I know Disney World is magical. Matilda Jane is adorable. The iPhone X is captivating. I also know that these are extravagances and they aren’t in our budget.
A 2017 survey by GOBankingRates found that over 60% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings and more than 40% of millennials have no savings at all.
This statistic is baffling and terrifying.
Our generation has lost sight of what is truly a need, a want, and a splurge.
Fueled by flashy social media, an apathy to debt, and the intangibility of electronic payments, finances are spiraling out of control. Living paycheck to paycheck is becoming more normal, not because of temporary hardship but because of sustained spending practices.
I grew up as the daughter of a banker. Fiscal responsibility was taught early and often both in watching how my parents lived and what they expected of me.
When I was 5 years old, my parents took my brother and me to the bank to open our first savings account. Mom and Dad fronted the initial $25 to open each account but we were responsible for everything after that.
Inside the bright yellow plastic cover were deposit slips and balancing sheets that I maintained for the next 18 years. I deposited pet-sitting money, babysitting funds, and my paychecks from bagging groceries at Ukrop’s. Instead of pulling out money in college to go to concerts and on weekend trips, I continued to deposit money I made working an hourly job in the physics lab and tutoring math.
Even then, I recognized that every dollar I didn’t spend was a dollar I’d have when I got into the real world.
Sure I could have had more fun. I could have splurged on clothes not on the sale rack and looked a little more put together. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.
When my husband and I started talking about getting married, I asked him not to buy me a diamond and save the money. He laughed and bought me a ring anyway, but we compromised on not taking an extravagant honeymoon.
We saved that money.
Then at the age of 23, we took all the pennies saved from babysitting jobs, college frugality, and a forgone honeymoon, and we put the down payment on our house – the house we still live in ten years later as a family of four.
Before kids, we budgeted to live off of just one salary and save the other.
That margin has allowed me to stay home full-time with the kids. It keeps medical bills from cancer treatment from being a burden. We do not have to stress about the “what ifs” if my husband lost his job since we could stay afloat while we figured out a new income.
We prioritize maxing out 401k contributions, paying down the principle on our mortgage, and giving to our church.
With the spending money left over, I prioritize buying healthful foods, growing general savings, and creating meaningful experiences for our family.
We don’t take vacations other than visiting family. Eating out is reserved for special occasions or much-needed date nights. Movies and concerts are scarce. We don’t have the newest or fanciest anything (we didn’t even get smartphones until 2013). Private school is decidedly out of our reach unless I go back to work full-time. It took me until last year to justify joining Amazon Prime (and let’s face it, there is no going back).
I assess purchases and services in three categories: needs, reasonable wants that benefit the whole family, and frivolous splurges. I get all the first category, many of the second, and very few, if any, of the last, in that order.
These are all choices. They are intentionally made to allow us to live within our means and save for the future.
I will admit that our lifestyle means that our kids miss out on some things – including any toy advertised on Nickelodeon and fanciful trips. But they gain much more – an understanding of finite resources, the ability to entertain themselves with relatively little, and the freedom in their own adulthood not to have to financially support their parents.
Your children are learning from your spending and your saving.
They are watching you balance the short-game and the long. We MUST tip the scales of financial priorities back to sustainable spending and away from immediate extravagances.
As for our family, we are going to continue to prioritize our long-term savings and slowly save some of our extra for the fun things. Maybe in the coming years, we will see you at Disney, and it truly will be magical.