In 2017, I wrote a Man Repeller Money Diary entitled “A Week That Went Up in Flames.” At the time, I was halfway through my undergraduate degree in finance, had virtually no expenses, and was working steadily year-round, with some side hustles going at the same time. Newly 20 years old, I was thrilled to have an abundance of what I perceived to be totally disposable income and I spent it with abandon. New clothes, meals at restaurants, gifts for friends, nights out, trips abroad—I bought whatever I wanted. At one point, I had a package arriving almost every single day.
Needless to say, mistakes were made.
After the story went live, and commenters rightfully called out my irresponsible attitude towards money, a spark was lit: I started to think more about personal finance—a subject I knew very little about despite studying financial institutions, markets, and investment theory as part of my major. I eased myself into a different money mindset with books like my mom’s 1993 copy of The Wealthy Barber (which, while outdated, was a good jumping-off point); podcasts like Mad Money w/ Jim Cramer; and video series from The Dave Ramsey Show and The Graham Stephan Show (I love his Millionaire Reacts series) to real young-adult budget overviews like CNBC’s Millennial Money and Glamour’s Honest Accounts and Money Tours. Slowly, these resources helped me reorient my relationship with spending, saving, and investing, and thank god they did, because my life, and my income, was about to change.
In order to graduate, I had to quit my job to complete my last few courses over summer. Then I got into law school, which came with super-high tuition, rent, and other expenses—costs my parents were no longer going to cover. In the course of a year, both by means of determination and necessity, I transformed from a freewheeling spender into a scrupulous saver.
Here’s what a week of spending looks like for me now:
A big goose egg for today too! Did the same public transit routine and made my lentil soup for both of my meals.
I can’t afford to splash out on expensive meals anymore, but I still like to go out with friends and bond over delicious food, so sometimes I get a big appetizer instead. This dish of the most amazing fries is so big it’s basically an entrée.
Ari Aster’s new film was pretty weird, but in a good way—and being able to see it with my friend at a locally owned theatre using an additional student discount made it even better. I’m definitely very careful about where my money goes, but I don’t like to let my budgeting stop me from having fun. Enjoying little things with my friends keeps me sane.
My friend’s going-away is a special occasion, but I saved by getting a cheaper entrée. Maximizing points and free perks also made a difference today—usually a regularly priced real fruit bubble tea will cost me upwards of $7. Remembering my stamp cards and coupons can really pay off!
Changing my spending habits was hard, but I’m glad to see it got me the results I wanted. Could I be saving more? Yes, of course. But to me, being fiscally responsible doesn’t have to mean cutting out every last thing that brings me joy—that was an important distinction I had to learn. I’m lucky to not be in the position of fixating on every cent, but I do have to track and be mindful of my money. I think about it every day.
Spending used to be like a drug to me: I was thrilled to have money for the first time, and buying things was a high I’d never felt before. As with any beloved habit, change was uncomfortable but necessary.
What were your biggest financial lessons and breakthroughs, and how did you learn them? Drop your money-related tips and tricks in the comments below—I’m always looking for new ones!