In a lot of ways I’m still a kid. For all the maturity that I think I have, I also have never learned how to earn and save in the way that I picture my most “adult” friends doing. So what has happened for most of my adult life is that I have spent the money I’ve earned, and when I didn’t have any, I borrowed from banks. I have no savings as it stands now, and a few thousand dollars in debt.
I don’t really care about money too much, but I am sick of being in debt — it’s burdensome and sometimes stressful, and as anyone knows who has paid off their debt, that last payment is really worth celebrating (I have created for myself and subsequently paid off thousands of dollars in debt several times in my adult life). I would like to start only using money that I have, which means having earned enough to spend, and to resist the temptation of borrowing money for instant gratification of being able to spend. Of course, if it’s a dire situation, then it might be a good idea to borrow a small amount, but I’m realizing that in most of the situations where I borrowed money, I should have just figured out a way to earn some instead.
All these realizations about money came for me recently while studying a different set of habits of mine. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had my last alcoholic drink, and over a week since having had any sugary treats or adding sugar to anything. I chose to undergo this experiment the week before Halloween only coincidentally. I realized that the good feelings that alcohol and sugar give me were like taking out a loan, getting something I have not yet earned, and that I would pay for it later, possibly with interest, in the form of a sugar crash or hangover.
Culture in America encourages instant gratification, both materially and emotionally. We are scarcely encouraged to develop the maturity to put off gratification until we’ve actually earned it. A person who uses their gift of foresight might choose to put off the instant gratification, knowing that their future self will thank them for putting them in a position where they have good feelings “in the bank” instead of having to take them out “on loan.” As it stands for me now, living in NY, block after block I’m confronted with businesses profiting off of selling quick hits of good feelings: bars, coffeeshops, delis selling cigarettes and lottery tickets, etc. The willpower an individual must have to resist these temptations daily is tremendous. I struggle daily with my desire to succumb for a quick hit of pleasure, and it’s probably only a matter of time before I cave and buy a sugary snack after a long, hard work day (coffee is a vice I continue to indulge in).
How to earn good feelings in a sustainable and mature way? In the typical way you might figure: exercise, eating nutritious food, sober, intimate socialization, practicing artistic creativity, etc. These types of wholesome activities require work to derive good feelings from them. Exercise might require some difficulty up front, but the rewards are manyfold: you get the endorphin rush, your body feels good the rest of the day, you sleep better, and you develop a better looking and more functional body over time. The benefits are numerous, but you have to pay for them first with some genuine sweaty hard work.
Creating art is another wholesome activity that requires hard work up front which usually results in lasting good feelings. Making work that requires personal vulnerability can be challenging and daunting, but when you finally share that work with the world and receive praise and see the value it has to others, the reward is often well worth the price.
In my life, I am currently addressing both the material and emotional tendencies I have to go for the instantly gratifying choice, and making slow steady changes towards making choices that I know will benefit me in the long run. I have started a personal economic plan to help me save for the future and pay off my debt, and I will continue as best as I can to make choices that benefit me in the long term.