True story: As a high school student, my money habits drove my parents crazy. I may have been the only teenager in history with parents who wished she saved less and spent more. I remember hurting my mom’s feelings because I hadn’t spent my $200 Christmas gift card by March because I was saving it for prom expenses.
I’m still obsessed with saving money. I couldn’t sleep for a week after my bank’s IRA training because I was terrified that I’d never be able to retire. My significant other knows I’d rather go without food for a week than be late with rent; I’ll pass up entertainment for a month rather than miss a loan payment. My 401k is maxed, student loans paid off, car loan 4 months ahead, and I haven’t paid for clothes in three months. I trust that these choices will pay large dividends in my future.
Luckily, one of the blessings of my job is that it guarantees that I will never, ever become self-righteous about money.
I won’t pretend I don’t get frustrated when friends who make several thousand a year more than me complain about being broke after buying fancy cars or insisting on apartments with granite-topped everything. But I understand the incessant pull of the lifestyle one step fancier than one’s own.
I understand why some people judge women who sport acrylic nails while their home is in foreclosure. Personally, though, I’ve come to understand the importance of little daily indulgences that keep us happy.
In my first weeks at the bank, I jokingly noted an inverse relationship between customer sanity and savings account balance. As a relatively high-balance customer for my age, I still am a lighthearted adherent to that claim.
Financial gurus are constantly ranting about Americans poor savings habits. I don’t disagree–many times I’ve helped customers manage financial crises that could’ve been avoided with even a few hundred dollars in a savings account. Saving $10 a week to spend on gifts would make the holidays much happier for most of us.
But so would a weekend roadtrip. Or a flat-screen TV. Or a car that starts reliably even during the coldest Minnesota winters.
One of the reasons I love banking is that it isn’t about math at all. Money is about emotion. We save because we hope for a better life, or because we’re fearful of the future. We spend not only because we need to eat, but because we need to fit in, to keep up, to have fun, to indulge.
A nutritionist who worships at the shrine of Omega Fatty Acids will never convince me to completely eschew McDonalds. Likewise, who am I to expect everyone around me to pinch pennies? I’m blessed to have learned this lesson early in life.