One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer compared the experience of reading a traditional book vs. an e-reader during “The Old Country” panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival in October 2012. A book allows the reader to build an enriching relationship with a novel distraction-free while the e-reader doesn’t. Until e-readers are strictly for reading books devoid of email, social media, and news tickers, it’s impossible for a human to ignore those distractions and build the same long term relationship with the novel that the book affords. The e-reader offers small bursts of happiness and instant gratification that the book doesn’t.
I’ve often thought of this analogy during my saving and debt repayment process. I’m building a long term relationship with my money and finances but in the meantime it’s hard to pass up on day to day experiences (and expenses) that offer instant gratification while my savings goal does not. The feeling of the future experience doesn’t feel tangible, but spending money on going out to dinner, or going shopping does.
In addition to paying off my credit cards in the next year, I’m also saving to go to San Francisco the first weekend of August. I know that traveling isn’t something to do when you’re on a budget, but my Armenian young professionals group is holding its biannual global assembly and I’ll be connecting with Armenian peers from all over the world. I’ve had my eye on this trip since I got back from Armenia in October, since it will be an opportunity to reconnect with the friends I made there and, since I’m not planning any other trips or weekend getaways this year, I’m going to make this work.
It’s two and a half months away and I still can’t feel the tangibility of it yet. I know it will be a blast, I know it’s an investment in a life experience, but I still need to feel the tangibility of it in order to stay motivated. Here are a few techniques that I’m using to create these small bursts of happiness between now and August 1st.
Start a Separate Savings Account
I started a separate savings account to build a reserve for San Francisco expenses. I can transfer money in whenever I want and building that account and seeing it grow is rewarding. If I have extra money at the end of the month it goes into my SF account, if I get any reimbursements (I often front some event expenses for my Armenian group), I pretend that I’m not owed that money to spend and throw it into this account.
Adopt a Phrase to Save
Betsy and Warren Talbot saved $75,000 in 25 months in order to travel the world. In order to connect the impact that their daily purchases had on their future experience they adopted Phrase to Save. $100 = One Day on the Road, which did they want more? Each night out for dinner or drinks = XXX% of my plane ticket, hotel stay, registration fee, for the weekend. It’s helped to tell myself that each $50 expenditure = 12% of my flight. Or half of the wine tour excursion. Or a night out to dinner in San Francisco.
I also know that I get a high from spending money (not exactly a good thing) but paying for pieces of the trip one at a time is making it more tangible. Wednesday was pay day I had some money saved toward the ticket, so I bought it on the spot. Having less money in my checking account keeps me from spending. Now I’m definitely going, there’s no turning back!
Chart Your Progress
I’m using LearnVest to chart my progress toward my goals. Seeing the % increase toward your goal is so motivating and I love logging in everyday to see where I’m at. Also, you can link all of your accounts and discover your net worth. Seeing that increase as debt goes down and savings go up makes me want to save more!
Afford Yourself Cheaper Luxuries
Although I’ve given up coffee during the week, today I’m writing from a coffee shop. Cafe Grind in my neighborhood has amazing organic coffee, but at $3 for a large drip, it doesn’t fit into my monthly budget. Today I splurged for the $3 large, a hard boiled egg and a banana for breakfast. At $4.80 for the morning, I hardly call that an expensive Saturday.
I still like to go to bars with my friends too, while I’m still working on mastering the art of socializing on a budget, I have given up cabs as much as I can. (If it’s really late at night, I”m not going to sacrifice my safety) but I will take the subway if I leave the bar by 1230/1 am. I always try to stay in one neighborhood for the night, or choose places that are convenient to get to via public transportation. Limiting myself to one or two drinks is a great way to stick to a $20 budget for the night.
If it’s just one or two friends and we don’t have set plans, having a movie/popcorn/wine night is a fun way to save.
Find Other Means of Financial Support
I celebrated my 30th birthday a few months ago and my mom has been bugging me to choose a birthday gift. Instead of a “thing” I’ve asked for a financial contribution toward my trip. Since my mom is in full support of me going to San Francisco for this event, they agreed to contribute. That will cover registration fees or hotel stay which gets me closer to my goal. Also, I am expecting a referral bonus for getting my cousin a job at my company, while most of it will go toward debt repayment, I’m allocating a couple hundred dollars toward my trip.
I also sold a giftcard on Plastic Jungle, a site that up until last week, paid for giftcards. I had received a giftcard to Tiffany’s as a reward for returning someone’s wallet, and since I can’t afford anything there right now, I sold it for $100. (As of May 13, Plastic Jungle only swaps for giftcards to one of their merchant partners).
How do you stay motivated to save for something that may not seem in reach?
- Making Saving Painless: Have a Goal in Mind (budgetinthecity.wordpress.com)
- Focus Your Budgeting Efforts! (simplymoneyblog.wordpress.com)