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The Danger in Living Just for Today

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Are you being short-sighted when it comes to your financial goals? There's real danger in living just for today.

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to be joining the Frugal Rules team. John’s blog was one of the first I ever read, and it was a nice introduction to the personal finance community. I hope you find my contributions as helpful as the rest of the content on the site!

I recently took a trip back home to visit my friends and family, as I moved away close to a year ago now. Most of my friends are in the teaching field and have graduated college, or are currently in grad school.

During the week I spent with them, I picked up on their mention of money quite often. A group of them were planning on traveling overseas during spring break, and I found myself a little envious.

That didn’t last long when I realized most of them were pouring their entire savings toward this trip. As a result, money would be tight for the rest of the year. Being teachers, they want to take advantage of having the summer off, but with money being an issue, they can’t.

It got me thinking about the danger in living for today, or at least, specifically for one goal at a time.

Of course, I’m glad my friends were actually saving up for this trip, rather than putting it on a credit card, but what they were failing to consider were long term goals. With their bank accounts drained and complaints of being broke…what was next for them?

The Danger in Living for Today

 

Let’s back up a second. I love my friends, and I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, but throughout my trip, I couldn’t help but notice how much they spent on various forms of entertainment.

They go out to eat often, they go to bars for drinks at night, some of them have long commutes and refuse to move closer to their jobs, they think nothing of buying anything related to their hobbies, and they plan parties that are a bit on the expensive side.

All the while, many of them have student loan debt, and most are still living at home.

Sure, you could argue they’re enjoying the present and making the most of it, and you’d be right. Admittedly, I enjoyed my time spent with them, even when we were spending on things I otherwise wouldn’t.

The difference is, I planned for this trip – I knew I’d have an unusually high month of spending. I never lose sight of the fact that I have student loan debt hanging over me, and I always weigh my purchases against that fact.

Simply put, spending money takes me further away from my goal of being debt free, and I make sure that when I do spend, it’s worth it.

When you’re only living for today, you’re ignoring all of that! None of my friends are saving for retirement, and in fact, one of them figures he’ll be in debt for the rest of his life, so why should saving matter?

You Can’t Predict the Future, but You Can’t Ignore It, Either

 

I get that retirement is a long ways off for us. We’re in our 20s, and most of my friends aren’t interested in early retirement. They’re passionate about teaching, regardless of the salary they’re being paid.

While I think that’s great, that doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind with their money is in order.

I was taken aback that my friends had fallen into the trap of thinking debt is normal. It’s not – we don’t have to live the rest of our lives in debt if we don’t want to. It’s a choice that we can actively make.

Sadly, some people are oddly set on it. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is normal for them, and they’re willing to deal with the stress it causes if it means instant gratification now.

The reason I share this story with you all is because this mentality isn’t going to lead you to financial success. We have to consider our future needs and prioritize saving for them alongside our short term goals.

It’s dangerous to throw retirement aside because we can’t imagine living it for another 30 years. It still matters, and compound interest makes it worth our while to invest as soon as we can.

What You Should Be Living For

 

If we shouldn’t be living solely for today, what should we be living for? It’s always a balancing act, isn’t it?

Well, I think living in the moment can be done responsibly when you budget for it, and I also think you can accomplish it while keeping the future in mind.

If you’re enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), then set up automatic contributions right off the bat. You won’t see the money, which means you won’t become reliant on it. You’ll be saving and still living within your means.

Similarly, if you set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account, you can save for any short or long term goals you have. Yes, goals – multiple, not singular!

The danger in living just for today is we often short-change our future selves and our financial goals. Here's what to do instead.

Again, saving up for a short term goal is great, but you should always aim to have an emergency fund or some sort of buffer in your bank account. It’s not a good idea to leave yourself with nothing in there.

I’ll give you my situation as an example of putting this into action:

  • I’m currently paying back my student loans, ahead of schedule.
  • I opened a Roth IRA with Vanguard and contributed the minimum amount to get started.
  • I spend on my values, which I prioritized at the beginning of the year. I keep spending to an absolute minimum on everything else.

What are the values I prioritized? Travel was one of them, and a few inexpensive hobbies were another. I don’t stress about spending as I saved for all of this beforehand (by prioritizing saving!).

Choosing to be intentional with my money, while keeping my future needs in mind has made this possible. I’m willing to bet most of my friends aren’t being intentional with their money, otherwise they wouldn’t be living paycheck-to-paycheck.

By cutting out any excess that I don’t enjoy (such as dining out and shopping for clothes), I make room for what’s important, and I’m happy with how things are. I’d like to pay more toward my debt and invest more, but there’s only so much I can do before I’m stretched too thin. You need to find a balance you can live with.

 

Do you think it’s dangerous to live just for today, or do you think it’s important to find a balance between present and future needs? How have you found your balance? What are you willing to spend your money on?

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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.

20 Comments

  • I really would like to teach my children to find a balance between the present and the future. This is why I encorage them to read personal finance blogs.

  • Excellent post, Erin!!! John made an outstanding pick to be my successor – welcome to the Dream Team. 🙂

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    It is so hard to convince the younger ones to start saving early. Even I didn’t really do it, not in a traditional sense, but I did purchase a condo rather than continue to rent, and that allowed me to enter marriage debt-free. (I sold the condo because he owned a house, and the proceeds I netted paid off all outstanding debts.)
    I once read that if a 20-year-old puts away $10k a year, every year until they are 30 and then stop, never adding to the balance again, they will still have more money at retirement age than if they put in double every year from 30 to retirement age. (Of course I can’t find that information right now, which would have been a touch more helpful.) Compound interest is such a difficult concept to grasp, but it is so powerful.

    • Compound interest is extremely powerful! I knew it was important to save, but after seeing compound interest in action, it really hit me.

      I guess, in a way, I was “forced” to see the importance of saving (and money management) early on, as my parents struggled with debt when I was growing up. I didn’t want to end up in their position, which gave me the motivation I needed to save and avoid consumer debt.

  • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

    Congrats on the new gig! 🙂 You’re everywhere! I think it’s about balance. I really “shouldn’t” be going to Utah in a couple weeks. But I also know it will greatly improve my mental state and well being, so not going is almost not an option. That being said, I’ll keep the trip as frugal as possible.

  • I tend to live too far in the future. My husband has ADD, so he was more prone to live in the present only.

    We’ve been good influences on each other. I don’t deny us everything, but he’s learned that keeping an eye on the future yields a lot of rewards — like paying off his defaulted student loans.

    • Great insight, Abigail. I’ve also been guilty of living a bit too far into the future. I’ve always been a huge saver, and while my fiancé is, he also doesn’t mind spending a bit here and there to have fun now. It’s good to keep each other balanced!

  • Ramona says:

    We’ve done it ourselves in the past, but it’s not something we should do anymore: we have a child and really need to think about her future. I also think it comes with the age: the younger we are the more reckless we spend (at least that was my case).

    • I think you’re right – in many cases, we’re reckless when we’re younger, as we don’t know any better, and then there’s the whole “you only live once” mentality that’s so infamous with the younger generation. 😉 It’s hard to break out of that mindset when so many people around you are in it.

  • I live for today, and only today. But it’s a little bit of a different context than what you’re talking about. I’ve been listening to a motivational speaker lately named Eric Thomas – in one of his speeches, he says “When you are great you don’t focus on a week. When you are great you don’t focus on a month. When you are great you don’t focus on a year. You concentrate on the 24 hours in front of you, and you NAIL it.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan ahead….you absolutely should. BUT, you look at your actions for just today, and make sure they are aligned with your goals. NAIL today……if you do, or if you don’t you wake up tomorrow with the same perspective. When you start stringing successful days together….PROGRESS! Always living for and concentrating simply on what you are going to do today. 😉

    • Love it, Travis, and thank you for sharing that different perspective! That makes a lot of sense. Thinking about the big picture can leave some people overwhelmed, but if you narrow your focus to making today great, you can increase your chances of success. The little actions we take have a huge impact on our overall progress.

  • Balance is the key, I learned here. I can enjoy today while still making sure that retirement or my savings is still not forgotten. And I believe it’s fine to spend money, not much, when meeting with friends, which just happens so rarely. That being said, everyone should be mindful of retirement.

  • Welcome to the Frugal Rules team Erin!!! I was the worst in just living for today through most of my 20s and I have a lot of regrets because of it. I wish that the phrase “financial freedom” was something I thought about then because I had the opportunity to fast track my financial freedom track but instead I am behind where I should be. Thankfully, I started thinking more of my future potential in my 30s and I am catching up.

    • Thanks Shannon! I have no doubt you’re making a lot of progress now. I know I was skeptical when I first heard about the whole “financial independence, early retirement” thing, but reading various stories made me realize it’s very possible to achieve (if we want). I wish those stories were more widespread, as we really don’t stop to think about our future often enough!

  • Congrats on the new position Erin! I do get what you are saying. I try to have a balance between saving up for the future (and paying off debt) and spending some money on fun things now too.

    • Thanks Kayla! It’s definitely important to have a balance. We can’t completely deprive ourselves and never go out of the house, but that doesn’t mean we need to spend hundreds a week on various entertainment, either. =)

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