Thursday, July 4, 2013

Financial Freedom is Freedom

I've always been interested in personal finance.  During my last two years of college, I worked as a waitress and paid for my own apartment.  Ever since, financial independence has been crucial to me.

I'll admit, I have not been perfect. I'd always been a saver (case in point, my relatives beg me to do "something fun" with gift money) and I tend to have a general idea of how much is in my bank account at any given time.  However, I never had a written down budget and I find that I can spend money on stupid stuff (I'll forget to pack sufficient snacks and need to make a Starbucks run during the course of my day). All the budgeting templates I would find online were complicated and I felt I couldn't use them at points when my income was irregular.  Also, living on a volunteer stipend and later supporting my partner while he found work left me feeling a bit lean on cash.  I thought, "Oh, I can do a budget later, when my job situation is more stable!"  However, I learned that living paycheck to paycheck was just too stressful and I needed to change.

I got a Dave Ramsey kit for my birthday and that really changed the way I thought about money.    I learned not only that I needed to save money-I learned how.  I learned how, exactly, to allocate my cash each month, which goals I should strive for as I save (an emergency fund first, pay off all debts next, etc.) and even what insurance I would need (I had no idea ID theft insurance existed, much less that it was necessary).  It also has forced me to look ahead into fellowships I can qualify for when I choose to go to graduate school-no more debt for this chick!

I learned that, even in this economy, it is possible to get ahead financially.  Even when wages have stagnated and jobs with full benefits are difficult to come by, it's possible for us to make choices that allow us to get ahead.  It is challenging. It involves very careful planning and living well below one's means (for us, that means not going to our favorite restaurants).  However, if it means I can spend my life pursuing my dreams and live well with my companion (not to mention set my kids up well for school), it's worth it.  Further, as someone who is committed to social justice, it would allow me to give more of my resources to work I believe is important. 

We may not be able to control our jobs or the economy.  But if there is the smallest barrier I can place between me and the chaos of life, allowing me to ride the wave even if I can't stop it, then I have the obligation to do so.  I always want to help others-but I need to use my own oxygen mask before I can help others with theirs.  If you can, I'd encourage you to do the same.

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