Friday, January 9, 2015

Can I Afford It?

The summer before I went to college, my mother sat me down and showed me how to balance a checkbook.  I was 18 1/2 years old and this was the first time she had ever talked about finances with me.

I had been babysitting since I was 14, working a real job (The Gap, a movie theater, and then a cashier at a grocery store) since I was 16. 

During those 4 1/2 years before our conversation, I would make money and spend money.  I saved $0.  When I started receiving real paychecks, I would pay the $3 fee at the grocery store for them to cash my paycheck for me.  I did not have a checking account, and I had a custodial savings account with $19 in it.

Before I went to college, my parents opened a checking account for me and that came with a debit card and a credit card.  I was told the credit card was for emergencies and it had a $400 limit.  My parents had never used debit cards and instructed me to write checks for anything I needed to buy.  To get cash out of my checking account, I was told to write a check "for cash" and take it to a teller at the bank.

My sophomore year of college (1 year later) I was renting an apartment, paying bills, and responsible for feeding myself (goodbye meal plan).  My parents sent me a specific amount of money each month and I was responsible for making sure it covered my rent, utilities, gas, and groceries.

I got a part-time job at the gym on campus and that job came with direct deposit.  My paychecks went straight into my checking account.  How cool!

My junior and senior year, I rented a house with two other girls and we were responsible for paying the rent, utilities, making our own meals, and taking care of the front and back yards (thank you college boyfriends!).

As my 33-year-old self looks back on my 19/20/21-year-old self I am amazed at what I figured out on my own (how to negotiate leases, pay bills, and scramble eggs) and what I failed to realize (how to save money).

Even with my first real job out of college, an athletic trainer for Coastal Carolina, I still didn't know how to save money.  I had a college education, my own apartment, I lived at the beach, and I had to get a second job because I didn't know how to budget and save.

I was talking to my best friend, Stacy, about this one day.  She was a year behind me in school and when she graduated she also started her first real job, had her own apartment, and she didn't need a second job.  She had been babysitting since she was 14, working as a lifeguard and swim instructor since she was 16 and had put half of her paychecks into savings. 

She was 22 and had more money in savings than I was making in a year. 

So... I made a budget.  I kept my second job.  And I began to save.
It wasn't perfect, sometimes I spent too much and sometimes I saved extra, but it was a start. 

I look back on those times and marvel at my naivety. 

Looking back has brought me to this post for today.  With the new year here and everyone talking about resolutions and goals, I wonder how many people set goals for their finances?

We (Ben and I) set goals for our finances on weekly, monthly, and yearly levels. 

We discuss them often and adjust them to fit our needs or unexpected changes (like paying for daycare or riding in an ambulance).

When Ben and I first got married, I bought two books:
Women & Money, by Suze Orman
Action Plan, by Suze Orman

If you are unsure how to manage your finances, where to start, or don't even know what the word 'finances' means; I highly recommend picking up these books and reading them.

Check out her website here

I read both books and we watched her show.  We began to plan.  We planned for everything; when we would buy a house, purchase additional life insurance, make wills, buy new cars, etc.

We still watch Suze occasionally, but we have also learned from others.  We have learned what to do and what not to do from our experiences growing up.  We have sought the advice of those older than us, and from financial planning professionals.

At the end of the day, we always ask ourselves, "Can I Afford It?"

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