This is my mantra. Don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone’s highlight reel…#truth.
What makes me different than “frugality experts,” is that I’m not always on point, and I don’t know if I would even consider myself an expert, I’m just a person who knows who wants to save money so life can be generally, better.
I’m not going to talk about how to save money on laundry detergent or how you can save money reusing your dryer sheets. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage. I’ve been out of college for 5 years and out of graduate school for 3 years. I paid off my student loans by being crazily frugal for years (and now am still sort of crazy).
For many years, I was in survival mode to try and keep loans at a minimum and my expenses under 4 figures. I never got into steep consumer debt because it scared me so much I sold off my car to avoid it and took the bus for 2 years. When I had to, I moved home for 6 pride-punching months. Later, I saved up for a wedding, then we decided not to have one. The last decade of my life has been a frugality journey, with ebbs and flows, and sometimes, if someone started to read this blog in the last 6 months, appearances might be deceiving.
On a recent trip to Disneyworld with two of my dearest friends. In 2015, my Instagram feed is more fun than it used to be- but for years, there was a lot I didn’t share, there weren’t many highlights that were this fun.
Basically, I’m not a typical frugality blogger who talks about couponing or who thinks that designer clothes are a waste of money (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t). I’ve pinched pennies in some ways that would make people crazy- like going on 30 day no-spend challenges to accelerate my student loan repayment so I’d be able to have fun money later. I’ve written a few posts that left some people puzzled- how I spent $600 on a pair of LouBoutins and I’m still frugal (Yes, it’s still frugal if you saved for 2 years and it was your only shoe purchase for 6 months). I’m at a point in my life where less is more and I’m carefully curating things in my life and spending what money I’ve saved up in meaningful ways, but sometimes- those choices don’t always fit the mold of what a frugality blogger typically is.
In the recent reader survey, someone had posted something that made me pause- that shared that they were drowning in debt, and seeing my life and travels made them feel sad.
It made me pause, and it’s stuck with me even weeks later. I am not one who lives her life to make other people sad or feel small, and seeing that I did somehow, makes me sad, it gets under my skin. I blog to help others get out of debt, and live beautifully- no matter what their budget means for them, or what they’re going through financially. We do what we do today for a better tomorrow, and it’s not always easy. People come to my blog to get inspiration on how to live frugally for a better future, and sometimes, it is really sucky to see things that you can’t have because you’re on the path, because that future feels so, so very far away.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or you’re buried up to your eyeballs in debt, I want to first, give you a digital hug, and secondly, say that while I’m no longer in dire straights financially, I was for several years and I’m really glad that I’m no longer there. I hope that this blog will help you get OUT of a dire financial situation, and it’s not my goal to make anyone feel crappy about their lives in the meantime. I blog about finances, debt, saving money and wellness- but I also share things about my personal life, and yes, my newfound ability to travel a bit.
To me, frugality isn’t something you do just to get out of debt. Frugality, to me, is akin to a good exercise routine. If you go back to old habits after you lose 10 lbs., you’ll surely gain it back. Frugality is the money equivalent of working out, it’s all about healthy habits and maintenance.
My first apartment on the north side of Chicago. Rent was about $300- 2 roomies, no air conditioning, no laundry in house, not even a door…just a curtain. Super glam right? No regrets, but it’s how I made it work on a stupid tight budget.
In the past, I sometimes had to sometimes live by extreme frugality to help me stay out of debt, and pay down my student loan debts after I finished school. I paid off my loans awhile back, but I’m still frugal because it empowers me to finally be able to afford the things that used to be out of reach- namely, travel. I’m diligent about ensuring I’m not spending money where I don’t have to, I only shop for clothes when sales are good and there’s something I need (like the pair of rain boots I just got on Zulily for cheap, I lusted over them for 2 years and finally snagged them on sale, and had money to pay for them). I donate clothes regularly, I volunteer, and I am more about experiences than “stuff.”
I’m going to delve into my situation, and get really personal, because honestly- the situation I’m in now, where I have some play money to put towards travel took me 8 years to save up. Yep, 8 years. As no rockstar is truly an “overnight success,” no actor really gets a “lucky break,” but instead is the culmination of tiny failures and constant trial until a breakthrough- my life was really unglamorous for a long time, and if you only saw the trips I took this summer as a chapter of my life, you’ve missed the story. I share this because my happiness now, I sincerely hope, never ever makes anyone feel sh*tty about their situation. I was where you are, and I can tell you, it GETS BETTER. That’s my hope for you- that with some pain right now, you’ll experience your financial breakthrough sooner than most.
This is my story. It was 8 years of choices that lead me to where I am now, and it’s a long road, so don’t be discouraged, you’re closer than you think:
There were times my frugality was painful and my financial situation was dire- in college, I had to live on a strict $800 a month budget (which included rent) and most of my friends were on government assistance just to get food while going to school. I worked throughout college- part time in undergrad while taking care of my grandma, and then full time (with two part time jobs) in graduate school.
Yup, my bestie and I always knew the value of a dollar, even when we were little 21 year olds.
I didn’t get to go to my first choice school as an undergrad, I went to my “last” choice school, and while it was a wonderful state school, my dream of going off to college and living in a dorm was never realized. My Gram needed me, and I couldn’t justify a $25,000 bill per year I’d incur at the university I wanted to attend. I tried, but the idea of being $45,000 in debt after scholarships and financial aid scared the pants off me, so I took up residence in bummersville and lived at home, commuting 45 minutes to school and working.
I attended community college for 2 years, worked my way through school, and applied for financial aid and scholarships like it was my job…and honestly, it was. I graduated from state school debt free because I lived at home, commuted, worked part time and applied for any and every scholarship I could qualify for. I got as many books as possible from the library and saved money on my college expenses by pinching every penny and getting creative. Even with that, I graduated with debt in graduate school.
My roomie for the first few years of college. Look at all that beige. We partied.
During my 6 years in undergrad and later, graduate school in Chicago, I missed weddings, birthdays and nights out with people I missed back home. I never took a spring break. I never studied abroad. My roomie for several of those years was an 89 year old woman who needed help figuring out the tv set and needed someone to go with her to the doctor. Needless to say, Gram and I never played beer pong.
I was the first person in my immediate family to attend college, and one of the only ones in my extended family with an advanced degree. I knew, to make it work, I’d have to get creative and I’d have to make some painful compromises. Being 20 and realizing that even after 2 years at a community college paired with a part time job and scholarships, I still couldn’t afford to go to a more expensive school was totally heartbreaking, but it all worked out and my college experience did the job. I knew, even then, that I didn’t want both student loans for undergrad and graduate school- doing the math, I knew that at this stage in my life, I’d easily be $50k in debt after graduate school and undergrad had I chosen the school I wanted. It was just one of the choices I made back then, hoping it would pay off years later.
Seriously, donating blood was one of my hobbies in undergrad. Free cookies aren’t sexy or glam, but it was me.
I’m 29 now, finally debt free, and though I never got what I would have considered the ideal “college experience,” I made the best of it and don’t regret a thing.
Here’s the deal- I’m not on the defense, but I want to illuminate that you shouldn’t compare your backstage to my front stage.
Nobody takes Instagrams of their shitty nights freaking out about the medical bills. Nobody tweets about how excited they are to check into a crappy budget motel, or posts on Facebook that they’re sitting at home, alone, with a bottle of cheap wine and going over their finances for the umpteenth time trying to make money magically appear. There were many years where nothing in my life was worth talking about. While some of my friends were rushing sororities at my dream schools, I was at home, working with Gram to sort her pills. It was hard. It was boring. It was unphotogenic. It wasn’t even funny. It just sucked.
I ran in a pageant, twice and was a 2nd runner up the second time (out of pity?) I think I got a $500 scholarship. I spent the year organizing food drives & charity projects full of hometown pride- then commuted to college to save $. Not a sexy study abroad program, but it was my college experience!
So yes, when someone writes on a reader survey that my travels make them feel left out, uncool and totally discouraged, it makes my heart hurt. I don’t want to make anyone feel small, feel stuck or lend to the impression that I somehow “arrived,” when they have far yet to go.
Before this year, I had never even traveled anywhere that required a passport- my family never took vacations which required a plane ride growing up. I don’t ever mean for my travels to intimidate or turn anyone off- I’m celebrating the season I’m at now, and I don’t want anyone to feel crappy because they’re in the thick of their journey and they haven’t gotten to the glamorous parts. If your life feels totally lame, your glamorous days are coming. Whatever “glam” I have now, took 9 years of working to get, and I’m really humbled and grateful that they’ve arrived.
I wrestled my demons for a long time, and I know what it feels like, and I will not lie and say I’m happy that 9 years of frugality finally got me free, where I can choose where to save and where to splurge, instead of only having the choice to save, save, save.
I will admit, I used to be eaten alive with envy when I saw people posting trips of their spring break vacations. I used to feel my heart burning in my chest when I’d see such glamorous weddings, or an amazing photo of a high school friend beaming in front of Big Ben in London.
Man, there were days I’d just sit there and play the comparison game on Facebook, and it was a losing game. I never won those comparisons with the folks that were living it up, and eventually I had to stop and work on me…so I hustled and hoped that paying off my debts would have an emotional and spiritual payoff as well. I’m happy to say, it has. This is what I worked for.
I want the same for you. I’ve been in your shoes and I hate to do any kind of minimizing to anyone else’s experience. I’m going to say that you just have to keep paying your dues until you can cash in, and when that day comes, it will be glorious and it will be all yours. Keep going, don’t give up.