Thursday, April 11, 2013

The New Normal

Today I had an epiphany as I walked home, thinking about dryer sheets.

I am highly suspicious of dryer sheets -- my mother, who did all the laundry for my family, never used them.  Allegedly they remove the static from your clothes (as caused by your clothes rubbing against the metal machine).  But I have mostly never used them, and have yet to get (static-)shocked by my freshly dry clothing.  I don't view dryer sheets as necessary because my laundry has alwyas been done without them, without any terrible consequences.  Either way, not using a dryer sheet is not going to make me rich -- people spend at most, what, ten dollars on dryer sheets every year (more if addicted to their smell, or staunchly anti-static).  BUT -- dryer sheets are just the beginning.

Exhibit B -- my mom's face (and this is not the start of a terrible joke).  While it looks great and she takes care of it (hydrating via lotions, sunscreen), she rarely wears makeup.  The biggest reason why I don't wear makeup on a daily basis either, is because that was never part of what I consider to be normal or necessary -- and as a kid, you take your cues from your parents.  And unlike dryer sheets, wearing makeup every day (and thus having to buy it frequently) can get expensive.  Of course I inevitably wore awful eye shadow in middle school, and I know my way around a mascara wand (and that highlighter under your eyes opens them up) -- a few eyeliner-in-eye injuries don't stop me from enjoying makeup on special occasions.  And I might have worn lipstick to most of my client meetings because that's the one thing that always makes me feel grown up.  Not knocking makeup itself in the slightest, but it's an expense I largely avoid.

Your expectations and comfort with money are established as you grow up and watch your parents play out their roles.  But of course there are plenty of other influential people around us, and our preferences and beliefs are evolving, not static.  Why are there people out there who make 200K and complain about living paycheck to paycheck?  They should not exist.  (If you don't believe me, check it out:

When I started working, I (like others) dialed up my spending -- going out to eat, going out to bars, endless packages from Amazon.  It's amazing how quickly that can become the new norm:  instead of treating yourself, you start to feel like you're just getting the life benefits you deserve and earned.  The smartest advice I heard upon graduating (which I promptly ignored), is to keep your student lifestyle.  Don't inflate your expenses, keep them low, and saving money will be easy.  Once you become accustomed to eating out for dinner several times a week, it begins to feel like an unavoidable expense, and curbing it feels like deprivation.  Most of us probably take some time to find the right (affordable) equilibrium.  Spending mindlessly is easy, but so is spending little once you think consciously about your decisions and goals in life.

Any expenses you see your friends paying for that you've never considered?  Did your spending change after you graduated from college, and has it changed in the subsequent years?  I don't get paying for cable, as most TV sucks or is available online nowadays -- and I don't drink coffee, so I've never made Starbucks and daily (or regular) habit.  But I'm shocked by how much (and how often) I used to spend on buying clothes.


  1. Awesome! Yeah, I really just see it as if you have it in your checking account, you will spend it. I transfer a portion of my paycheck into my savings every month where I know I will not use it unless there is something special/big I need to dive into it for... like a downpayment on a apartment, new car, etc!

    1. I totally do the same -- transfer money at the beginning of the month to my savings account. It feels harder to take it out from there. :)

  2. When I first got a real job after living off of a $700/month stipend in DC, I told myself I wasn't going to change my spending habits. If I had lived off of that little before, there wasn't any reason why I couldn't keep doing it, and put the rest of my entry-level salary in savings. Alas, it did not quite work out that way. Part of it is because, yes, your spending will expand to fit your income. But part of it too is that sometimes a really frugal lifestyle isn't really one worth living.

    I don't know if you were talking about THAT kind of saving. Where you walk a mile home in the dark at night because you literally don't have $10 in your pocket to cough up for a cab. Or you don't get lunch unless your internship has an event with food at it. But there is definitely a happy medium. I think it's important to choose a few core values and really invest time and money in them. If it's looking nice, then by all means, do the make-up and clothes thing. For me right now, it's cooking. It is actually cheaper to eat out here than to cook (here, being Ghana) because basic ingredients for most meals can be pretty pricey. I've begun investing the money anyways, because I want to learn how to cook. I've pegged that as a priority right now.

    But on the whole, I agree with you. When possible, it's good to remain frugal so that when you do find something worth spending on, it feels like a treat, as opposed to feeling deprived if you can't have something. Keep your expectations low, and you will always be pleasantly surprised!