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Figuring Out What’s Important to Me


I was raised to value shelter, food and clothing. Everything else was just candy. The problem, though, is that if you’re constantly denying yourself candy, every once in a while you find yourself going on a candy bender. Then you have to pay for that bender by being even stricter with yourself than you were before…which means that your next bender will be even bigger. It’s a vicious cycle that eventually landed me flat broke in the spare bedroom of an alcoholic roommate’s apartment. Yuck.

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have the means to work my way out. The problem was that I wasn’t sure exactly what I should be working toward. I could lead a super cheap life right where I was, even if I hated it there.

That’s when I realized that my priority scale wasn’t working. So I had a sit down and I thought: in my ideal world, what would my life look like? Here’s what I came up with:

  • An apartment of my own in a neighborhood I love
  • Healthy food to eat
  • Clothing that fits properly
  • Reliable entertainment
  • Not feeling guilty because I decide to go out for a slice of pizza instead of buying something frozen on the cheap and cooking it myself
  • No more debt
  • A healthy emergency fund and healthy savings account — maybe even some investments. Nothing huge but maybe an account or two with solid CD interest rates

I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress. Here’s how I did it:

I saved every penny I could. I did this by creating a budget in which I itemized every little thing I thought I would actually buy/pay on a bill and inflated its price by 10%. I added it all up. That’s how much I worked to bring in each month.

I looked at the neighborhood I loved and figured out how much it would cost to rent a small one bedroom apartment there. I listed the highest price I found in my budget as my monthly rent price even though I hadn’t moved yet.

Each time I paid a bill/bought a thing/paid rent, I’d put the difference between what I’d budgeted and what I actually paid into my savings account. Between the small monthly bill “overages” and the large rent surplus, I was able to save several hundreds of dollars a month.

After six months, I had saved up enough to cover the cost of a basic move: first month’s rent, deposits, U-Haul van, setting up utilities. I had also managed to build up a steady six month history of solid on-time bill paying, which was good for my credit history and showed I was serious about improving my financial situation to potential landlords.

I managed to find an apartment for less monthly rent than I had budgeted and still in my favorite neighborhood in town. And that’s where I live now.

One life goal accomplished! Now to work on the rest.

This is where the want vs. need is coming in handy. I’ve allowed myself to splurge a little on things that I love, like a decent cable package and some streaming media accounts. I’ve created a space in my budget for dinners out with friends.

And you know what? I’ve found that by making space for that–and doing the extra work required to earn that–I’m less tempted toward binging on things that I don’t need but that I buy because I’m so sick of being so frugal.

So really–what’s important to you?

This post was written by Jane Brown. Do you have a debt story that you would like to share? We are always looking for personal debt related stories to share with readers. Contact us if you have something that you’d like to share


  • Reply CanadianKate |

    Having defined goals is really important.

    And it is important to define the word goal. Too many people dream and never achieve goals. A goal is a dream with a plan to achieve it.

    I’m at the opposite end of life and have achieved the 5, 10, & 15 year goals I defined when I was 27. There was a long period of drifting after that because we had achieved everything we set out to achieve and actually had no additional wants. That lasted about 8 years during which we continued to lead a budgeted lifestyle and put the excess away for the future. After the drifting phase while we got the kids out of the house, we settled into a new set of goals and are working on that now.

    Travel and church work are central to our lives now so we are giving up the big rural house, moving to a (big) apartment in the city so we are no longer tied down with property. I’ve become an itinerant preacher (my kids are still in shock!) so I’m not tied down with a single church but able to fit my preaching in with my travel.

    We’ve entered semi-retirement. Financial goals are now a thing of the past, but goals still drive our behaviour and now it is time (and health) that we must budget carefully as opposed to money.

  • Reply Victor Wooten |

    Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Reply dojo |

    Knowing what you need to do and what makes you happy can really help you save and not be frustrated. We are very frugal in some of the things others consider mandatory for their happiness (many clothes, dining out often, getting the latest gadgets as soon as they appear, getting a new car every 3 years), but we do splurge on others (say traveling). We keep to our budget, we save a lot, and what we don’t ‘waste’ on things we don’t find important, we can spend on what really makes us happy. Instead of being in debt or frustrated, we’re actually very happy and fulfilled, since the things that matter most for us are met.

  • Reply Heather :) :) :) |

    I found your blog via a really nice mention on a Facebook page called A Time for Everything. I’m a blogger myself…and I also have a lot of student loan debt still hanging over my shoulders…and I’ve decided to one) be comletely debt free and two) to blog about it to keep myself accountable and to encourage others at the same time.

    In any case, I just wanted to say a friendly hello and I look forward to reading more 🙂 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

  • Reply Jason |

    I think you did it really well. Finding an apartment that was even less than you budgeted was a huge win for you since that is such an enormous expense. I think a big thing you also touched on was how miserable it is to live frugal or like a college kid for so long. It’s tough having a better paying job but not being able to spend the additional money on things and it’s tough to see the decisions paying off. Keep rocking it and your story is inspiring!

So, what do you think ?