A forced analogy on embracing your financial uniqueness and renouncing generic molds
As I was perusing the “aisles” of Amazon.com for a quirky kitchen gadget to gift this holiday season, I stumbled upon a 3-tiered set of travel bento boxes and was swept up in the nostalgia of an old obsession.
I used to collect bento lunch boxes and I had an entire shelf of a cabinet dedicated to such. Being a hardcore BYO-luncher (food allergies and cost efficiency, yo!), I liked to get creative because 1. I can’t eat sandwiches (gluten-free sandwiches are a real bad time) and 2. I graze all day like a frickin’ cow.
So I bought one bento box set where I could put a main course on one level and then stack some snacks on top with an ice pack in between to keep everything sanitary, but then it was too small to fit all of my snacks, so I searched harder and got a 3-tiered set so I could keep the cold snacks separate from the 2 tiers of the main course… Are you still with me? Because I wound up getting yet another set to accommodate my morning cereal (with a cup for the milk!). This went on for a while: a special set for a salad, switching everything over to BPA-free, and so forth.
Now, let me tell you: I felt pretty dang proud being able to organize my meals into neat little transportable sections. But I wasn’t always successful and would get really frustrated and discouraged when I couldn’t assemble the pieces of my meal into a pretty puzzle.
So, long-story-longer, I wound up buying a mini fridge for my corporate office and gave up on the bento boxes all together.
(stick with me – I’m about to make a point)
I stopped trying to compartmentalize my meals into neat, little sections.
I made my own sections with random jars and travel glassware. Sure, it still took some planning because I only had a small fridge and a microwave and I couldn’t just eat whatever I fancied when the craving arrived.
But I couldn’t find a bento box that fit my lifestyle (or my ever-changing, grown-ass adult appetite). And even if I did find that ideal bento box that fit my culinary lifestyle perfectly, it wouldn’t be such a great fit for anyone else. (Seriously, I am the only one who would use a 6-tiered bento box.)
Now let’s bring this back to personal finance – that’s why you’re here, right?
That kind of generic, universal structure really doesn’t work for me. And chances are, if you’re reading this, it doesn’t work for you either.
And trying to find a structure to planning and managing your financial life can feel the same way.
You’re given percentages of what your maximum essentials should be and the minimum amount you should be saving. You scour the internet for a printable budget template only to find that your expenses don’t fit into any of the templates Etsy is inundated with. You tried using Mint.com for a month but the categories are tedious and you have that one account that won’t sync up.
See, we’re all unique little snowflakes!
We have different personalities and different financial goals and different financial obligations. We get paid differently. Some of us prefer cash while others prefer using a debit or credit card. Some of us like pen and paper and others just want everything automated in an app.
So if your budget doesn’t fit into the mold Dave Ramsey or Learnvest tells you it’s supposed to be in, I say “Shove it!” (Not, like, shove your life in that box, but, like, they can shove their box…you get the idea, right? I don’t have to get too graphic?)
If your methods don’t match the advice on Lifehacker, so what?
Our financial lives don’t have to be neat and orderly and fit into pretty boxes.
The key to effectively managing your money is embracing your quirkiness and trying different shit out. It’s all trial and error and finding your groove. It’s about giving up on systems that don’t work and trying something new. It’s about finding something you believe in and writing your own damn instruction manual!
Have you ever tried to fit your finances into someone else’s mold?
(Or, more importantly, any recovering bento box addicts?)