I work in an office of professionals. It’s the kind of office where everyone knows what a 401(k) is except for the 23-year-old who recently purchased his first hairbrush (that’s me). But I recently had the chance to catch up, because last week a CPA came to our office to give a presentation on smart spending and money management. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant (I Googled it).
I went to this presentation hoping the CPA was going to give me some sweet insider secret on how to save money and then make that money become more money. Instead he explained simple things that a person can do to build savings and prepare for a more stable future. My only real vision of my future includes rocket cars and moon colonies, so I knew I was in the right place. I was prepared to take notes.
Theoretically, I know how to save money: Don’t spend all of your money. And yet, every two weeks, I find myself without any money. I have no clue where it goes. I make $35,000 a year, which, to me, is a lot of thousands of dollars a year. But where does it go? Not big things—I could count the purchases I’ve made over $100 dollars in the last year on my fingers (ten). I don’t have a ton of bills. Rent is my main expense. I pay $900 a month, which is actually sort of modest for Washington, D.C. standards, but still seems really expensive by the “my parents recently stopped paying my rent” standards that I use.
He started by telling us that 90% of lottery winners blow their money in five years and that 60% of NBA players are broke within ten years out of the league. He meant to shock us and to make us think about how we spend our own money. It just made me think about Antoine Walker.
Then he started the steps. The first thing to do to get on the path to financial security was to save $1,000 “for any emergencies that might come up.” While the rest of my office waited for him to move on to the next step, I scribbled into my notebook “SAVE 910 MORE DOLLARS.”
The following step was to pay off all of our credit card debt. He said having credit card debt is a waste of money. So I wrote “FIRST PAY OFF CREDIT CARD DEBT” and then, “HOPE FOR NO EMERGENCIES.” He also advised us to avoid using our credit cards unless we can pay the balance in full each month, a tip I was familiar with, as it was what my mother told me right before I used my credit card to buy a ticket to a music festival that Jay-Z curated.
The third step was to save $3,000, and that is when I sort of stopped listening. If I ever get to a point where I’ve saved $1,000 and paid off my credit card, game over; we certainly will have reached some sort of post-apocalyptic world where “dollars” means something else entirely.
The rest of the steps were about saving for a mortgage and your children’s college funds, so I drew pictures of astronauts in my notebook.
My biggest takeaway was that no matter how much I save, there will never be a point when I’m going to look at my bank statement and say “I did it. I’m all done saving. Let’s go take our hover cars to that picnic on the moon.” I’m going to have to save forever. I’ll never be able to take a sip of a $9 microbrew again without hearing 80-year-old Zach in my head, begging me to drink a High Life occasionally.
I’m prepared to start saving for my future, to be a grown-up responsible adult man who saves money. But and right now I’m sipping on a $5 latte and just paid for wi-fi, and last night I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching YouTube videos of animals.
Maybe I’ll just win the lottery and have a fabulous five years.
Zach Kohn is an unsuccessful comedy writer and a sort-of successful advertising assistant. He sometimes tells stand-up jokes in Washington, D.C. Other times he writes them down on his Twitter.