So this post is about 2 struggles I encountered this week:
- How do you know when to choose life, and when to choose your financial goals?
- How do you manage the reactions and expectations of your friends, who may not have similar financial priorities?
So this weekend I made a somewhat difficult decision about money because it was one that fell under the “life or money” debate. Not in the Your Life or Your Money sense (although that is an excellent book that I highly recommend), but in the sense of this: How do you know when to choose life and when to prioritize your financial goals? I know, I know, they always say to buy experiences, not things, and that you have to live and can’t always be focused on cutting corners and budgeting, or it won’t be sustainable. The thing is though, sometimes you have to choose the financial goals in order to achieve them, but how do you know when? I had been going back and forth for a while about whether or not to go on a hiking trip with some friends. It was nice to be invited, because they’re a fairly new group of friends, and it would have been a good time, I’m sure. However, I have a lot of debt to pay off, and a good chunk of it is high interest rate credit card debt, which I consider to be a serious situation. I sort of kept asking people (maybe to the point of badgering them!) if anyone had estimated any kind of budget for it, but no-one had. I kept being told “It is going to be really cheap!”, “It’s camping!” Eventually, when I had enough information about the cost of several elements of the trip (gas, lodging, food, likely incidentals), I calculated that, with about 25$ of padding, the trip was likely to cost about 300$ per person. Now, this is not an exorbitant amount of money for a vacation to be sure, but seeing as this was not my main vacation, but just a trip I was invited to rather last minute, it seemed like a lot. Due to my high minimum payments on my student loans and other debt, and my relatively low income, after my mandatory monthly payments I am currently able to budget 300$ per paycheck of extra payment on my credit cards. This means that, for me, 300$ is a whole paycheck’s worth of capital repayment on my credit cards. That’s a big deal! Every 300$ gets me one bi-weekly period closer to a small modicum of freedom, and freedom is not something I take (or give!) lightly. Based on this, and after much back and forth in my mind, I politely declined, explaining the budget I had come up with, and sharing that I needed to dedicate the cash to my loans for the time being. I was actually a bit surprised by the response. The woman responded that she would be “really surprised” if the trip cost 300$, but “whatever, do what you need to do”. So this surprised me for a couple reasons. Firstly, I was a bit surprised by the tone, but secondly, and what has given me pause since is, based on the costs of accommodation, food, and gas that she had put forward, how very easy it would be for them to get to 300$. The lodging estimate given was 75$ or more. They also need to buy groceries for 4 days, which, in Canadian dollars and in our urban area, let’s call that 80$, gas for the 9+ hour drive each way (18-20 hours), split between 3 people, could cost about 50$+ per person, plus meals out (which this group is a fan of) 30-50$, plus any alcohol purchased (In Ontario 20-50$). At a bare minimum, without room for any incidentals, this is costed at 255$. The point is, for me, at this point in my life, it doesn’t matter if it’s 200$, 250$, or 300$, because it’s still an amount I don’t really have if I also have a large outstanding credit card balance. In the end, I just apologized again for the inconvenience, and carried on with my life, albeit a little irritated.
But this whole struggle has got me thinking about how you know when to choose what. In the same week, I bought new shoes for work. I am not someone who has a lot of shoes. In fact, I recently wore the same pair of white boat shoes for so long, that i actually started to get made fun of for it at work. I get it, white shoes are not that subtle, and I did wear them with absolutely everything for months on end. The thing is, I have always had a really hard time spending money on clothes for work. I guess the thinking (erroneous though it may be) is “This isn’t my real life, this is just work, I don’t want to spend money on this!” And speaking of the book Your Money or Your Life, I always think about an argument they make. They say that anything you have to buy for work (clothes, gas, supplies) and any time you have to spend getting there or home, or getting ready, are all really part of the time you spend working. So you have to divide your pay by how many total hours you dedicate to the job, and subtract what you spend on the job, to determine how much you really get paid for it. Suffice it to say that summer rolled around and I didn’t have any shoes appropriate to wear at work. Also, I have very difficult to fit feet (don’t tell anyone, but even though I’m a woman, I wear a mens 9.5 2E/wide). I also had sustained a running injury a couple months earlier, and I was desperate for some shoes that didn’t make my feet hurt. So I went to the specialty shoe store, and found some beautiful sandals that not only fit my (double wide) feet, but they had arch support! I was in heaven. Obviously these were not cheap, and I think I left the store having paid 145$ for them. So here again, what to do? Did I choose an object over an experience? I mean, I needed shoes for work, and the experience of walking around without foot pain is pretty glorious. But it still made me think.
Another note I will make on this is about the reactions of my friends to my conversations about money. Money isn’t really something I engage in a lot of open discussions about with my friends, but it does come up, usually in contrast to me referencing that it’s a focus of mine at the moment. I have found generally, that a lot of the people around me don’t seem too focused on it. A lot of solutions I have been presented for various issues sound something like “Oh just go get a new watch” “Go get some new shoes” “Go get some new skis, I can tell you where to go.” Upon deeper conversations with these people, I often hear things like, “Oh yeah, I have debt too, but I’m trying to focus on my life”, or “Oh yeah, everyone has debt, you always will, you just have to live your life anyway.” Now, obviously you have to live your life, and you can’t always be budgeting, cutting corners, and being frugal, but if you want to accomplish anything, then surely you do have to do those things a good percentage of the time, right? So how do you decide when it is the time, and when it is not? This is something I am still trying to determine, and so far, I don’t have any hard and fast rules, I’m just going case by case.
The last thing I will talk about is something I don’t know what to make of. Most of the friends I have been talking to, and all of the examples in this story, are women. I was doing a google image search for stock photos to use for this post before I started writing, and when I looked up “woman” and “choice” together, all the pictures that came up were about dieting or working out. Ex: a woman looking confused over the choice between an apple and a plate of chicken wings.
Also, when I googled “choice” on it’s own, the search returned a bunch of results with men (usually in suits) standing at the base of a path with many arrows, or options. I thought a few things, 1) why are none of these women?, and 2) Why are they all wearing suits? (Though I’m not sure that part matters).
I found this dichotomy to be interesting, and relevant to my recent struggle. Is financial competence/proficiency just not a topic on the minds of most women? And if so, why not? If this difference exists, what is it in our socialization that accounts for this difference? Why do the only choices for women depicted in the google image search center around our waistlines? Or am I just talking to the wrong people?
Anyway, this challenge got the wheels of my mind turning on a lot of topics, but for me, the takeaways are this:
- Determining how and when to choose life or financial goals, so far, is going to be on a case by case basis for me.
- When money is an object, you can’t do everything, but you can do some of the things, and I personally need to listen to myself to see which ones feel right for me.
- I have no idea if there are women out there encountering these same struggles as I am, but if there are, I would love to hear from them.
Anyhoo, thanks for reading, and hopefully you have some things to think about too!