We all know we should spend less and save more.
Still, more than a third of Americans have no savings to speak of, not even an emergency fund. A little less than half have only enough saved to get them through three months without a job.
I recognize that there’s real poverty in this country. That there are plenty of families living below the poverty line, working multiple jobs and still not making ends meet. I’m not questioning why these hardworking families don’t cut back on frivolous expenses like feeding their children to save for a vacation.
I’m talking to middle class young people like me who have a stable job, and yet, no matter how many raises we get, we spend just as much as we make if not more.
The fact is this: Saving money is simple, but it’s definitely not easy.
So why is saving money so damn hard?
I think it bares a strong resemblance to food. I think that because I really like to eat, and in my brain, everything is like food (or it should be).
But in all seriousness, the similarities are there. We know that to lose weight, we either have to eat less or exercise more. To save money we have to spend less or make more. It’s not complicated, and yet both are exceedingly difficult (so difficult for me in fact that leading up to my wedding I decided to try one of those 5-day master cleanses and made it a whopping 9 hours before I crumbled and stress ate half of a loaf of bread).
Money, like food, is emotional.
There’s a reason why we don’t tell everyone what we make. On some level, we think it represents our self worth. We think it means that we’re smart (or not smart) or hardworking (or lazy) or have potential (or are hopeless). Money isn’t just a currency that we trade- it’s intimately tied to our self worth and our emotional state.
Food plays a similar role. We don’t just eat to sustain life, we eat because we’re bored, happy, sad, excited or just plain drunk. We eat to reward ourselves (chocolate), to make ourselves feel better when we’re bummed (chocolate), or just because it tastes so damn good (also chocolate).
But what happens when this emotional relationship gets in the way of what we want long term? What happens when that celebratory shopping trip after you get the raise puts you right back to where you were before- spending what you make and saving nothing?
The key for me has been separating money from my emotions to the best of my ability. I’ve started to refuse to splurge not because I’m not worth it (because I sure as hell AM worth it) but because spending my hard-earned money isn’t in my long-term goals. And there are other ways I can splurge. I can take a long bath, I can go see a movie I’ve been wanting to see, I can victory dance in my kitchen.
Similarly, I’ve stopped telling myself that I’m worth the things I own. Taking the bus instead of hailing a cab doesn’t make me any less of a person. Choosing to live in a small, slightly run down apartment instead of the nice big condo I can technically afford doesn’t make me a loser. It makes me someone who’s really related to her long-term goals.
And right now, those are pretty exciting.