When I envision my future, it isn’t lavish. “Live comfortably” is how I typically describe my financial goals. Such vague terminology allows me to assume that I will be happy no matter how much money I make, as long as I am satisfied with my lifestyle.
But sometimes an ambiguous target is more harmful than helpful. Though quality of life is arguably more important than the quantity of money, without a measurable standard of what we want, there is no way to track progress toward our goals. Instead, we aimlessly worry about money, with no end to our frantic efforts at saving in sight.
The best way to deal with economic woes is to first think about what kind of a life we want, and then figure out how much money we need to get there. This can be difficult when much of the future is uncertain, but I’ve outlined strategies to help students like myself plan our finances.
Having more money would seem to correlate with peace of mind in spending, but I know plenty of people with more money than I have who still fret over every purchase. This illustrates an important lesson: There is no perfect amount of money that brings a complete peace of mind in spending. Knowing this, I’ve realized that agonizing over making as much money as possible isn’t an effective way to prepare for the future.
First of all, we must acknowledge that debt is inevitable. Accepting this allows us to view the future realistically.
Secondly, we need to determine what kind of lifestyle we want. I’ve learned it’s impossible to plan without goals in mind. It’s also essential to understand that reaching these goals will take time. Extra costs arise without warning and bills pile up. In time, security will come by paying off debt in small increments and slowly increasing savings.
Finally, we must learn to be content with our current finances. This shouldn’t stop us from earning. Rather, it simply suggests that we appreciate what we can afford and focus on what we need. The idea is to improve upon some unknown goal, not to constantly look ahead to it.
Call it naive, but I think that looking at everything – even personal finances – from a positive perspective can make life a little brighter.
Amanda Wood is a junior majoring in ecosystem science and policy.