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How I Got to Financial Discipline

7 September 2018
Kenneth Bennett

With a special pleasure we present this brilliant essay of our Winner of the Summer 2018 DLL Scholarship Contest. Meet Tracy Martinez describing her way to financial discipline.

My Way From Careless Spender to a Financially Disciplined Person

Being the child of two nurses, I have not faced poverty or financial struggle for most of my life. A nurse’s income meant that I could buy most things I wanted. However, little to no thought was put into saving money. While my parents tried to encourage me to save money for college, they didn’t enforce it, and I didn’t care because I was young, and college seemed a lifetime away.

An Unexpected Twist That Changed My Life

It wasn’t until my parents divorced when I was thirteen that our poor financial decisions caught up to us. Suddenly, my mom and I were down to one paycheck. We could survive from her salary, but our typical spending habits changed, although not completely. In my senior year of high school, I was hired part-time with a minimum wage paycheck, and at every payday, I spent my entire check. I had no knowledge – or desire – save money for college.

Me in “Broke Student’s” Shoes

I never believed in the “broke college student” stereotype, simply believing that students that felt that way were just irresponsible with their money. The reality of that label hit me at full force in my first semester of college. The cash from my measly paycheck couldn’t finance Chick-Fil-A or Subway for every meal, so I needed to rethink not only my paycheck but my mother’s. I needed her to be on board with me about changing how we spent money.

The Way to Financial Discipline

As with any significant change, it’s challenging to break free from harmful habits. We began with little things like reducing the number of times we went to the mall. Then we started cooking food at home instead of at a restaurant.

With the start of college, our budget became real tight, real fast. So, we began making bigger changes. We threw away store credit cards. My mom switched to a credit card that gave her cash back on necessities like groceries and gasoline for her car. Then we moved to a smaller apartment with significantly cheaper rent.

Keep Track on Money Flow

Still, one of the most significant issues for me was being able to see where my money goes physically. So, I took to Excel and made a spreadsheet of our budget. I wrote out our necessary expenses and how much we allowed ourselves to spend on entertainment, eating outside, shopping, etc. This way, both of us were able to see precisely where our money was going. If we were over budget one month, we knew where it happened exactly, and we could make adjustments.

However, just seeing where the money was going wasn’t enough. Neither my mom nor I had money saved. We were still living paycheck to paycheck. Living in Chicago is expensive. Financially speaking, the wiser choice would be to move to a suburb, but everything we do is centered in the city: work, school, church, friends, internships.

Put Some Money Aside

Cheaper living is almost out of the question. I needed to work around the expenses of the city, and the first place I started was with my paycheck. I began putting in part of my check into my savings account. Some days I put my entire paycheck into my savings. Some days I could only put in a few dollars. But I still put something into my account, and now there is money in case of emergencies, regardless of how little it is.

Separate the Expenses

The number of expenses forced another change: keeping expenses separate. The account for paying bills like rent or the internet was different than the account for medical bills or shopping and eating out. So, in the event we spent too much on food, we still had money for tuition.

Conclusion: How to Get to Financial Discipline

This is my personal story, and I am far from perfect at budgeting or finances. But this is how I went from spending every penny to stopping in the middle of the street to pick up a penny.

To summarize:

  • Change the small things first. Significant changes don’t happen overnight or even over a few weeks. Take things slowly at first.
  • Make your expenses visual. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a budgeting spreadsheet, just something that allows you to see exactly where your money goes.
  • Save part of your paycheck. Even depositing a few dollars in your savings is better than nothing.
  • Keep your expenses separate. Each payment has a different account that has money specifically for rent or groceries, etc. That way, when the bills come in for the month, you aren’t left penniless because you splurged on your shopping trip.

Every change begins small.

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