In the face of unsure finance futures, a greedy capitalist system, and disenfranchisement of the masses, our personal savings is the one thing we can control.
Whenever I talk to millennials about saving and personal finance, the conversation inevitable comes to a place where they ask why they should start saving. I’m sure you are thinking the same thing now. Some people believe they will be making more money in the future so they can just play catch up then. Others are actively opposed to the big financial systems in place and don’t want to be a part of it. Plenty of people are struggling to just make ends meet and setting aside money for the future isn’t an option when the bills need to get paid. The simplest answer I have is that starting to save now is the number one thing you can do for the security of your future. Being actively involved in your finances allows you to take control over your financial future, it also is the first step in being able to leverage your finances to affect change in the world.
I have always been an anxious person. When I was in middle school, my principle died in a car crash on his way to work, and throughout high school two of my peers died unexpectedly. These losses never felt like they were mine, I wasn’t particularly close to any of the three. But I felt the pain, and quickly realized that nothing is certain and that everything can change in an instant. I can remember being in high school, crying after my parents left the house because I was convinced they’d die and I’d never see them again. Or being in middle school running around the yard screaming and flapping my arms wildly, after I broke a key in the door. I used to be terrified that if I disappointed people they would abandon me. I learned quickly to use numbers to calm me down. In the middle of anxiety attacks, I would multiple by three to distract my brain from the bad thoughts. Personal finance came into my life at a time where I felt totally powerless, anxious, and out of control. I think the reason I fell so in love with this topic is the way it offered me control in a world I believed myself to be powerless in.
All over the news, we see that American’s are more and more anxious and depressed. We are isolated, lonely, and struggling to make meaningful happy lives. I sometimes joke that the best first date conversation is about my anxiety since I’ve never been on a date with someone who doesn’t have some sort of mental health struggle. There are lots of reasons why, and we don’t need to jump into it all now, but I believe that insecure futures are a major factor in this.
Most American’s are living paycheck to paycheck, and 40% would not be able to cover an unexpected expense of $400 with cash. People are stressed out, working multiple jobs, and wondering where their money is going. They feel powerless. They lose their ability to dream greatly for the future because they are struggling to pay their bills and just survive. It is a terrible cycle that straps individuals of their will to live, and forces them to be cogs in the financial machine forever. Taking control of your financial future is a way where you can find control and optimism in a scary powerless time. By starting to save, you are making a declaration that you are in control of your financial future, and that you are going to live a life you love. By saving, you are developing habits that are important in finding freedom like delaying gratification, and planning for the future. You also are allowing yourself to dream. Maybe it starts off as dreaming for a new car, a vacation with friends, or buying new bedroom furniture. But as you save, and have success your confidence and drive will grow. Your dreams will change to working for yourself, only working 20 hours a week, running a charity, or retiring by 50. You dream of a life outside of the 40+ hours a week capitalist system and begin running towards this goal. By saving now, you are able to change the course of your life.
And yes, you could argue that the real issue here is American capitalism, and that if we change the system than we will have better mental health outcomes for our citizens. You don’t need to argue with me, I agree. But I also think it’s naive to believe it will happen by refusing to participate in the current social system. By refusing to participate in the system, I believe individuals are further disenfranchising themselves, and are actually losing their power to make positive social change. We all know that the current capitalistic system has prioritized money over all else, perpetuated racism, sexism, and homophobia, and is destroying the environment. It’s enough to make you want to withdraw and stay far away. But in saving and changing our financial situation, we begin to build our power which we can use to create a system that we love.
In the simplest sense we can think about grocery shopping. Years ago organic and local foods were a fringy concept, and could only be purchased at specific health food stores. As individuals decided that this was a priority and began spending their money at stores where they could find this produce, the big chain grocery stores all began filling isles with organic local food. Now anywhere you go it’s an option! When you have a secure financial future you can shop at stores that are aligned with your values, give money to charities and political candidates who support causes you believe in, and demand that the system be changed. You become an active participant and then people listen to you.
Instead of waiting for the workers revolution, or the election of Bernie Sanders, take control of your financial future. Become a landlord that rents quality apartments at reasonable rents and can offer a rent freeze during a pandemic. Start a company that focuses on environmental practices, donates a portion of their proceeds to environmental charities, and hires individuals who typically struggle to find work. Through savings you can find your power to make the changes you want to see in society!
Saving is scary especially if you’ve never done it before, or if you are living paycheck to paycheck and still barely making enough to get by. It seems like a daunting task, and like it won't amount to anything. But even in starting small, saving will allow you to take control of your future, live out your dreams, and change our society into something you are proud to be a part of.
Be sure to check out part 2 of this series where I refute the claim that you can just start saving when you are older and have the same results!