If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would tell myself to start saving some of the money I was making from work. I’ve mentioned before that I was a hard worker when I was younger, but I was never diligent when it came to saving. I just never learned the lesson.
Looking back, I think my father might have influenced my decision. I grew up with the idea that if you have money, it was meant to be spent. My father had the same philosophy. He was always a spender. He bought houses, cars, gadgets–you name it. If you didn’t have money, you could always get a loan or put things on credit.
Saving money was a very difficult concept to grasp. My allowance when I was younger was all spent on lunch. I remember my younger brothers saving their allowance so that they could buy video games. Meanwhile, I spent most of my money buying something useless every day. It never occurred to me to set aside some money. Yes, I didn’t like asking my parents for money, but at least I knew I had the option if I wanted to. They were the Bank of Mom and Dad, after all. That was their job as parents.
Even when I was old enough to legally earn a paycheck, I spent all the money I had worked for. When I was in high school, I focused primarily on my studies so I only worked during the summer. Whatever money I earned, I kept it but it was to be spent during the year. In the end, I usually had nothing to show for the work. I was always at zero.
I started working in earnest when I was in college. I was actually making really good money. During the four years I was in college, I probably earned about $10,000. Again, I had nothing to show for it. I took out student loans, but it never occurred to me to pay off my loans with the money I had earned part-time. I was going to deal with the loans only after I had graduated from college.
So what did I do with that money?
I spent it all buying stupid things. Yes, things. Stuff that to this day still clutter my parents’ home in the US even though I now live in Japan. In hindsight, it really is all garbage.
And when you’re young, you just want to spend time with your buddies. So I went out and had fun with my friends, shopping, going places, and having meals together. Looking back, I could cry at the amount of money I could have invested.
Unsurprisingly, this pattern continued even after I graduated from college and got my first full-time job. I never really saved money or saw the need for it. Again, I finally had money all to myself and I was just ready to blow it all. After all, I earned it all. Money was meant to be spent, not saved.
I think I never really understood why people need to save money. I didn’t think the reasons applied to me at all. I was young and healthy so there was no need for me to save for medical emergencies. I was in Japan, on a permanent vacation. Even though I hate the term, I was YOLO! all the way. I needed to explore so that meant money had to be spent. I didn’t know anything about investments. Besides, the stock market was for rich people who had money to gamble. I wasn’t going to buy a house yet. After working in Japan, I was going to go back to the US and live with my parents temporarily until I found another job.
At least I was sending money back to my mom so I could make the minimum payments to my undergraduate student loans. See, I was having fun, but I was still being a responsible adult.
This still bugs me, though. If I was mature enough to understand that loans needed to be paid back, why did the idea of saving money elude me?!
I really think back to my father and his attitude about money. It has been such a powerful factor in the way I also looked and approached money when I was growing up. Since he never saved his money, I never heard anything good about it. I never heard why I should do it. Even to this day, my father does not have a retirement account. He is living off his Social Security benefits only.
It wasn’t until later in my thirties that I finally understood the security of having savings. If you have money in the bank, you have choices and options. You also have peace of mind. Having significant savings allows you to weather problems that come your way.
My maturity also finally caught up with my mortality. I realized I wasn’t going to be young anymore so I had to worry about my future, you know, when I’m older. I realized that maybe investing for my future was a lofty goal and my own responsibility.
As my savings grew, so did my confidence in myself. This whole personal finance thing was a lot easier than I thought. I just needed to boost my income, so I did, and hustled my way through. I was able to pay off my loans and save money at the same time. If I can do that, I can do anything. Saving wasn’t really that hard anymore.
I also finally found pleasure in watching my money grow. Every time I put money in the bank, the closer I got to reaching a very important goal: financial freedom. I eventually came to understand that saving money was a way to live a life that I want. If I wasn’t a slave to my paycheck, I would have more time and freedom to work on the things that I really want to do. If I could cure myself of consumerism, I would have more money to grow.
So now, I am able to fully understand why people save. I’ve learned to undo some of the bad habits of immediately spending money. I’ve come to appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears it took from me to earn that paycheck.
After a lifetime of being an irresponsible spendthrift, I’ve become a saver. I am so proud to admit that.