When I got my first job after college, I thought I had reached adulthood. I was ready to venture out into the world to be independent and make something of myself. I truly thought, “I’ve arrived. I’m an adult.”
I moved out of my parents’ house and bought a car (from them) and set out to take on the world.
It wasn’t long before the realities of the real world hit me hard, though. From shopping sprees to gas to a phone bill — things were much more expensive than I had anticipated.
But I hadn’t moved too far from home, and it turned out that my parents were more than willing to continue to pay for some things for me. So, I decided to accept their generosity as much as possible.
I lived like this for a few years — paying for my own rent, transportation, and food, but essentially letting them take on the cost of everything else. To be clear, I wasn’t exactly living paycheck to paycheck, either. I still had plenty of room left in my non-existent budget for going out, shopping, and trips to visit friends.
I thought I had it made. Until one day I realized I wasn’t living up to my own standards of adulthood. My voluntary reliance on my parents to carry a large part of my living expenses was not at all the kind of independent living I desired. I thought I was making my own way in life but realized that I couldn’t do that while my parents were still paying for my phone bill.
I acknowledge that I was lucky to be in a situation of choosing my own dependence or independence — and that not everyone has the luxury of that choice. But my desire to be a fully independent adult motivated me to work toward separating my expenses from my parents’ bank account.
So, much to the dismay of my wallet, I set out to change that. I told my family of my desire to make the change — to which they responded encouragingly but skeptically.
For the past year, I have been working toward financial independence — but not without learning some lessons along the way.
Certainly, I was grateful for all that my parents had given me. But as I worked through a tight budget and found that I was actually going to be okay, I found a new kind of gratitude. I learned to be grateful for what I, myself, had.
I had to cut out shopping sprees, but I was still able to put aside money to visit an out-of-town friend. I chose to eat out less and cook more, but had enough room in my budget that I didn’t need to fret when invited to go out for a friend’s birthday.
By setting my own budget that included making a few cuts but learning to make the most of what I had, I learned to be grateful for what I could afford — a sharp contrast to hardly thanking my parents for keeping me on their phone plan.
Thinking about giving to charity more intentionally
When I was a child, my aunt would include in every birthday card a crisp bill and a note to remember the three ‘S’s: save, spend, and share. As I realized that I could be financially secure on a reduced budget, I became more aware that it was not enough to only spend and save.
Before I gave much thought to my own living expenses, I gave even less thought to the living expenses of others. I only looked at my budget as “what my parents paid for” vs. “what I was able to spend.”
That all changed as I gained financial independence. My fear of real-world expenses faded as I realized what I could afford with careful planning and a decent amount of sacrificing. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I had money to give. For the first time as an “adult,” I set aside a part of my budget for charity.
It’s honestly the least painful part of my budget to calculate every month! I always feel good when I see that I hit my target amount — and it was fulfilling to realize that I could make an impact with my own resources.
Take care of yourself — not just your bank account
When I first started budgeting, I was determined to prove that I could bounce back from my years of careless spending and build up what I considered to be an adult-level savings. I read half-a-dozen penny-pinching blogs that inspired me to live on as little as possible.
At first, I was excited to see my savings climb as I stuck to a diet of beans and rice. I cooked every night, no matter how busy I was and thought DIY-everything was the secret to financial success.
It didn’t take long for my stress levels to hit an all-time high. I was working a lot of hours at the time, and while my budget was in great shape, I was not.
I realized that I needed to be doing this for myself — not my bank account. If I worked a 14-hour day and needed Chipotle, it was okay to get it. Thrifting on the weekends to fulfill my desire to shop worked like a charm. And, once in a while, Starbucks was okay, too.
Finding room for self-care in my budget was essential for staying happy, healthy, and on track.
I recognize that not everyone has the luxury to voluntarily turn down the generosity of parental financial support. But many people I know do — and I would challenge them to consider doing just that.
Choosing financial independence has turned out to be one of the most empowering and educational challenges I’ve ever taken on. And making that jump all on my own landed me exactly where I wanted to be — one step closer to adulthood.