“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
Welcome to money month on SDS. In keeping with my 101/1001 goals I’ll be keeping a spending diary and reporting in weekly on where my money goes so that you, faithful minions, will keep me honest. There will also be posts on the subjects of money, spending, and adjacent choices. I’m curious to read your thoughts and feedback.
We the Small Dog clan have an odd sort of problem. We aren’t bad with money, but we’ve always made just enough to not have to worry about it. Hurrah for you, check your privilege, you might respond–which would not be an unreasonable admonition–but it has had a curious side effect in that we have never prioritized saving as much as I think we should have. Between rent, groceries, cars and subsequently travel cards, etc., most of our money has always been spoken for the moment it arrives in our pockets. We’ve always had a bit extra…and instead of saving, we’ve typically spent it.
There are some socioeconomic factors at work here. Jeff and I are millennials and like many of our generation we are paying off massive student loans. We were fortunate in that I had a job through the recession, during the worst of which we lived in a cheap university town, but it’s still had long term impact. Our savings from my first job financed our move to London but for several years we were paying over $1,000 a month towards student loans which was, in a word, backbreaking. We’ve also tended to prioritize personal goals over financial goals (one of the key insights that came out of an Edelman study looking into generational behavior) such as living in a major city abroad rather than buying a house and preferring purchasing experiences to stuff. We’re not extravagant, but the fact is that there have been times that we’ve overspent or life has been more expensive than anticipated (losses in the family requiring international travel, for instance).
We also live in one of the most expensive cities on earth. By choice. But nearly everything is more expensive for us than it would be most anywhere else. There are endless think pieces and reporting on Londoners moving further and further out from the city in order to afford rent. Expats without UK driver licenses, we need to live more centrally as we rely on public transportation to get around. Rent is, as a result, our biggest expense by far and followed closely by food. Would we like to own property someday? Sure, but it seems like a very faraway goal. It’s not outrageous for a good but basic house in a well connected part of the city to cost over £1m. For a central London home, a deposit of close to £100k is not atypical and, according to this piece in The Telegraph, if we were able to set aside £500 a month towards a down payment, we’d be able to save up to that…in about 16 years. Yikes.
Years back I made it a goal to put a specific sum (nowhere near the £500 mentioned above) in savings monthly and have mostly kept to it. But in six months of freelancing it has been hard to keep that up and some of those unexpected life incidents have periodically depleted or swallowed our savings over 7.5 years of marriage. We’re fortunate to have not really struggled thus far (written with the biggest knock-on-wood possible), but an unexpected side effect of this making of enough-to-get-by-comfortably-but-not-much-more has been an attitude of living in the moment, financially speaking, and not really thinking as much about the future as we should.
Which is why I’m making savings and budgeting a much bigger priority moving forward. This is part of my Year of Less, in that I want specifically to cut down on casual spending, consume less in general, and budget more closely. But overall, I want to start cultivating a saver’s mindset. It will be a shift, but as I start thinking about the second two thirds of our lives, it’s one I want and need to make.
What has had a significant impact on how you think about money–a book you read, an experience you had, a relationship you’ve been in or witnessed? What were the immediate effects? The long term ones? And how have the past few years changed (or cemented) your ideas about money?