As I sit in my living room, listening to John William’s composition, the Main Theme from the 1980’s film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, I instantly gravitate to the bass line since I’m a seasoned tuba player of nearly three decades (gulp!). A tuba was the first big adult purchase I saved up and made during my high school days. It was the main reason I got my first job. I got that first paycheck and allotted $25 for gas and fast food (it was 1996 and gas was about a buck a gallon and the legendary 29 cent hamburger at McDonald’s was a real thing). I had focus. Focus on my goal to have the best playing tuba I could afford so I could make Honor band and All-State band. At 16, I felt the confidence of having a new horn would get me there. In less than six months, I had saved $3,500 making $5.25 an hour and I had my new horn!
Fast-forward in life and this focus got lost along the way from age 18 to 24. I had a career and stable paycheck by the time I was 20, but the focus was gone. Income was split up a bunch of different ways between rent, eating out, gasoline had tripled or quadrupled from those high school days, and although I earned nearly three times per hour what I did in high school, I was in debt and never able to accomplish much besides keeping my bills current. At the time, I just bought into the mentality that “the little guy just can’t get ahead.” Then something clicked a few months after turning 25.
I stopped making excuses for my poor spending habits and stopped accepting the high interest rates on my plethora of department store cards and low limit major credit cards. I took a leap of faith and sent a paper credit card application out to a credit union associated with my employer with whom I had a paltry $25 savings account. I also sent a letter asking the loan officer to please consider my change in attitude and transfer my balances from all of my high-rate cards, and promised to close them if the balances were transferred. I included a list with balance, account numbers and addresses for a total of $3,500, same as the cost of the tuba. A couple weeks later, I received a letter from the credit union with Xerox copies of checks sent out on my behalf to pay off all those cards and consolidate the debt.
I was dumbfounded. Sending that letter actually worked! In the past, I just received denial letters, so I had given up hope for a few years. My faith was restored and I decided to pay off that card as fast a possible. This started my habits in the direction of savings. I put every little $10 or $20 bit of found money at the debt.
A few months later, I moved back to Reno to be with my then significant other, and we started planning to buy a new house. Between us, we had a pretty decent income, but not much savings. We knew we needed to get a good down payment going, and fast! We were constantly driving around looking at houses with for sale signs in the front. We would talk about what we could do with each house we looked at from the car. Although we didn’t have a particular house picked out, we had a vision of what our life would be like in our own little piece of heaven. That was our motivation.
Goals are great, but why are you working towards something? Once you have a reason for sacrificing for your next big purchase, set your savings goal and work backwards, mathematically, and determine how fast you can get there. If you need to have a certain amount saved by a certain date, divide that out by the number of pay periods and see if you can save that much and keep up on your other bills. If not, what other side jobs can you do? Is your new goal worth selling some old stuff? Sites such as eBay, Craigslist, and other social media let you list from your smart phone in minutes.
So next time you have a lofty savings goal, don’t despair! Put a motivating reason behind your actions you can think of when you are making a sacrifice such as eating leftovers instead of ordering pizza or making due with last summer’s wardrobe. Sock away any found money from bonuses or birthday gifts! Find some side work, even if it’s just adhoc. I used to mow lawns and landscape yards on my days off for extra cash. Be creative and you can meet your goals year after year.
How do you stay motivated and what side jobs do you do? Leave me a comment explaining how you reach your savings goals.