I wasn’t surprised to see this recent article from the New York Times shoot its way up the most e-mailed articles list. After all, the NYT Most Emailed List a good way to gauge the temperature of a particular subsection of society, and it seems that right now that particular sub-section, along with everyone else, is concerned about money! And when people are concerned about money, that concern often spills over to parts of their lives that they usually feel are pretty distinct from money, like goals and relationships. Now all us Queercents readers know that money isn’t so very far away from anything in our lives, but the NYT puts it nicely:
So much of what we want — or don’t want — out of life boils down to dollars and cents, whether it’s how hard we choose to work, how much we consume or how much we save. For some people, it’s working 80-hour weeks to finance a third home and country club membership; for others, it means cutting back on office hours to spend more time with the family.
“A lot of the debates people have about money are code for how we want to live our lives,” said Betsey Stevenson, assistant professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who researches the economics of marriage and divorce. “A lot of the choices we make in how we want to live our lives involve how we spend our money.”
The crux of the article is that many of our conversations about our dreams are really about our money, and what we want to do with it. In a personal way, we each struggle with the right balance of spending and saving, which, writ large, is kind of a struggle between our dreams and our reality. Sorry for getting all deep on you (I was a philosophy major in college), but I think framing our financial habits this way can be really fruitful. For example, one of the lovely things about each of our dreams is that they can be very specific, and very diverse. Someone wants to buy a brownstone in Brooklyn with a vegetable garden, someone else wants to snorkel their way around the world. We have such a diversity of dreams! But when it comes to falling into bad financial habits, it seems we all do the same things- put our dreams on the back burner.
I believe the ideal balance of saving and spending would be found in spending only for your needs and saving for your dreams. Your dreams don’t have to be big things- maybe one of your dreams is to eat out twice a week, or have more than one kind of body wash (that’s one of mine!). But they have to be things you are aware of caring about. The problem arises when we needlessly spend- not for our needs, not for our dreams. I know that for me it is very easy for my dreams to evaporate when I see a fancy candle 40% off. Who ‘s with me?! My goal is to not forget my dreams in the face of a big “SALE” sign, or some fancy language on a menu.
That’s where the “Give Yourself Credit Card” comes in. I have one in my wallet. It’s bright pink and the first thing I see when I open it up to get out money. It has a picture of that aforementioned Brooklyn brownstone, as well as some curlicues around the edges to symbolize vegetable vines. While it is small, it is a silent and powerful reminder to me to put my dreams first. And that path to putting those dreams first is making good decisions now. I want to give *myself* the credit for making smart financial choices, instead of giving the stores my credit card.
Making a “Give Yourself Credit Card” is easy- and fun for kids too! I just used a bright index card and pasted some pictures on it, collage style. When I was done, I wrote down one financial promise to myself on the back, as well as one thing I’ve been really proud of regarding money. Then I laminated the whole thing with packing tape (you could use a laminator, but this is more DIY), and ta-da! Put it in your wallet and make a commitment to putting those dreams first- you might just get to them faster!