Like most people on the planet, I’m not smart with money. I like to spend it. And the more money I spend, the more I like it, which isn’t always good. I’ve also loaned money to the wrong people, made dumb investments, and generally made money go up in smoke through no one’s fault but my own.
Still, I’ve got no reason to complain. I make my living as a writer, and I’m not starving yet. Everyone said I would die of hunger. And though it was never my intention, I’ve managed to keep up with the Joneses quite well, objectively speaking, thank you very much. Best of all, my family’s future is getting close to something that resembles security. Also, every now and then, I get to spend money as if I were Jeanne Napoles. Except I earned it.
So it turns out that I did something right with money after all. Yes, me, regular dude with regular money smarts. And if I did something right with money with a career that pays one peso per word, you can too. I compiled a list of the smartest things I ever did with money, and I’m sharing them with you here. Even I was surprised with what landed on the list.
1. I bought a proper camera.
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. And you’ll thank me later for it.
In general, photography is a hobby that is not unlike a blackhole that swallows money instead of light. There is no end to how much money you can spend on this junk. But around the time that you have kids, this hobby – the brother of a bad gambling habit – starts to pay off.
Trust me on this. If you have kids, you’ll take photos of them every day, so get the best camera you can afford. You’ll take photos of them when they sleep, wake up, take a bath, yawn, sneeze, eat, giggle, and pick their nose. And each photo will be worth far more than your expensive, overpriced camera. Just remember that the camera itself will be worthless in a couple of years.
In the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gecko (the same guy who said “Greed is good”) said “Money is not the prime asset in life, time is.” And he’s right, you can never get back the time that you spend, and you can’t make more of it. But if you have a camera, you can possess a moment forever. You can pause and rewind time at will. It’s pure magic.
2. I spent big on a wedding.
My wife and I wanted a small, intimate wedding, but in respect of our parents’ wishes, we multiplied our guest list fourfold. Instead of resenting this, we’ve grown to appreciate it.
For starters, all the money you spend on a big wedding comes back to you. And it can be considerable, though we weren’t aware of the ROI until we opened all the envelopes with cash in them. I’ve heard of weddings where the couple makes off like bandits. And that’s okay. That’s how things should be. Everyone wants the happy couple to have the best start.
More than that though, weddings, like engagements, are a sign of intent. They say, “This is the kind of future I will give you.” So you either go big or you go home. At least that’s the idea behind it. Again, that’s the best place to start a marriage.
Oh, one more thing. This future we’ve been talking about includes all those people in your wedding, including most crucially, both sets of parents. The least you can do is throw a nice party for all of them. It’s not all about you, silly. The sooner you get over yourself, the happier you will be. Again, a great place to start a marriage.
3. I bought a house.
For years, I rented. It gave me freedom, and I’ll never regret it. But eventually, I settled down, I found a place I really liked, and it was just time, what with the big wedding I talked about in number 2 looming.
Plunking down a few million on one thing can be terrifying. I was extremely fortunate to be able to get help when I bought a house, but not everyone is so lucky. Buying a house usually means getting into debt for around 15 years or more. But you know what? Just do it. Whatever your situation is, this is easily one of the best and easiest decisions in your life.
The real estate market is booming. Our condo, which we bought in 2007 is now worth considerably more in just a few years – a success story that is growing very common. This increase in value gives us some incredible options. We can sell and buy a bigger better place. We can rent it out, live somewhere cheaper, and make some serious money from the difference. Or we can pass on the house to our kids. Provided the real estate market doesn’t collapse, there’s no way to lose. And even if something does go wrong with the market, this is still a great place to live.
4. I saved early. I saved anything and everything I could.
I used to spend my entire salary on alcohol. Seriously. You can really rack up a bill when you party hard every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (and sometimes even Monday).
Since those heady days, alcohol consumption has dropped to zero, and I’ve managed to scrape a few pennies together. For a while I tried saving half of my salary, which almost never worked. But when it did work, it was extremely gratifying. Many financial experts recommend saving 20% of your earnings every month, which is a more manageable target. Just save anything you can. Make saving – not buying stuff – your goal.
I purchased my first insurance plan at the tender age of 30, and it should start paying for itself in a couple of years. Moral of the story? Start as early as you can and you’ll be sitting pretty long before you hit retirement age. Of course, a financial expert told me that I need many, many plans more, but that’s another story. Let’s focus on the positive, okay? Okay… moving on…
5. I invest in my children. I invest in my spouse. I invest in myself.
Don’t blink. That’s what everyone tells new parents. They grow up so fast and all that. I say, when they give you the hospital bill, tuition bill, piano lessons bill, don’t blink. Just pay the damn thing. Because if it’s money spent on your kids – for sustenance, for the future, for personal growth, and not for frivolous spending – it’s money well-spent. Ditto for the wife or husband.
Finally, don’t forget to invest in yourself. If you need to take some time off work to pursue a dream, do it. You won’t regret it. If you want to pursue further studies, go ahead. You’re worth it. Saving is great, but don’t forget to look out for numero uno. Save for tomorrow, but invest in yourself for success.
Vince Sales is a self-confessed nerd and an avid fan of games, tech, movies, and photography. Catch him raving about his latest video game and what gadget he’s been tinkering at his own lair at Third World Nerd.
Image used under Creative Commons from Erin Kelly
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