Understand Your Finances
How a year of saving helped me overcome my money fears
When I committed to the Savings Diaries project a year ago, it seemed simple: set a goal, work to achieve it and write about my progress. My husband and I decided that we'd save $500 each month to fund a trip abroad and set about making our dream happen. We adjusted our lives, made our monthly contribution and saved the money. Now we're starting to make the purchases necessary for our trip abroad.
I'm excited about our success, but the money in our bank account is only half the story. Over the last 12 months, my Savings Diary has become much more than a dollar amount and a deadline. I've learned a lot about budgeting and what it takes to stick to a savings commitment. More important, I've learned a lot about my own hang-ups and anxieties about saving and spending money.
Facing a tough lesson
Saving for our trip wasn't simply a matter of putting away money every month: my husband and I faced a few new challenges along the way. My work as a freelance writer was constantly in flux, causing my income to fluctuate all year. At the same time, we moved into a new home and our budget had to evolve to accommodate new expenses.
My husband I have had financial struggles in the past, and I found that my brain kept returning to major cost-cutting measures, including cancelling date night or only buying secondhand clothes. But although those sorts of moves may have been necessary five years ago, we're in a better place now.
Putting fear in the backseat
Even so, I felt guilty whenever I spent money on myself or on fun activities, even when we'd planned them into the budget. There were times when I found myself questioning the $500 I saved every month, wondering if I would be better off using it to pay down my student loans, or ramp up my retirement savings. Challenging my fear about the future allowed me to step away from anxiety-driven decision making, to think clearly about money, and to follow through with our commitment to use a portion of our savings for an enjoyable family experience we won't forget.
Reaching our savings goal—while still spending on fun things—challenged my belief that if you want to save you have to stop spending. It's helped me to find a healthier balance of thinking about the future while living in the here and now. Most importantly, I learned that, when it comes to managing money, fear can't run the show.
Looking ahead to the future
We also learned that it helps to automate savings. Setting up an auto withdrawal from our account each month made saving feel easy, so it's a practice we will keep as we continue saving for both short-term and long-term expenses.
Our next goal is to buy a home. It will probably mean a few years of very intentional saving for our family, but this last year of saving has left us feeling empowered to follow through and meet our goals. We plan to stick with the budget we have in place right now, continue our automatic withdrawals into our savings account, and to look for creative ways to save a little extra a few times a year.
Saying goodbye to 2018 and this savings project, I feel excited about the future of our finances. With the accountability and opportunities for self reflection this project has provided me, I'm walking away with a clearer understanding of healthy money management and the confidence to keep chasing after our family's financial goals.
Mary Sauer is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in The Hairpin and Romper, among other media outlets.