*Gasp* A personal finance blogger who doesn’t wish he’d saved more money in his 20’s?!?
Yep, that’s me. And it’s not because I already saved a ton. Admittedly I didn’t – my savings rate through my 20’s was a paltry ~15% or so, give or take a few percentage points. Better than some, to be sure, but definitely nothing to write home about. Especially in the world of some personal finance bloggers who regularly save 70% or more of their income, 15% is laughable.
For as much as I didn’t save for the long term, though, I did do a few things right. And I don’t regret putting retirement a bit on the back-burner.
I Paid Off My Debts
My 20’s were a time of financial recovery. I graduated college in the red despite having no student loan debt. A horribly-planned not-trip to Vegas served as a catalyst to fuel my runaway credit card debt.
I added a car loan just six months after graduating before having paid off all of my credit cards. The interest rate sucked. Over time I got so irritated with the loan that I decided to wipe out what money I did have saved (basically a 5 month emergency fund) and destroy the note once and for all.
Allocating money to paying off debts was more important to me in the short-term than retirement. I could feel the squeeze on my budget from the car loan. Retirement seemed so distant to me that I didn’t put much thought into it.
I Funded My Own Cross-Country Move
When I asked my boss if I could work remotely from California I wasn’t expecting him to say yes. When he did, there was ONE major caveat: since it was my idea, the company could offer me no salary increase.
I didn’t care.
Despite moving to one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the US, I was just thankful that I’d have a job. My rent in California was about three times what I’d been spending with roommates in Minnesota. That put a big strain on my finances.
But it was also a mile from the ocean, and I’d never have to deal with driving in the snow out there. I was able to still save money, but definitely not at a noteworthy rate.
I Still Saved For Short Term Stuff
All the money I did have saved was for short-term stuff. My down payment on a duplex that fell through turned into my cross-country move fund. I bulked up my emergency fund again finally.
After Kristin and I started dating, I started putting money away to help pay for our wedding that I knew we’d have. We eventually had both of us funneling money into that once we got engaged.
One day the goal was to move back to Minnesota – maybe in our 40’s – so I started saving a little bit for that.
When I got a phone call from a good friend asking me to come work for her, “our 40’s” suddenly started looking like “in two months” instead. Another cross-country move, funded by yours truly (at least this time with the help of Kristin).
The Best Memories Are Free(ish) Anyway
I had an amazing decade of life in my 20’s. Some of it was fueled by money. Much of it was not. The best memories I have weren’t about dropping money on my Sonata or on something I didn’t need.
No, the best memories I had were things that had very little to do with how much money I had in the bank.
Like that one time my best friend came up to visit me in Minnesota and somehow a frog got into my apartment, and we chased that elusive bastard around.
Or taking a road trip down to Florida with my high school friends after we’d graduated college.
Camping in Panama City Beach over spring break with two of my good friends, and going to clubs and not drinking at them.
Waking up at 5:30 the day I left for California and saying goodbye to my family – and then getting all the way to Colorado before the caffeine and adrenaline started to wear off.
Screaming at the top of my lungs when an alarm woke me up at 3:30 when I was taking one one of my college roommates down to Texas. We still laugh about it to this day!
Those memories will stick with me and they didn’t require a significant cash outlay by themselves at all.
Saving More Would Have Stopped All Of This
As much as I want to say the best memories are free – and often times they are – the fact of the matter is I spent a lot of money in my 20’s. Money to travel and see things and visit friends. Sure, some of it was on stuff, and not all of my money was spent wisely.
But looking back, I’ve realized that if I’d saved more money in accounts I couldn’t touch, I know I’d not be in the place I am today.
There’s no way I could have afforded to move across the country on my own if I’d squirreled away the full contribution limit in my 401(k). Not moving across the country would mean never meeting Kristin, never moving in together.
Finding the Balance
I had dreams and goals and ambitions in my 20’s that needed money to support them. Saving for retirement is important – critical – but it’s not the only thing. My 20’s were about living life in the moment. The decade of my 30’s will be about finding balance between this moment and the future.
Finding a healthy balance between living your life today and saving for tomorrow is an ongoing process. Even now we don’t have it fully nailed down.
We’re still early in our journey together. Sometimes we swing too far one direction, and then over-correct in the other. Over time we hone in on what that balance is for us. Our dreams will change. Goals will evolve.
It’s not an easy journey and it’s never a straight one. One step at a time, though, we’re working our way forward.
How do you find balance between living in the moment and saving for down the road?