It’s okay to admit it: We all want big things in life. Some of us want bigger and flashier things than others, but that’s neither here nor there in this discussion. The point is we’re working on a path to greatness and sometimes that includes splurge buys. You guys know I don’t give a crap about name brands and flashy items, but I do care a lot about investing in quality things – both quality items and quality time with the people I love, preferably in really cool places.
Part of the journey to becoming the best version of yourself will involve learning and eventually mastering prioritization. As we dig deep and decide what things we most desire and value in life, how we should prioritize our time, commitments, and purchases will become clearer and clearer. And then everything else will just fall into place.
I’m not suggesting that this is an easy process. In fact, it can be distinctly difficult in the world we currently live in that is full of distractions. But you’ll find that the further you get on your journey, the easier it is to block out what doesn’t bring you peace and strength. I know that probably sounds like mumbo jumbo right now, but in time you’ll see what I mean.
One piece of the prioritization process is budget-related. How you spend your hard-earned money deserves some serious thought. It requires introspection, a plan of action, determination, sometimes some tears, recalibration, and a bit more introspection again, but then eventually you’ll find more clarity in your life than you ever thought possible. Yes, it’s totally about the money. But it’s also about your values, your worth, your time, your desires, your needs, and the life you want to live.
My personal monetary lifestyle is a culmination of so many pieces of advice I’ve received and books I’ve read over the years. But there’s one bit that sticks out above all the rest, and it comes from Ramit Sethi in I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Contrary to how the title comes across, Ramit doesn’t teach you to go from a $300/week salary to a $30K/week salary in a year or anything like that. Ramit is big on the concept that “riches” are different for each of us, because we all have different values. What he does teach is how to figure out what is valuable to you and prioritize that in your own life. And then he teaches you how to budget accordingly to go after those things in life that mean the most to you. I HIGHLY recommend this book to every person reading this. There is no person who his wisdom won’t help somehow.
But I’ll go ahead and move on to the one piece of advice you need to start with. Are you ready? Here we go:
Spend where it matters, squeeze where it doesn’t.
What this means is you have to identify what brings you the most joy or worth in your life and stop feeling guilty for prioritizing that in your budget. But also identify what doesn’t take priority and stop overspending in those categories. Here’s the step-by-step layout:
Decide what is most important to you. This is often easy to do just by looking at your current financial statements and seeing what (that’s non-essential) you spend a lot on, but not always. Do you care most about shoes? Living in a nice part of town/having a nice place to live? Living out in open spaces? Eating chocolate? Eating at Michelin Star restaurants? Crazy fast bikes? Flying first class? Drinking Starbucks on the daily? Buying expensive clothing? Taking a lot of trips? Investing in your education? Eating out a bunch? Attending events or concerts?
Whatever it is that really drives you – and this should be limited to one or two things – then just start budgeting for it. Stop feeling guilty. Even if others try and make you feel ridiculous or guilty for loving it. Cut them out of your life, or especially out of your stream of thought. If you love it, OWN IT. Wear those Prada shoes, buy that apartment in the city, drink your daily overpriced crappy coffee, fly on that bike that weighs an 18th of your body weight, be your best version of you.
Decide how much to spend monthly on what drives you. This shouldn’t be some arbitrary number, but rather one to come out of research. If you want a great apartment in NYC, you need to know what that costs to work the rest of this monetary plan. If, in that scenario, you’re willing to take on roommates, make sure you’re looking at available two- or three-bedroom apartments and dividing both rent and utilities (and possibly parking) by the number of rooms. Don’t kid yourself about the expense of this dream of yours. You have to be honest with yourself.
If it’s shoes, how many shoes do you average buying per month when you go a little crazy? How much do you spend total?
You might have to cut these numbers slightly when taking on the next steps, but just reach for the stars for right now.
Map out your current ‘must have’ expenses. Is there anything you know you can reduce right off the bat? This is the time to pull out the ol’ itemized bank statements and see where you’ve been paying for subscriptions you no longer use, close your gym membership if you’ve moved to a building that has one built in, maybe stop hitting the McDonalds every morning for breakfast because you get up too late to throw an egg in the pan. Don’t force yourself to stare at it for hours – just skim the surface and pull out the noticeable ones – but definitely be honest about money you already know you shouldn’t be spending.
What daily habits are unnecessary? Where can you squeeeeeze? If Starbucks coffee if your grind, then far be it for me to judge you. But if it’s not, and you’re grabbing one on the daily for the convenience of it, then you should consider squeezing that expense. Invest one week’s worth of coffees in a Hydroflask (or similar), find a great home brew concoction that you love by experimenting with recipes and ingredients, and make that shtuff every morning to bring with! You’ll feel satisfied, fulfilled, and it will be just as tasty. You might love it even more after putting so much effort in!
The same can go for your living situation. If a nice apartment is your ideal, then spend on your space! But if it’s not, how can you downsize, pay less, get a roommate, move across town, sell some furniture, whatever it takes? Your lodging is often your biggest expense as an adult, so put some thought and effort into this one and it will truly pay off in the long run.
What can you automate to avoid tricky fees? Automation, when done right, is king of optimization. If you’re awful about remembering to make payments, then set up automatic payments! It will force you to remember ahead of time. Just put a reminder in your phone to check your bank accounts the day before such a payment is set to come out. Some companies will even give you a discount for setting up automatic payments
Pro tip: Automatically depositing money into your savings account(s) is an excellent financial hack, too!
Reassess weekly to ensure you stay on track. I like Sunday mornings but this can be any day of the week that works for you. Especially the first few weeks or even months, I recommend going over your bank and credit card statements line-by-line every week, and analyze how closely you’re staying on track with your plans. Or, how far off you are. If you find that what you thought was a priority in your life actually isn’t, or that you forgot about something else that you want to prioritize, then GO FOR IT. If you find that you need to keep tweaking your plan to make it work for you, DO IT. But definitely reassess regularly because if you don’t keep yourself in check, who else is going to do it?
It’s worth noting that your priorities in life might change over time. At one point travel might be worth living in a shoe box for, but then eventually you might want a big house to provide for a future family. Or one year it might be crazy shoes but then you might shift to expensive jewelry. In your 20s it might be all about education and in your 30s more about quality time (or vice versa!). At the end of the day, you have to learn to reevaluate as often as necessary. Just don’t simply reevaluate your values without reevaluating your spending, too.
I hope this guidance helps spark you to read Ramit’s masterpiece I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and that it helps you identify what ‘rich’ means to you. I also hope you’ll drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know about a topic related to this post. What you need to know is exactly what I want to write about!