it instead.
I got a phone call from my mother telling me that something happened to my father at work. I heard my father tell me that his company was refusing to give him disability payments. I heard about the missed mortgage payment. I looked at my savings account and wrote a check. My mother thanked me—not for the check (well, maybe a little bit), but for becoming an adult who was kind and generous.
I got over my stage fright and told a true story in front of a live audience. I got applause. I got kind words.
I don’t remember the drinks I had, or the clothes I bought, the cab rides I took, or all those times I bought my lunch. I saved more than I ever imagined I could. It was a year of austerity. It was a year that I followed my head. But most of the time, I followed my heart.