On a Friday night at a ~fancy~ restaurant a few weekends ago, my friends and I sat around in nice outfits, sipping overpriced cocktails and reminiscing about our cOLLeGe dAyS. As we sat in the lush bar, we recalled the collective memory of the broke college students we used to be, who certainly would have never been found in a place like this. Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about my financial mentality during the 4 years I spent in college, and how, without me really noticing it, they have significantly evolved.
My college life was comprised of diverse extra-curricular activities that were inexpensive and richly varied. I made do with a lot less money, and yet somehow was incessantly busy, bouncing around clubs, events, student unions and work-study jobs I took part in. My happiness was not dependent upon how many times I was able to eat out during the week, or how many $14 craft cocktails I could sip on with friends. I had a different mindset back then, one that was not just about deriving fulfillment from the “things” I could afford, but from the richness of my experiences and the gains in skill I was achieving as a design student.
I felt like if I succeeded in that arena, (nearly) everything else fell into place. I simply did not spend money that I didn’t have, and I lived cheaply. There was no entrance fee to a Friday night in the design labs and painting studios, and the only drink I required was a chai tea for $1.50 that kept me warm during the late night of work I had ahead. There was no time or desire to sit around thinking about what little I had in my bank account compared to my older, working-adult friends.
Then, when I landed my first job after college complete with an adult paycheck and disposable income to play with, it was the first time that I could say yes to doing all the things I seldom took part in because I was simply too broke to do so. I would head out after work and meet friends for drinks and full-priced appetizers, or stop by one of my favorite clothing stores for a quick lap around to see if anything caught my eye. I would drop a hundred dollars on “essential” beauty supplies, or make a pit stop at the local Greek restaurant and grab $20 worth of take out food and order a movie.
Over time, I felt myself slipping into a routine of easy yet expensive activities that dominated my social calendar. After a year of working full-time, spending week after week bemoaning the arrival of another Monday, and feeling bored doing the same thing day after day, I could feel the living for the weekend mentality begin to slip in. Suddenly, I was out celebrating the week winding down at a Wednesday happy hour and not feeling like I was ready to get back on my “#workgrind until Sunday evening. It seemed that as time ticked on, I was spending embarrassing amount of my paycheck participating in all these activities that were pure fillers for my weekday boredom.
In retrospect, I attribute the ease with which I fell into that rut to the fact that having a full-time job made me feel like all my time was structured, and no longer really my own. Getting through a day of work and leaving the office at 5:30pm felt like an achievement in and of itself. I stopped doing things that I felt I could lose myself in, like I had done in college with my school assignments. I looked around and realized what that lifestyle was costing me in hard-earned cash, and how quickly the amount of money spent on BS added up. The more I thought about it, the more I desired to reconnect with the fulfilled person I was before.
Fast-forward two years later, and I can honestly say now that I have made serious changes in my life, and have in many ways reconnected with my college-student thriftiness — but it was a lot of hard work. I knew that in order to make those significant changes in my life, I had to strengthen my work ethic for personal projects, revitalize that passion I once felt for creative work outside of work, and start picking up hobbies for the sheer fun of it. I began reaching out to potential freelance clients to get more work, and to become a better designer, outside of my comfort zone. I started a personal blog about design where I could chronicle my thoughts about the industry and how I felt about different pieces that were being produced. I began photographing recipes and homemade meals, writing in my journal, and training for 5 and 10k races. Now, I work 3 jobs and I feel like there is always something I can be working on, projects that need brainstorming, or materials that need organizing ahead of time to make tomorrow’s day richer and more productive.
Over the past two years, I’ve found that I have saved a great deal of money because I have slowly stopped a lot of those frivolous spending habits I picked up in my first year of work. I feel satisfied on a deeper level because I’m spending my time more wisely and intentionally. I no longer need the three times a week late-night fro-yo/wine/junk food/movie night runs with friends, taking turns on our little soapboxes from which we could bitch about the ~problems of the working world~ and swap insane coworker stories.
Now (although nights of simple and guilty indulgence are fun) most of the time, I find that I am satisfied coming home, brewing a pot of tea and working on the things that are getting me to where I want to be in life. Building my happiness one day at a time and doing things that I am proud of with people who want me to reach my full potential.
I don’t think achieving this work/life balance is strictly dependent upon having had the experience of going to college and huffing it for a couple years as a broke as shit student. I think that everyone has that point in their life that they can think back to, when they were simply living with less because their situation demanded it. Here are some tips that I have personally found helpful to save money by living (somewhat) like a scrappy college kid.
- Have one night out on the weekend rather than 2 or 3.
- Pick up a hobby (whether it’s drawing, reading, designing, writing, training for a race, mastering home manicures, cooking, etc. things that make life full & rich so you aren’t out boredom spending.)
- Don’t live for the weekend. If you enjoy each day as it comes, you’ll find the need to cElebRaTe and blow tons of $$$ start to slip away.
- Be open to participating in unconventional social activities that are cheap or free.
- Focus on doing things that make YOU happy. Don’t say yes to everything. Pick and choose wisely when it comes to going out and spending money.
I’ve found that the life changes I have made haven’t always been the easiest, but have been sincerely rich and fulfilling, and undoubtedly lighter on my wallet.
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