FYI – You can have your financial cake and eat it, too

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A few days ago, a response to this article on Elite Daily was posted on one of my favorite blogs, The Financial Diet. After reading both pieces, I have to admit I was a little fired up too.

If you don’t feel like reading either (I do recommend you read them as they are both thought provoking) I’ll sum it up for you here. The Elite Daily article presents the idea that saving money in your 20s is stupid, you should spend and enjoy all your money and focus on landing yourself a $60k pay raise instead. It goes on to say that by focusing on saving, you apparently are accepting defeat and robbing yourself of potential.

The Financial Diet article firmly stands against this advice, stating that it is idiotic to follow, and more importantly that it is horrible advice to seek in light of the issues we are facing in our 20s – the fact that many of us have just thrown in the towel when it comes to finances (due to high levels of student loan debt and a crap economy) and made false assumptions that it’s okay to live it up now and just figure it out later.

What aggravates me the most about the Elite Daily article is that it presents life and finances in such a black and white manner. You can be wild and crazy and spend all your money having a supposed “fantastic” life, or you can be a non-career driven loser who saves all their money and never has fun. What? It’s unfair to take such a complex subject (finance) and present it in such an extreme manner.

If there’s one thing I have learned by starting to clean up my financial act, it’s that successful money management is all about BALANCE. It’s not about having one or the other, it’s about having both. Enjoying your life in the moment, while glancing towards the future every once in awhile to let your future self know you’ve got her back.

Listen – I am all for living it up in your 20s. I did it and it was a fun and wild time of my life, but in the past few years I’ve wisened up to the fact that there are things I want in life in addition to new clothes and nights out. There are certainly places in my life for those things, but my bigger goals are becoming equally, if not more, important as I get older. Among these: the freedom to pursue work that truly makes my heart sing, without having to worry primarily about money as a deciding factor, marriage, eventual retirement, more travel. All require – you guessed it – MONEY and in order to have money you have to both make it and save it to meet your goals.

Before I continue, I do have to say that there are a few points the article makes that I agree with. Making more money for more example. I admit to being afraid to ask for more, even when I know I’m worth it, or uncertain about setting up more income streams for myself even though deep down I know I could succeed. I’ve given away things for free without second thought. I’ve never negotiated pay. I’ve definitely undercut myself more than once.

I’m also fully on board with taking some risks while you’re young. At 23, I quit my job and moved 1,000 miles to live with my long distance boyfriend after 1 year together. I didn’t have a job lined up and had very very little money. But it worked, and 4 years later I’m still here and happier than even with my decision. I’ve also switched up my career multiple times and never looked back.

Your 20s are certainly a great time to make big changes and try new things. I wholeheartedly agree with not holding yourself back when it comes to making decisions that can potentially improve your life drastically. However, making more money and taking risks as your sole strategy fails to account for the numerous times in life in which it is necessary and wise to cut back, proceed with caution and save a bit. As with everything in life, balance is required in order to be successful.

In a way, I think our 20s are a lot like the earliest years of our lives. We’re born, and we get to have fun and generally worry about nothing while someone else takes care of us. But as we get older, we learn and grow, and eventually it’s time for us to stand on our own two feet. We learn to walk, we fall down, we get up again and try until we’ve got it right. And, eventually, we have to make a choice after high school pertaining to our general life direction. The choice we make after high school doesn’t necessarily have to be the only path we follow, but we care enough about our futures and understand that it’s important to at least give ourselves some sort of rough plan to follow.

Your 20s are a lot like this, just more grown up (read: confusing, frustrating, exciting) and completed in a shorter timespan. If you’re anything like me, your early 20s were spent bar hopping, meeting new people, living paycheck to paycheck, worrying about rent and bills, spending money like its hot, having credit card debt but not really understanding the full implications, and generally not wasting any time thinking about anything past the next few months. But give it five years or so (at least that’s how it happened for me) and it’s time to figure out what you actually want to do with your life, get your financial shit together, and start thinking about your future. Nobody said you can’t have fun and stay out til 2am drinking, or blow your tax return on a tropical vacation you’ll remember forever. But you’re also foolish if you can’t be bothered to look out for your future self at least a little bit.

Your 20s are a time to have fun and enjoy youth, travel and explore, but they’re also a time to start taking care of yourself. Look out for the future you just a little bit – she’ll be grateful for it. You don’t have to choose between being the fun crazy twenty something carefree girl or the smart saver with no social life or career goals – instead, you can choose to be the girl in between who knows the importance of both sides and chooses to plant her feet firmly in the middle.

Which girl would you rather be?

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