Raise your hand if you think the American Social Security system will be there for you when you need it.
Raise your other hand if you think American society provides good care for poor, elderly patients?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. You’re standing there like an Irish River dancer with both hands pinned at your side kicking the air with your legs in frustration. Me too.
Somebody needs to get kicked in the pants but it’s not the government and it’s not American society.
WE need to prepare like our lives depend on it, because they DO! We need to prepare… like yesterday...because if we don’t, who will?
I had lunch with a female friend of mine recently and we got to talking about money. It came up that she had been saving money for a few years to add a second story to her home but then she was laid off for what ended up being 7 months. Though she wasn’t planning on that, she recalled feeling deep gratitude to her recent-past Self for having saved that money, even though she was dipping into her construction fund to survive and make ends meet in this time of financial crisis. Sure, she wouldn’t be able to build that second story now for a while but she was able to make it until she found another gig. Crisis averted, no thanks to The System since she was a design contractor and not eligible for unemployment benefits.
I asked her how much she typically saves now that she’s gainfully employed. She answered “15%.” A typical answer. Most prudent Americans save about 10-15% of their income in investment accounts or savings accounts. However, a recent studies have shown that 58% of Americans don’t have $1,000 saved to cover emergency expenses (let alone monthly bills in the event of a layoff!) Moreover, a $400 bill is enough to cause significant financial crisis for many Americans. This should strike you as alarming considering the US is among the richest nations in the world!
Take off the Blinders
Saving 15% of your income is not enough. It just isn’t! You need to save more like 30-50% of your income to have anything sizable in the future to rely upon in times of need including retirement, especially if you’re starting to save later than age 25. If that sounds like a lot of money that you don’t have, you’re probably right because if you’re reading this, you’ve likely allotted excess money to lifestyle choices instead of a savings or investment account.
If you look at the amount of money over time that comes into your hands, Americans earn thousands if not millions of dollars in their lifetimes (for certain white collar professions). Sure, housing and healthcare costs in America are through the roof these days, but consumer spending is too which indicates that for many Americans there IS something leftover each month that they can spend as disposable income. But is “disposing” of hard earned dollars the best use of that money in uncertain times? Or have we been duped to mindlessly give our money away to those without our best interests in mind?
Going back to my friend: She admitted that money carries an emotional response with it when brought up as it does for most of us. For her, spending money makes her feel better about her weight, something she’s struggled to gain control of. She’s a gorgeous girl and always wears the best outfits and clothes, but she doesn’t feel as sexy as she looks to those of us who see her unless she’s in those outfits and shoes. So she shops and spends her money on temporary highs (read: bandaids) essentially trying to take her mind off of the pain or self-loathing she feels inside.
This is so understandable. We all do this in different ways and for different reasons.
My downfall is restaurants. I LOVE to frequent restaurants and sit facing the waitstaff with my champagne and oysters observing how they work, remembering that less than a decade ago my feet were throbbing in those same smelly black shoes as I raced around taking orders, carefully delivering trays of cocktails to tourists and waking up abruptly a few hours later to “server nightmares.”
Emotionally, doing this reminds me that I made it to the other side of the table, something I hoped would happen but was never really sure if it would. It’s a pat on the back like my friend gets when she goes shopping and those shoes tell her she’s beautiful and fit.
But do I really need to spend $300-600/month reminding myself that I fucking made it?!
NO. I don’t. Because that money would be better spent in the future for travel trips, necessary healthcare procedures or paying my bills on time or up front to help me avoid stress and financial ruin. I love myself enough to give My Future Self the gift of security so she doesn’t have to worry in an already stressful situation. Sure, there is no such thing as true security but having a little padding and extra time in the form of savings and investments can go a long way in coming out healthy and safe on the other side.
Find Better Ways to Fill Insecurities
Filling our insecurities is an expensive habit for us and a lucrative business for “them,” those companies, executives and venture capitalists making more money per hour than may ever pass through our hands in our lifetime. Why feed the beast that profits from keeping us down? They’re not going to pay to have our back in the next recession nor when we’re old and we need someone to feed us and change our diaper. They won’t even visit when we’re lonely!
You know who will have our back then? Our savings, our investments, the money under our mattress we saved for a rainy day.
Now I know you may be thinking: money can’t buy happiness. That’s kinda true but I’m not suggesting that it can. I’m suggesting that money can buy time, care and service in the future.
Let’s face it, The Future is going to be even more expensive than it is now. That sucks! It’s SO HARD as it is today to make a living and keep a damn roof over our heads. If you care at all for Your Future Self, take a long, hard look at how you spend your money today because you’re going to wish you still had some of it later.
Learn to pay attention to what you do to sooth your emotional aches. Do you buy a pint of ice cream or bottle of wine when you’re mad at yourself for skipping the gym again? Ask yourself each time you whip out that credit card to fill an insecurity if there’s not something else you could do as a new project or habit to feel good about yourself. It might take a few times to really get this right, but be patient and understanding with yourself because you’re doing psychological re-training on your brain. Make a list if you don’t feel like you have the energy to do much more or tell a close friend about your intention to begin a new project or take up a new hobby.
Could you take that money to buy a subscription to an online yoga or aerobics studio that you do at home? Or use it to start taking salsa lessons to get more exercise? Maybe even buy a Personal Trainer for a few months until a new habit of working out has settled into your lifestyle and you can motivate yourself to get in shape.
In my case, I chose to limit going out to restaurants to when friends who I didn’t see very often were in town or asking to meet up. Some of the decisions I made to help reduce unnecessary spending:
- I ate before I joined them so I wasn’t tempted to order more than I should.
- Other times when I was going out dancing, I filled a flask so I didn’t have to buy drinks to loosen up before I started dancing with hot salsa-dancing strangers whom I didn’t want to think I was uptight (which I absolutely was!) Yeah, it was lushy but it worked and I curbed my restaurant spending by an average of $260 a month! I used it to pay off student debt and when I paid a loan, I took that money and enrolled in an online investing class to start learning how to invest my money.
- Other times with good friends who respected that I was trying to get my financial shit together, I was up-front with them about being on a budget and they didn’t pressure me to go any place fancy. Either they picked up the tab if they were so inclined or we settled on a cheap Mexican place, split a huge plate and ordered Mexican coke.
Find Ways to Circumvent Consumerism
At the core of it, consumerism requires that we the people be made to feel insecure, inadequate or bad about ourselves in order to keep making profits for they who market ‘miracle products’ to us that are purported to fix what ails our self-esteem. Over time we learn that buying stuff and spending money soothes us, distracts us, entertains us and brings us temporary joy.
However, there is a point where none of those things our money buys gets to the heart of that feeling that we can’t just consume away. That is when we need to look at that feeling square in the face and decide to ask it what it actually needs.
The answer can be heard the more you ask. The sound of it usually requires effort to fulfill, triggering our inherent laziness which is how you know it’s the solution to your soothe-spending.
Focusing on the solution to your sooth-spending forces you to think differently about your participation in the consumer economy. Of course you can’t avoid buying groceries, TP, and going out once in a while but you don’t have to engage in it for the majority of your needs and entertainment.
Circumventing consumerism takes the form of small rebellions such as:
- growing a garden for much of your produce or participating in a local CSA instead of buying pre-packaged/pre-prepared salads and produce
- borrowing DVDs from your local library for movie night entertainment instead of paying for a monthly Netflix account or frequent theatre tickets
- hosting or attending potluck between friends instead of going out
- meeting friends for a walk/run, a card game, or to cook together instead of going out for $12 martinis which are bad for you anyway
- organizing a quarterly ‘Sip & Swap’ night to swap gently used clothing and other items instead of clothes shopping
- finding a workout buddy on your schedule to get in shape with instead of spending money on expensive clothes and classes to feel better about your low self-image
There are myriad ways to come up with more money to sock away for your future that don’t necessarily involve getting a new job or new certifications to make more money. You can do this in a few weeks with a little foresight and determination.
The best part is that in a rather organic way, as your thoughts about spending start to morph into thoughts about how to save more, your behaviors also begin to shift to healthier attitudes too. One begets the next and before you know it, you won’t be soothe-spending to fill insecurities anymore. Instead, you’ll feel protective of your money because you’ll love yourself more for treating your Future Self with respect on multiple levels.
Find ways to save and invest 30%+ of your income or more each month and your Future Self will breathe a sigh of relief at a time when you most need it most.