My job allows me to see lots of different houses. I see old houses, overgrown with weeds, fallen trees, and the scrap metal from a couple of generations. I see freshly built duplexes, ancient apartments, and mansions that fill an entire city block. As I read meters, I always steal glances into the windows and lives of the houses I walk by. Some windows are boarded off, others have curtains closed. Some display the marble floors and nine square foot paintings that are professionally hung in the hallway. Others show me a library of books, and some smell like tomato soup, or curry. As I see the houses, I imagine myself living there. Which one would I want to own? Do I want the one that needs a gardener (or two) to maintain the lawn, or do I want the one that is close to being torn down?
It's the same question I have with money. What kind of money do I want? Do I want a limitless bank account, or am I okay with living paycheck to paycheck? Do I want finances that need constant attention? Do I want something that's ready to be torn down?
All I want from my money is the ability to live the life that I want without stress or strain. I see money as a means to an ends. I do not see the point in hoarding money, but I do see the benefit of saving for emergencies. I do not feel the need to buy the newest, or most expensive vehicle, but it would be nice to have a way to get around town. So what does my ideal look like?
Live the Life I Want
I'm lucky in the sense that I don't want an extravagant life. I don't want multiple vehicles, or a mansion. For now, I am content with taking the bus and renting. I do want to be able to eat as much as I want, of the food that I want. That doesn't mean I'm eating out every night, but once a week or so would be nice. I would also like to be able to come home and be entertained, whether that means watching television, playing a video game, or going out for an evening. Financially, I want to be debt free, with some money in the bank for emergencies and for the future.
Without Stress or Strain
I think that a significant amount of financial difficulty comes from either spending more money than one makes (and going into debt), or spending every single penny that is earned. It isn't fun to be constantly worried about whether or not I am going to be able to afford going out for dinner or if I should buy new jeans or not. Without stress means that I'm not worrying over every little purchase, and without strain means that there's a gap between my income and my expenses. I want to be able to spend my money on the things that are important to me without feeling guilty or panicked. If I want a new video game, if I feel as though it would be worth $60, then I should be able to purchase it without regret or remorse. That does not mean that I should be getting a new video game every week, and if I am feeling that desire, then I probably have larger issues. However, if I feel as though it is a justified expense, and I have room for it in my budget, then I should be free to spend my money on it.
I think most people have a similar desire. They want to be feel free financially. I think a lot of us 20 somethings feel very trapped by our finances. We grew up with our parents trying to teach us to be financially responsible, or not talking about money at all. They'd either give us a small allowance and then take some back right away, trying to teach us that it was savings, or taxes or some other such rubbish. Or perhaps they would just drop large chunks of cash in your direction, hoping to tide you over for awhile, hoping that you'd figure it out on your own. Our schools forced us to do math in a class that was not math class, figuring that by making us to work with taxes or budgets we'd be fine once we left high school and got real jobs. It didn't work, and it made managing money feel like work. So no wonder we're so lost financially.
We feel trapped, and at a loss. We feel as though debt is inevitable, that everybody is in debt from the minute they're born until they day they day. You grow up in debt to your parents, before being shipped off to a $10k/year college where you spend four years figuring out that you don't want to be involved in your major for the rest of your life. You take your $25k of debt and marry it to someone else's, putting yourself $50k in the hole. Then you get a car ($60k), some furniture ($65k), and start drinking because you just realized you have more debt than the two of you make in 18 months ($70k). Your interest payments take a quarter of each paycheck away, so you say, "screw it" and get yourself a mortgage so that at least your debt is acquiring property ($370k). You work hard for the next thirty years of your life, just in time to put your kids into college, retire without a savings plan, and die.
And every single day, there's a slightly heavier weight on your shoulders, as you slowly watch your money bleed away.
I don't want to feel trapped by my money. I want to feel free. Free to spend where I want to spend, without guilt, remorse, or fear. I think I can accomplish that, and I think you can too. I think that together, perhaps our generation can be the one that says "no more" to credit card payments and stupid debt. Maybe we can be debt free and living the life we want to live without stress or strain. Is that the kind of money you want?