A Rational Paranoiac’s Guide To Finances

February 13, 2017

Any retirement advisor will tell you that you should be saving money for your golden years right now. The steps are simple — set a percentage to withhold, don’t even think about it as income and occasionally check in and adjust your investments. Somehow, that $75 you save every month reproduces by budding, and come age 65, you’re that tanned, spry dude with three boats in the garage and six vacations on the calendar.

But what if you’re like me — a left-leaning urban millennial who is reasonably convinced that the world is going to look a lot like “The Road” by the time I “retire”? (And by “retire” I mean “successfully escape from the city and hide in the wilderness.”) How do you throw money into a financial institution when you’re not sure that said institution is even going to be around by the time you can withdraw your ducats?

What I’ve learned, as someone with barely any financial acumen and no saving skills, is that I need someone or something to keep me on the rails. Like many people my age, spending on the “candy” of life — brunches, bar tabs, new gadgets and the like — is a problem for me, and I need some help learning responsible spending. Since I’m not shelling out for a financial advisor yet, I’m here to rep an online service that has given me at least a modicum of self-control when I’m filling up my Amazon cart or thinking about buying a $13 sandwich for lunch.

It’s called EveryDollar, and over the last few months it has definitively improved my financial standing. It’s just your basic online-and-app budget tracker that lets you build a pretty detailed picture of your finances, and it’s specifically tailored to users who want to get their savings game together. It’s also helpful for users who have a pile of debt to work through and pay down.

We’ve all taken a look at the ol’ bank account and decided “I’m just not buying lunch anymore,” only to feel guilty when you’re splurging on a salad three hours later. Over time, EveryDollar reorients your thinking away from “no more x ever” to “I can spend $50 on x this month.” If you used to spend $200 on x, you’ve now saved a substantial amount of money, and you still get to have the thing you enjoy. I won’t claim to be at the point where budgeting $50 for music purchases means I’m only going to spend $50, but at least I know where I need to work on controlling spending.

In an ideal world, you have a chunk of leftover cash at the end of each month that you can figure out how to allocate. A down payment on a house, your kid’s college fund, paying off your credit-card debt — whatever fits into your financial goals. Later, once your baseline financial stability improves, you can turn around and boost your retirement savings.

But, for now, in an overworked and underpaid culture, you’re sitting on a pile of cash. Do you want to play the securities market? Do you want to drop a quick boost into your IRA? Do you want a vacation? Do you want to stockpile ammunition and practice your wilderness tracking in preparation for the coming Dark Times? These are all equally valid and rational options once you’ve figured out how to save.