By Aaron Sherman, staff writer for The Dime
Every month, we’re given countless reasons to spend our hard-earned money. It’s why the act of actually saving money is…so…tough. Yet we hearing from, well, everyone, how important it is to be setting X amount aside every month. And so, with the best of intentions, we throw whatever we have left over at the end of the month (if anything) at our savings account. There’s no rhyme or reason, other than we know we’ve got to try to save something. This strategy, unfortunately, will leave our future selves wishing that we had done things differently. But to do the opposite—to save first and then spend—requires a perspective shift that doesn’t come naturally for many. We have to teach our minds how to do it.
Research has shown that individuals imagine older versions of themselves as being entirely separate people. In other words, our future selves are not related to the version of “us” in the here and now—at least not according to our brains. The financial repercussion of this disconnect is that we all struggle to save money because it doesn’t feel like we’re saving it for our future selves. It creates a self-care blind spot, and it’s our future selves that ultimately suffer.
This idea of self-care is pretty trendy at the moment, but it’s important to note that the concept in practice is not limited to the present. We’re taking a yoga class today. We’re sleeping in today. We’re taking it easy today. But what about next year? How are you helping yourself today to be in a better place financially twelve months from now?
Try this exercise on for size:
Imagine your car works well for the next twelve months but in month thirteen, the transmission goes on your way to work. Stranded on the side of the road, you have the car towed to your mechanic, who tells you it’ll cost $2,500 to get your car running again.
Upon hearing that news, will your future self become stressed? Depressed? Will your future self wonder how to squeeze a few more meals out of the grocery budget, or whether it’s best to cancel those plans to fly home? Will your future self put the cost of the new transmission on a credit card? Will it come down to a choice between staying current on your student loan payments or having a working car?
You know how those emotions and thoughts feel, but you may not realize that they’ll feel the same to your future self. So what if you could do something today that would give your future self the ability to pay the mechanic, and thus reduce, if not eliminate, the stressed, depressed, put-it-on-the-credit-card-and-I-will-pay-my-student-loans-next-month emotional response?
Self-care. It’s about taking care of yourself now and in the future. Do you want your future self—YOU—to feel those things, to go through that situation without a reasonable option? Or do you want to make a decision today, when you can afford to, that won’t leave your thirteen-months-in-the-future self in a bind?
To take care of your future self in this scenario, to give you the ability to write a check to the mechanic without having to eat ramen for the next X number of months, the “you” in the here and now would need to set aside $208.33 for twelve months in order to accumulate $2,500.
“$208.33?! I can’t afford that,” you might say. Fair enough. Then go find a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say, Sorry, I can’t help you. You’re on your own. My discretionary purchases today are more important than you.
It doesn’t feel that great, does it? To say that you don’t care enough about the future you to plan a little better and make sacrifices today, so you don’t end up digging yourself into a financial hole down the road? Self-care is saving today so our future selves have options tomorrow.
So go back to that mirror, look yourself in the eye, and try saying instead, I want you to feel financially ready for an emergency. I want you to be free from worry. I want to give you the ability to keep moving forward in life even if there are unexpected bills. Because you are me.
Many see self-care as something to enjoy today. But self-care is also about taking action today to give yourself a better future. Having to respectfully decline an invitation to go out to eat so you can pay down a loan might be self-care. Replacing a night out at the movie theater with a movie night in might be self-care. Decide for yourself the self-care actions to take today to provide for your future self—to provide for YOU—tomorrow.