Monday, January 28, 2008

It's Going to Get Better

...does anyone else have to tell themselves that, sometimes?

Today I left my house, squinted against the winter sun, checked out the sale posters on my grocery store on my way to the subway, and realized that I had forgotten the bag I'd packed. It had my lunch in it, and the manuscript I'm working on, and the box of Trader Joe's instant cranberry oatmeal (a new staple of mine, and oh, so delicious and healthy and easy), so I needed it. I went back. I got the bag. I left again, squinted again, checked the sale posters again.

And I was suddenly overcome by a sort of exhaustion. It's tiring to have to try so hard all the time, to scrimp and pinch and worry. I know that I'm doing it so that I won't have to scrimp and pinch and worry so much later. I know that I'm laying a foundation. I know that at the end of this year, when I have $10,000 in the bank, I can lighten up a little bit, have an extra drink when I'm out to dinner, buy the new lunchbox I want, go to the movies. And in the meantime, I comparison-shop, use old tupperware, wear the same four dresses over and over again to work. I think it's evident how hard I'm squeezing my paycheck; a $50 Starbucks card turned up in my mailbox last week, signed "Your Secret Admirer" in my mom's handwriting. (Aww, mom. Thanks.)

But it's exhausting. I bumped my 401(k) contribution up a point, from 7% to 8%--with the new match, I can get about 12% of my salary in there this year, and I want to make sure I get the full match. But the switch to the Roth 401(k) and the increased contribution have eaten up my raise entirely--my last paycheck, I actually took home $5 less than usual. Where was the money I was going to use to join a gym? Not a penny of it to be found.

And I've got a couple upcoming financial commitments--things I very much want and/or need to do, but which cost money, and not spare change, either--to take care of, and no clear sense of how I'm going to take care of them, short of pulling money out of savings, which means more scrimping and pinching, cutting even closer to the bone. The prospect is a glum one.

But it is going to get better, easier. Once I've got that $10,000 saved, I can let up a bit. I'll bump up my 401(k) contributions and stop trying to squeeze an extra $25 in savings out of every paycheck--instead, I'll open an ING sub-account for short-term savings, for when I want a lunchbox or a dress or a plane ticket, and automate a modest contribution to that out of every paycheck. I'll begin to think idly about the idea of saving for a down payment, sure, but that's a ways off. I always want to be living below my means, but right now I'm living pretty far below my means, and ultimately, I'd like to decrease that distance a little, give myself a little more slack.

And I'm working hard now so that I can do that. That's what I tell myself. It's going to get better.

26 comments:

Esme said...

Sounds like you are doing really good with your financial plan. Good on you.

I know how you feel. Sometimes when my girlfriends are talking about buying a new dress and shoes to match just for a night out, and I'm staring at my closet of trying to come up a 'new' outfit, I feel a little tired too. But you are right it will get better, and you'll feel great about it :)

Mrs. Micah said...

I tell myself that all the time. Then again, I'm also a depressive person. I just think it's important to keep finding big and little positive things to focus on, otherwise it's easy to start focusing on the downsides or failures. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

It sounds like maybe you've crossed the line from frugality to extreme frugality so maybe it is worth it to look at being a little less aggressive with your savings. However I guarantee that the pressure of even extreme frugality is a lot better place to be than extreme debt.

Anonymous said...

One thing I've learned during my own ongoing journey towards frugality is that I'm constantly recalibrating. It's a learning process, anyway, and then, life does tend to happen while we're making plans. It just happens sometimes that I try to save too much by forgetting an upcoming expense, or cutting it too close. Sometimes I need to back down a little bit, or I wind up feeling deprived -- and BOY, then do I ever blow my budget!

Escape Brooklyn said...

I know what you mean! Frankly, things *are* harder in New York City than just about anywhere else. It's a never ending struggle and it often seems impossible to get ahead.

It's just so friggin' expensive and the salaries really don't compensate for the insanely high cost of living. (At least in many fields like nonprofit and publishing.) Raises quickly get eaten up by inflation and other rising costs like health insurance and rent increases.

But you're doing a great job with your savings and, fortunately, your income will keep going up. You're at the beginning of your career and you're smart to already be living below your means. It will get easier as your salary increases, and just remember how many years all this money you're saving will have to compound!

SavingDiva said...

I'm right there with you. This weekend, I thought that I would love to go visit my boyfriend, but the $50 I would have to spend in gas made me realize that I just can't afford to go this weekend...

Tiredbuthappy said...

Yes, I have felt like this way, and it was right after I got out of college and I was working 2 jobs and barely making it.

Now, 10 years later, I am SO glad I was careful in those early years. My finances are in good shape because of it and I can work part time and spend lots of time with my young child and take the risks needed to do some freelance work.

LongBeachBabe said...

I echo what the others said as well. What you are doing is very admirable.

Single Ma said...

Your dedication is admirable. It'll all pay off soon enough.

Ms. M&P said...

Hang in there. I know it's not easy. I felt similarly when I gave away more than my raise so I could up my 401(k) contributions. It can feel demoralizing when you see your paycheck decrease when you had expectations for an increase (even if it is for a worthy cause).

But I want to echo what everyone is saying. This will all pay off in the end and you'll be happy you scraped together everything you could for your future.

PiggyBankBlues said...

you are doing great! man, if i was able to hold my $hit together financially like you when i was your age, i would be living large like madame x. i was in publishing right out of college, and my student loans were starving me, quite literally. so i left after a year and re-joined the bar scene. i regret that, now, because while i then made in one night what it took me a week to earn in publishin, after a certain number of years my stagnant bartender's salary fell behind the rising salary of a nine to fiver. so head high, you're on the path to financial greatness :)

Miss Noodle said...

plus, I think winter makes things a million times worse. you'll feel better when the cold wind goes away, birds are chirping, and you can cycle through sundresses instead of dreary wool things. hang in there!

SF Money Musings said...

I've been feeling the same way watching the grocery sale flyers trying to stock up and save in case grocery prices suddenly skyrocket.

I walk by the pretty bakeries sighing and telling myself I can't afford to buy their delicious pastries ($3).

I wasn't even going to buy the heater at Walgreens for $30, but now $20 because I could use an extra $30 to reduce the $2,000 I've plunked down for this class where less than 12 percent of test takers pass at the end. Those odds make me sink further and deeper into a hole. But I'm trying to find energy to keep studying and reading through all the assignments so I can give myself a better financial future when the test is over and I can display the license everyone in class is gunning after.

Maybe it's the seasonal weather. Keep doing what you're doing. It doesn't hurt to have a cheat day once a week though I've tried to deny myself an opportunity to cheat, sometimes it can make a world of difference.

Anonymous said...

English Major - Have you thought about part time employment so that you can have some "fun" money? Like maybe at Starbucks? I know they offer 401Ks as well. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I read this post a few hours after learning that a family friend had died in a car crash - at age 29.

I think we could all stand to remember that while planning for the future is extremely important, living in the present is JUST AS IMPORTANT.

Chitown said...

Gosh, I tell myself that every single day.

Kim said...

Keep your chin up! It can be so hard to stay positive, and I admire you for not giving yourself little insta-rewards when it starts to get tough. That's something I've started doing lately...if I'm feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by life, I'll get a pedicure or buy some new apartment-organization supplies, rather than putting something in savings. Sometimes, a small tangible reward can make you feel so much better -- which it sounds like you're going to do with your short term savings fund, so good for you!! I'm finding it harder to save more now that I have a *real* job with a *real* paycheck...partially because of the *real* expenses of living alone, and partially because I'm good at making excuses (gotta pay my parents back, gotta get settled in the apartment) instead of scrimping and squeezing that paycheck.

Overall, kudos on your patience. I was a penny-pinching saver for so long (my entire paycheck-earning life until I got this job) that I just sort of let it all go. So glad to not *have* to scrape together loose change that I have sort of put savings on hold. Not good. But I swear...once I am done repaying my parental loan (1/3 to go), I'll be putting my "extra" money in my HSBC Direct account! :-)

Keep up the good work, and try to keep the bigger picture in mind!
-Kim

Anonymous said...

I'm so envious of how VERY much together you are at your young age. You are doing things the right way, to prepare for your future. I'm 34 y/o, making $58K in a large Metropolitan city and I feel I should be making so much more money, but it is what it is. I have a degree and all, but It sucks that I've been in the workforce for 11 years and I'm not even breaking $60K.....*sigh*

Love your blog,
Daria

English Major said...

I'm so grateful for all of the encouraging and thought-provoking comments that have been left here over the past day and a bit. My readers are the best--thanks, folks!

Anonymous said...

if you're upset about not being able to afford the gym, you should check this out....http://www.health-fitness.org/nyyp.html

Tired of being broke said...

Stay focussed and keep looking at the big picture.

DogAteMyFinances said...

I feel like this too. I think no matter how much money you make, there is always stuff you can't afford. That life is just a little harder than we want sometimes. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you need to shift your focus from what you are lacking to what you already have and what more you will have in the future because of the changes you are making now.

I read a great article about this at http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2008/01/30/how-to-create-an-abundance-mentality/

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what kind of lunchbox you're looking for, but I got an insulated one that I use to take my lunch to work at a sporting goods store (in the camping section) for $3.89 on sale.

nick said...

Is it worth living some of best years of your life (25-35 years old)in deprivation? Never going to restaurants, never traveling overseas,never doing things on a whim?

Trust me, you are a bright woman & these worldly experiences will help you financially & spiritually in your 40's. You will become so much more interesting than these boring penny-pinchers.

I was also an English Major at University. I always spent every dime I had in my 20's & 30's; going to Europe with no return ticket, landing in Hawaii with 10 Dollars in my wallet,and driving around the U.S. & Canada picking berries for gas & food money.

Now I own a small company in San Francisco, thanks in part to the confidence & knowledge I learned by: trusting myself, meeting all sorts of people,and enjoying life!

Nick Lewis

Daisy said...

I'm still in college so I don't think I've ever been in the spot you're in. My parents have though, and they can tell all sorts of stories like yours. (They scrounged so much that they even taped up rust on the family car with electrical tape. XD)

But seeing them now, comfortable and secure, I can honestly say it gets better.

Hang in there! Give yourself a pat on the back for taking steps towards where you want to be. The things worth getting are often the most difficult to get.

Do things that truly make you happy now and then though; just so you won't blow your budget in frustration.

Keep happy! :)