WHEN MY SISTER graduated from physicians’ assistant school earlier this year, I gave her a journal, the pretty, unmarked, paper-substantive kind that every female loves. Inside, I wrote five things that I wish I’d known, or am glad I knew, when I got my bachelor’s in 2006. Here was the first:
I’m gonna call it self-tithing. Ya know: Basically, what Mom and Dad taught us to give to the church, I’m telling you to give to yourself. Save 10% to 20% of every paycheck, and you’ll be surprised how fast it grows. (Just don’t tell Mom.)
Among the many things that I’ve needed to “learn my way through” since college, there are some I’ve done well. Among them: Living the advice I gave my sister. I can still remember how paltry 10% of my first paycheck felt—and how ineffective I felt “saving” that amount of nothing. What’s $28,000 a year, minus income and payroll taxes, divided into two payments per month during each of 12 months? I’ll answer my own question: So paltry that I’ve misremembered the exact tiny amount.
I was living in Washington, DC, at the time, renting a room about the size of my current bathroom. My Goodwill carpet didn’t fully cover the cement floor and a $299 Ikea mattress seemed an incredibly irresponsible splurge. Let’s just say the itty-bitty living space matched my savings.
Back then, I often stole dinner from my employer’s kitchen. Expired chili is actually better than you’d think. This was back in the day before addressing the employee experience with grass-fed beef was a thing. All that to say, at the time, saving did not feel normal or natural.
“I don’t have the budget,” I remember arguing with myself. “I can barely afford rent!”
“I know, I know,” I self-responded. “But starting the habit later will be that much harder.”
Somehow, I listened to myself. Or maybe more accurately, I listened to parents-in-my-head who’d taught me to tithe and save. Since then, I’ve mostly saved 20%, mostly for myself and 501(c)(3) giving.
I shared these things with my love-you-like-a-sister over a Nashville dinner, while sipping real champagne bubbles and sitting face to face.
Set up an automatic transfer. Like literally. Have your employer funnel a portion of every paycheck—before you see it—to an entirely separate account. Live your life like the money’s not there.
Like much good advice, I knew following it isn’t easy. So I also told her how the approach could eventually pay off. In my case, saving up to 20% positioned me to buy and remodel a condo in incredible and incredibly expensive Silicon Valley. I relish the sensation of self-sourcing my own security and home. The place isn’t huge. It isn’t brand new. But as a first-time homeowner, I couldn’t see it as more lovely.
Caitlin Roberson, author of 30 Ways to Happy, lives and works in Silicon Valley, where she helps top tech executives change the world through business storytelling. Caitlin obsessively lifts weights and attends hip-hop classes, so she can tithe in Napa, guilt-free. Follow her on Instagram @CRobRobber.
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