There’s Nothing Glamorous About Refusing To Save Money In Your 20s

Image: HBO's Girls

Image: HBO’s Girls

When I saw a piece titled, “I Don’t Believe in a Savings Account” on HuffPo Women today, I was really, really hoping that upon clicking, I would find something other than the confessions of yet another 20-something high-fiving herself for avoiding activities commonly perceived as “adult habits.” You know, stuff you start doing that lead to being considered fun adjectives like “responsible,” “ambitious” and “grown up.” Unfortunately, it was just what I’d assumed it to be–a 20-something talking about purposefully sucking at money matters in a similarly proud way as Lena Dunham‘s Girls character Hannah in the first episode of the series.

Basically, HuffPo posted a piece by writer Megan Baldwin regarding her refusal to conserve her money. She discusses how, as a child, she had a “just in case” bag that consisted of all the things she might have needed to take with her in the event of a disaster, then compares this concept to a savings account:

Sometimes I think about this backpack and wish my grown-up self was just as willing to stave off momentary wants and plan for life’s fires. I won’t. I don’t exactly believe in a savings account.

How does one not believe in a savings account? Well, she just…doesn’t.

I have been forced to stare at the fact that my casual dips into the red are not a side effect or an accident, but a choice. To most, like any bank employee, this is wrong. And maybe sometimes it feels like I should be putting money aside, instead of investing in my closet or whatever else I happen to want from the bodega. But, I am really good at ignoring this feeling and defiantly swiping, because what am I saving for?

Eh, I wouldn’t say it is wrong so much as it is quite stupid. I think the “what am I saving for?” question can fairly easily be answered with any of the following:

  • Healthcare costs
  • Family emergencies
  • Home repairs
  • Car repairs
  • Job loss
  • Brokers fees
  • An unexpected move due to eviction (or some other reason)

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Baldwin asks, “But what is the real harm in it — I’m single,” and while I see her point (a zero kids, zero pets lifestyle tends to be considerably cheaper than the alternative), I still think it’s a fairly easy question to answer.

Like many in my age/tax bracket, I don’t really want to rationalize going without in the present in order to plan for an amorphous future.

Well, yes, I suppose if you are wealthy, not working might make sense to you, though this is certainly not a universal truth. But please don’t run around saying lots of people in our age bracket are like this; I know very, very few, though apparently that is not representative of our generation, or something.

…until I get to a point where I want to fork over a couple thousand dollars to live somewhere with a walk in closet, it’s difficult to see the purpose of saving for something that feels completely irrelevant to how I live now. Right now, living is going to dinner with friends, complaining about shitty $20 manicures, paying to have my laundry folded and dropped off at my doorstep, and buying kale everything.

I’m pretty sure people save for reasons other than wanting a walk-in closet, but I assume Baldwin is being exaggerative and does not actually believe there’s no other purpose to conserving money than extra space. I briefly checked out some of her other HuffPo articles and found she is approximately 28/29 right now, though I had guessed she was somewhere in her very, very early 20s (possibly late teens) judging by this particular piece.

However, Baldwin apparently does not have to worry about these reasons, as she has some kind of get-out-of-jail free card.

…there’s never really been a question of what I would do if something happens. Conveniently, it’s always been figured out. It’s not the “just in case” bag I would have assembled, but nevertheless it’s always sitting at the foot of my bed, reminding me that there’s a way out if you get into an accident and don’t have health insurance or you need to pay a ridiculously high brokers fee. I know how fortunate I am to have been born with a pair of knee pads because in my 20-something years I have fallen down quite a bit.

The “pair of knee pads” sounds like a reference to her parents, but she does not directly state that so perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe she’s just like that kid in Blank Check and happened to get a million dollars for a dented bike, who knows? Or perhaps things have simply worked themselves out via other means.

As I have said in the past, I have nothing but respect for people who work hard to save money and change their situations, whether it’s by working shitty minimum-wage jobs, living with your parents or shacking up in a tiny apartment with 6 roommates, 5 of whom are cockroaches with large families. Perhaps I’m just biased–wait, scratch that, I am absolutely biased–because after college, I had 3 jobs and an unpaid internship and I lived with my parents because they weren’t about to fund my desired NYC rent for me. Maybe I’m based because that is what most of the people I know have done (including many who have parents willing to help them out if necessary, and the ones who have accepted that help are quite humbled by it). Who knows? Maybe if I had grown up with parents who offered me credit cards with unlimited spending limits and didn’t tell me to get a job, my mindset would be different. Instead, my parents have consistently emphasized how (A) important it is for me to get a steady job, which I’ve done since I was a young teenager and (B) proud they are that I am self-supported.

Being financially independent is what forces many people to push themselves further (whether it’s by choice or by necessity). That feeling of borderline shame when I realize I’m a couple days late on a college loan payment? It forces me to take extra work, to do freelance makeup, to budget better, to do whatever I possibly can to get it paid ASAP. I’m not saying I’m perfect at saving money and working hard and budgeting by any means, because holy shit, I have definitely made my share of mistakes, but I do firmly believe in the power of thinking ahead, planning and making conscious choices to facilitate the future.

Obviously, what you do with your career and your life and your savings account (or lack thereof) is entirely up to you. It is wholly, completely your decision to spend over save or vice versa. Plus, there are some people whose situations make it nearly impossible for them to be self-supported (healthcare costs, mental illness, immigration status, unemployment and physical disabilities, among other things), so by no means am I judging those folks. But when you straight up choose, as a 20-something-year-old person, to ignore the concept of savings accounts just because you’d seriously rather whine about cheap manicures–well, I’m not sure how to process that.

To be fair, Baldwin does claim, “There are times I wish I’d been forced to break my own falls.” Well, it was a choice not to break them yourself, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts, sort of. However, she leaves on a note that fits perfectly with the rest of her piece’s tone:

 I know I probably shouldn’t have bought $60 worth of juices today because I literally just pissed that money away. Keeping the change is hard, so if you’re doing it, great. For now, I’ll be trying to calculate if I can buy this coat and still pay my rent on time.

Side note: Jesus, $60 on juice? Is this golden juice that gives you orgasms as you digest it?

In any case, I’m not saying Baldwin is a complete moron; judging by her writing, she seems like an intelligent and perfectly nice person. And I’m not saying she’s saying everyone should live the same lifestyle she does; frankly, most human beings on earth absolutely could not, even if they wanted to. My main point here is more of a plea: please 20-somethings–because of Girls and shows like it, our society has deemed millennials the lazy, selfish douchebag generation. Let’s not prove them right, shall we?

On the bright side, discussing this somewhat purposeless essay led me to discovering my new favorite GIF:

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    • Lindsey Conklin

      Ahh, the prospect of NOT having a savings account gives me hardcore anxiety…

    • cteterita

      Yeah, that article is just really weird. I’m not sure what the point is. Seems like she’s just justifying her own laziness as #yolo. Maybe? Whatever. In economics there’s a concept of “consumption smoothing,” which suggests that it’s rational to go into debt in your younger (lower-earning) years and pay that back in your higher-earning years while maintaining a relatively smooth standard of living. The takeaway I get from that theory is to not beat yourself up for not saving every spare penny in your 20s, but that’s no excuse not to have a basic emergency fund if you can afford to build one.

    • LynnKell

      I really dislike the glamorization of the “everybody is broke in their 20′s” saying because I see it as a bad, badly bad idea.

      My parents raised me with an “let’s be careful with money so we can enjoy it more” approach and it has worked now that I’m 24 and I support myself. I am saving for another car, but it’s kinda long term plan. I’m saving steadily, but each time I get paid, a portion goes to my savings.

      A dinner with friends is way more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry that the check will make you be late to pay rent or a loan or won’t leave enough to buy food for the rest of the week.

      Saving to me is having peace of mind that if something good or bad comes along, I can afford it. Be it a broken car or a weekend trip, I can handle it. Is peace of mind because I’m not counting the minutes for pay day because I have a bunch of stuff to pay and I’ve ran out of food.

      Saving is not only eating ramen, it’s planning and smart buying so you can have the lifestyle you want without banks and creditors harassing you.

    • JennyWren

      Ugh. I mean, I do kind of get it- my wage right now is very low, low enough that once I’ve paid rent, food, healthcare etc. there’s prehaps $50 a month I could be putting into a savings account. It’s pretty hard to save that $50 instead of “treating” myself to a nice bottle of wine every couple of weeks or some new jeans that I don’t really absolutely need quite yet, because I’m all too aware of how long it would take to save up any appreciable sum of money at $50 a month.

      However, this is not what this lady appears to be doing. She’s earning pretty good money and pissing it away on expensive things that actually don’t really make that much difference to your life. By folding her own shirts and doing her own nails once a week she could probably save more in one month than I could in six, and she’d barely be able to tell the difference. Being able to save is actually something of a luxury in it’s own right, and it’s a shame she seems to determined not to enjoy it.

    • anna

      What kind of money is she making that she can afford this?
      I’m working my way through college as a nanny, and I spend all my money on food and gas and meds. I spend too much money on beer and wine. That’s my only splurge, a six pack a week.

    • Saver not a spender

      Bought a house when I was 25. And not a little house either – two story, 4 bedroom on 10,000 square feet of land. To me, it made sense. The house costs the same as a renting a two bedroom basement suite. It was a no brainer. And yes, I saved. I had $25,000 as my down payment. I saved every damn penny and I will have this house paid off before I retire. I love the freedom of knowing that I will have something that will see me through my adult years.
      Moral of the story, not all 20-somethings are spenders

    • Fabel

      Wtf. I mean, I like nice things & I don’t make much money, but I still manage to save some of it while splurging occasionally? Why does this woman seem to think that saving ANYTHING requires living some kind of minimalist, free-of-indulgence lifestyle? You can do both if you budget correctly…

      I get the feeling she just sucks at money stuff (which is fine! Most are still learning these things in their 20s, & even beyond, I’m still learning too—& I have MUCH to learn), but instead of learning, she’s just like, “Saving is for losers.” Okay.

    • sydddaustralia

      I splurge occasionally, but I save too. I often feel guilty because I don’t think I have enough in savings.

    • http://coffeeontheedge.wordpress.com/ Jennie

      I’m 22, a recent college grad and right now I don’t have much of a savings account, but that’s because I’m 100% focused on paying off my student loans ASAP. I have quite a few friends like this- that moved out of their parents’ homes and are living it up, but they have $30,000 in student loans that are racking up interest. Quite frankly, I’d rather not be able to get ‘kale everything’ while toughing it out with my parents for two years so I can pay off my debt.