Money Talks: Let’s make 2018 the year we get our financial shit together
Jessica Lio // Online Editor
Growing up in a low-income household, money seemed to be the focus of most family conversations. We weren’t living in poverty by any stretch of the imagination, but my parents worked minimum-wage jobs for years before saving up enough to start their own business, and they made sure my sister and I learned to be grateful for the roof over our heads and the food on the table.
I was expected to pursue a “good” degree, to earn enough money to live the life my parents never got to. I got my first job when I was 14, knowing that I’d have to save up for university, and since then I haven’t gone longer than four months without working at least one or two jobs. Despite my mom’s extensive efforts to teach me the value of money, at some point, I grew to resent money and the struggle that I’d associated with wanting more of it. I didn’t want to stress about having money, I just wanted to do what would make me happy and live the life I wanted.
My spending habits started out small. Coffee once a week, some used books every few months, a couple concerts each year. But small habits eventually make a big difference, and in my case, it wasn’t for the better. In my first year of university, I spent $2,000 on concerts and entertainment alone. I was buying food every day and shopping whenever I felt like it. Then, using borrowed money, I even booked a flight to the UK and wound up spending more than a semester’s worth of tuition in the span of three weeks.
I thought I was working hard and deserved to treat myself here and there, but in reality, I was living well beyond my means and spending money I didn’t have. Living paycheque-to-paycheque as a student with minimal expenses felt so harmless. I had no “real world” problems to worry about, and even though my bank account would always end up at zero within a week and a half of my paycheques coming in, I never worried that interest was collecting on my credit card and phone bills because I was sure there would be income on the way.
Looking back, it sounds so short-sighted and frankly, self-centered. While my parents worked 80-hour weeks, I was spending money as if it meant nothing and making excuses to justify it all. I’d be lying to say most of the experiences I spent so much money on were imperative to the person I am today. If anything, indulging in all the things that made me feel good in the moment usually set me further away from the life and future that I wanted for myself. What I was really doing was trying to mask the powerlessness I felt when it came to money. I wanted to believe that money didn’t matter, that it would be greedy or materialistic to worry about it.
At the end of 2017, after telling myself for eight years that “next year” I would do better, it dawned on me that with no action, the next eight years would very well look the same. So, I’m here to start this conversation and make a simple case for students to develop their financial literacy. In times when consumerism permeates every facet of our culture and lifestyle, changing the way we think about money and taking ownership of our personal finances are some of the best things young people can do to take control over the lives we want for ourselves.
Just as there are countless ways to pursue a healthy lifestyle, there’s no limit to what financial independence and freedom must mean, but the first thing to do is think about what you might want it to look like for you. I won’t tell you that motivation alone will get you where you want to be, but without the “why”, all the tips and tricks in the world won’t make a difference.
And if you don’t think you have the self-discipline to make the changes you want to see, the great news is, people aren’t just born with self-discipline. In the same way that you can exercise a muscle group to make it stronger, you can learn to control your financial habits.
As I said before, it’s the small habits that add up to make huge changes. So, in this column we’ll learn how to build up those small habits. It’s going to take discipline and breaking bad habits and a commitment to keep going even when you get off track, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, the alternative is really no better.