Why Frugal Blogs Are Terrible For Me

Some people are inspired by uber frugality blogs. For me? They make me feel guilty that I spend too much money.

MMM, I can sort of handle. I just look at the parts about relative frugality, renting vs buying, how expensive cars are, savings rate time to retirement, etc. I don’t look at how much his family spends each year.

Other blogs in which people rave about how little they spend are really counterproductive for me.

I inherited the money scarcity mindset that my mom has or maybe had as she seems to be spending money more easily these days than she used to. When I was younger, I refused to let myself spend money and would guilt myself over it. I’ve finally mostly acquired a healthy relationship with money, thanks in part to my spending plan and in building a good nest egg.

I’ve never had a need to have the money scarcity mindset. Yet I’ve had it for most of my life, feeling like I can’t afford to buy a pair of pants I really want or a nice purse or to refresh my wardrobe. In high school, I saved 80% of my paychecks by transferring 80% of my income to my savings account immediately. That much was probably a bit excessive.

I would play games with myself as to how cheap I could get my grocery bill.

I would tell friends I couldn’t afford to do X activity when really it was that I didn’t want to.

I hated buying good bras because they’re really expensive. Eventually, I set myself a budget for bras that allowed me to buy 4 per year (now it’s up to 5) and not worry about the cost.

I set aside the cost to renew my passport, my Nexus/Global Entry card, and my driver’s license every month, despite the fact that I could easily cash flow any of these things.

I’m only just now in my late twenties starting to take care of my hair and skin because it seemed expensive and complicated.

I didn’t have a texting plan on my cell phone at 22 because I was too cheap. So one of my friends texted me repeatedly to try to convince me to get one. I eventually got one when I started dating someone and texting more.

I agonized and agonized over how expensive my rent was after college. I mean, I went from my parents paying my $350/month in rent in college to me paying $1,500/month in rent, which is definitely a huge jump.

I hate buying cell phones, computers, and electronics in general. Decision paralysis totally kicks in, plus spending guilt. I guilted myself when I replaced my four year old iPod that would no longer hold a charge several years ago. Mine wouldn’t hold a charge! And I still guilted myself!

There’s a difference between being frugal and cheap. I’m finally frugal and I’m proud of it. Some people have a terrible relationship with money in their 20s due to overspending. Mine was from unnecessary financial guilt and anxiety.

We all have to find our own level of frugality and then not let lifestyle inflation kick in from there.

Advertisements

Some days I feel guilty

In so many ways, my life has been pretty fortunate:

My parents paid for my college education, so I didn’t take out any student loans and graduated with assets.

I didn’t even know what the word overdraft was until I was 21 and I still have never overdrafted.

I’ve never really been unemployed – I worked in the summer between high school and college starting and was either in school or working throughout college. I took a few months off between graduating from college and starting my full-time job, but I had a job lined up.

I had a job lined up when I graduated, at a company I had interned with.

I picked a career that I enjoy and happened to be quite lucrative at the time that I graduated from college. At many other points in the last decade, finding a job in this field wasn’t so easy, while right now, it’s not so easy to find jobs in other fields.

I have what is apparently really cheap health and dental insurance through my employer.

I haven’t had to pinch my pennies at any point in my life, even though I have tracked the pennies for a good portion of it.

I can spend $6,000 in a month and still see my net worth go up.

I bought a brand-new car in cash within a year of graduating from college, while still investing for retirement and having a good cash reserve.

I can afford whatever I want, without too much concern for the future or the present.

I have a really awesome and cushy job that I quite enjoy.

I’ve never really had to worry about money.

Despite all of the above, some days I forget that my life is awesome. I dig myself into a mental hole. I feel bad for the people who aren’t in a happy, similar situation to me. Coworkers guilt me that I’m watching my spending, when really they’re just suggesting that I spend money on something that I don’t value.

One of the biggest lessons that I’m learning as I grow into my post-college life is that everyone’s life sucks at different points in different ways. Finding zen in my finances and in my life has helped to deal with the ups and downs of life.

Living by myself and having a good routine is sort of like having cash reserves. Having cash reserves helps in stressful situations.

I let myself live by crafting a spending plan that reflects my financial priorities. Sure, I’m spending a lot of money, but I’m saving > 50% of it. Saving has a purpose, but I’m past the point of going all out and saving money to deprive myself of nice things that I can afford.

But I still feel guilty some days. That’s one of the hardest parts about blogging. I worry that other people will see what I earn and what I spend and be unhappy that they’re not doing that too and lash out at me. I guess that’s part of putting my life/financial situation out there on the internet and that’s part of what makes personal finance, well, personal. I didn’t even want to publish this post, for fear that someone might lash out at me for complaining.

Readers, do you ever feel guilty about your financial situation? What do you feel guilty about?

How Blogging is Helping Me

You might wonder how blogging is helping me when I have no debt (until I close on the condo and take out a mortgage) and never have and I make really good money for being in my twenties.

I’ve learned over the last few years that I have this need to externalize EVERYTHING. Maybe I’m not introverted like I thought I was and I was just shy and not confident, but I’ve definitely always needed to externalize everything (I just had no good way to do so).

I also over-analyze everything. I spend a ridiculous amount of my free time playing around with my savings, income, and spending projections to see what I can fiddle with and how much more money I will save if my company’s stock price shoots up (since then I get more in cash when my stocks vest every quarter).

Last spring, actually around the time that I started this blog, I also started keeping a small notebook by my bed. I write in this book every night and I’m not allowed to stop writing in it until I stop over-analyzing. If I start over-analyzing something after I put the book away and turn the light out, I turn the light back on and write some more in the book. Some days, I write mostly about feelings, sometimes about the events of the day, sometimes about finances. This book (I don’t like calling it a journal or a diary) has been so amazing to my mental sanity.

I would compare what the notebook on my bedside table has done to my mental sanity to what this blog has done. Sure, I have always been a saver, but I have also always been a terrible spender. Externalizing my thoughts on money is far, far healthier than keeping them all bottled up inside, which is what I was doing before.

So, yes, I am pretty good with money, but I still think about it A LOT, to the point that it’s unhealthy. Remember how some of my goals for 2011 were around financial anxiety? That has gone way down with keeping this blog. I do still check on my checking account every day to make sure that there are no suspicious transactions, but I don’t get anxious about it, nor do I check anything else in an obsessive manner anymore.

Thank you to all of my readers for helping me to develop a healthier relationship with money!! :) You are all awesome. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop blogging. This has helped me way too much to do that.) Here’s a call-out to my most faithful commenters:

And thank you to all of the readers who don’t comment, but are still producing visitor statistics that make me believe that other people are reading along :)

Financial Goals for 2012

Save as much as possible:

1. Max out my traditional 401(k) – $17,000.

2. Invest 20% of my gross income. Use my Roth IRA to the maximum that I am eligible and invest the rest in my taxable investment account.

3. Save $3,000 towards a car replacement in 9 years by automatic transfer of $250 each month.

4. Re-pay the various savings buckets that I borrowed from to form my down payment in priority order: taxable investments, emergency fund (including improving it to 6 months at the new level of expenses), car replacement. Estimate of completion of each in order: January 2012, August 2012, November 2012. (Total: ~$20,000)

5. Put any leftover savings amounts after paying myself back into an “other” savings account and figure out what to do with this in 2013 when I will have extra monthly cash flow.

Have excellent credit:

6. Make all mortgage payments on time.

7. Make zero requests to change the limits on my credit cards throughout all of 2012 – let the credit card companies come to me.

Keep financial anxiety to a minimum:

8. Maintain my system of: a) nearby credit union for checking, most/all of my emergency fund, vacation savings, and other small and/or short-term goal savings, b) Ally for larger, more long-term savings amounts (e.g. car replacement and down payment funds).

9. Only check my checking account once per week, to ensure that there were no fishy transactions.

10. Only check my Vanguard account on the 2nd business day of the month (when the previous month’s dividends post in my 401(k) account). Wait until they post to write my monthly summary.

11. In January, create an investment plan for the year and stick to it.

Net worth:

After much deliberation, I decided not to set a net worth goal for the year. With the bonus structure of my income, my income could swing wildly in 2012, so I didn’t want to make a goal that could be unachievable despite huge efforts on my part. I am going to concentrate on how much I am saving and investing in 2012. I will still track my net worth, but I’m not striving for a particular number. If I hit all of the above savings and investing goals, then I will be saving about $50,000. That could turn into a net worth increase of $50,000, but it could not, so I don’t want to spend the year stressing about that.

Income/Savings:

Since I bought my condo and will move in in February, my spending will change a bit and my monthly savings will go down a bit as well. I am anticipating about $10,000 gross in more income in 2012 than what I earned in 2011 which should translate to about $7,000 more in savings and investments, but we will see how that plays out.

Mortgage:

I don’t plan on making any mortgage pre-payments in 2012 because I don’t want my condo to be too high of a percentage of my overall net worth and I will spend a good portion of my discretionary savings paying back my various savings buckets. I will re-evaluate this decision once I have re-paid all of my various savings buckets.

Rewards Checking Account

My credit union offers a rewards checking account that is earning a reasonable rate. (Where reasonable rate = a higher rate than their high interest savings account)

I’m debating moving the contents of my savings account into there and then keeping track of the subaccounts (checking versus savings) in a spreadsheet to take advantage of the higher interest rate. I would earn about $18-25 more per month in interest with all of the funds in my checking account.

I don’t worry about the accounting perspective – I have a good system in place for that. I don’t worry about meeting the minimum number of debit transactions per month – I eat out for lunch most days, which covers that easily.

So then what do I worry about? I worry about having $25,000 sitting in my checking account and being more open to fraud than having $3,000-$5,000 in my checking account and $20,000 in my savings account.

Readers, do you use a rewards checking account? Did you have this same worry? How did you overcome it?

Update on reducing financial anxiety

I think I am off to an okay start. This week:

  • I checked my checking account once – to see if the rent check had gone through. I haven’t written a check for rent in awhile (I was using the auto withdrawal authorization), so I wanted to make sure. I’ll probably believe it goes through next month.
  • I checked my Vanguard account on Wednesday to see if the IRA recharacterization had gone through and it hadn’t, so I checked again on Thursday. On Thursday, it showed as pending, so I set a reminder to convert it back to a Roth on Friday. On Friday, I logged in, converted the IRA and logged out. Today, I checked that the conversion went through and now I will hopefully leave it alone until June 2nd.
  • I logged into a visa account to pay it, a few days after I knew the statement had processed.
  • I just logged into my credit card accounts to see which one I should use for the next few days since it’s getting close to the bill dates and a pair of shoes was credited back to my account almost equal to the dollar amount that I normally spend on the card.
  • I logged into my stock grants account to see if the new grant was there yet and it was. I normally only log into that account when I get an email about a statement.
Next week the goal is to:
  • not log into my Vanguard account
  • not log into any of my credit card accounts
  • not log into my checking account
The following week, I will allow myself to:
  • log into my two credit card accounts that have a statement closing date so I can check the balance
  • and my checking account to pay the credit card accounts

Goals for 2011

Save as much as possible:

1. Max out my Roth IRA – done in early April.

2. Max out my Roth 401(k).

3. Bump my emergency fund up by $4,000.

4. Save $3,000 towards a car replacement in 10 years.

5. Save $20,000 towards a down payment on a house.

Have excellent credit:

6. Have a credit limit of $1,000 on my Amazon.com Rewards Visa card.

7. Raise the limit on my primary card.

Reduce financial anxiety:

8. Have only one checking account that I actually use – done in early April.

9. Don’t check my bank accounts daily. (I’ve never overdrawn, so this is a safe goal.)

10. In May, only enter my receipts into my spreadsheet twice – once on the 15th and once on the 1st of June.

11. Only check my Vanguard account on the 2nd business day of the month (when the previous month’s dividends post in my 401(k) account).

12. Make no more trades until January (except to convert the traditional IRA back to a Roth IRA).

And one final, golden goal:

Achieve a net worth of $100,000.

I would say that all of these goals are attainable, but the ones to reduce financial anxiety will likely be the most difficult.