I am extremely hard on myself. About everything. I always think that, whatever I’m doing, however I’m doing it, it’s not good enough. And when I do meet my own (very high) expectations, I’m genuinely surprised. When I don’t think I’m going to even come close to meeting my own (very high) expectations, I don’t do it. Whatever it is, I just don’t even make an attempt. Which is a really, really bad quality. But that’s a post for another day.
The point is, most of the time, I think I’m doing a really crappy job on the PF front. I’m almost 26, have almost nothing saved, and I still have a student loan and a car loan. I read about so many people who are my age, have a stockpile of cash in retirement and emergency funds, can travel, buy designer shoes, and I think: I suck. And then I think: I need to try harder! I need to do better! I ignore the fact that in the 3 years I’ve been working, I’ve cut my student loans almost in half, paid off 2 credit cards, paid off a family loan, started a retirement account, and seriously overhauled my spending habits. That would be way too rational.
But then something seemingly insignificant and unrelated to PF will happen, and I think, damn, I’ve come such a long way. And damn, it feels good. Just such a thing happened on Thursday night/Friday morning.
I had a snow day Thursday (I know, you hate me) and another one on Friday (now you really hate me!) so my floor lamp was on pretty much all day on Thursday. I have no overhead lighting in my apartment, so if I want to be able to see after 5 PM, I really rely on my floor lamp, which I’ve had since my junior year of college. At any rate, Thursday night I was sitting on my couch and was smelling this faint burning smell. After much investigation I realized that one of the bulbs on my lamp was burning its plastic covering (it’s one of those heinous Medusa lamps). Like, it was totally singed and was definitely posing a fire hazard. So I turned it off, unplugged it, and went to bed.
The next morning (Friday), I went to Target and picked out a new floor lamp. I paid $62.99 for it. I took the lamp home, assembled it, turned it on, and have been enjoying it every since.
This seems totally unrelated to my personal finance habits, I know. And on the outside, it is. But it’s the way I was about the whole lamp situation that really made me marvel at my progress. Let’s take a look at how the old mes would have dealt with this same situation:
– The old, fresh-out-of-college me would have gone to Crate and Barrel and charged a totally out-of-my-price-range floor lamp, adding to an already swollen credit card balance. I would have been momentarily happy with my new acquisition, but freaking out when it came time to pay the bills for the month.
– The crazy, I-have-to-get-out-of-debt-now-or-the-world-will-actually-end me of two years ago probably would have cried about the unexpected expense of a new lamp. Seriously, cried. Then I would have sat in the dark for a few days. Then I would have gotten sick of sitting in the dark and would have gone out and bought the cheapest and most hideous floor lamp that Wal-Mart sells, only to have to replace it in 6 months. And I would have totally beaten myself up about “caving” and buying something new.
– The I’m-so-happy-to-be-credit-card-debt-free-that-I-now-resent-having-a-budget-me of last year would have gone to Target and picked out the same lamp right-now me picked out, but I would have grumbled over the expense and wondered what type of games I’d have to play with my spending to accommodate the purchase. I was operating without a written budget at this point, and probably would have done something dumb, like only filling my gas tank halfway and praying I’d make it until my next payday before running out.
But I didn’t do any of those things. I needed a new lamp. So, I very calmly picked out an affordable but still stylish model, worked it easily into my written budget, and am now enjoying it without guilt, worry, resentment, or fear. A lamp was just a lamp.
And that, my friends, is progress.