By OYO Beer Expert Chris Staten
[Chris Staten is not a financial expert. He is just a guy who knows a heckuva lot about beer. He shares his tips for thrifty living, and the occasional beer pairing, with On Your Own.]
If I were to rank the cruelest months of the year February would be the calendar’s most brutal collection of days, hands down. Let’s count the ways: It’s historically the peak month for flu activity; we’re still pining over the shows and movies Netflix removed at the beginning of the year; the NFL goes into hibernation for a grueling six months; and winter’s far from over. Oh, and then if you happen to be single around mid-month, you will not be able to forget it. Cheers, everybody.
If you do find yourself alone on the Hallmarkiest of Hallmark holidays, you actually have an opportunity to learn one of the most positive financial lessons of the year: How to live a fulfilling life on a tight budget.
A few years back I found myself alone yet again on February 14, and I wanted to treat myself. So, while my coupled friends flooded Instagram and Facebook feeds with pics from swanky restaurants, I ordered delivery from my favorite Thai place, which I almost never did because I didn’t think my strict budget could justify such an ephemeral splurge. When the food arrived, I rented “Argo” on demand and spent the night eating pad Thai while watching the CIA rescue American hostages in post-revolutionary Iran. Pair all that with a special imperial stout I’d been saving in the back of my fridge and it was a pretty good evening.
The next day, while going through my routine as a painfully low-paid journalist, a thought occurred: Why did I need a Hallmark holiday to justify splurging a little? Despite a budget bogged down by high rent, car payments and the regular band of bills, it didn’t seem right that my financial constraints were bullying me into an unhappy Spartan lifestyle. Surely there was a better way to live.
Leading up to that point, my purchasing habits went like this: Hold out, hold out, hold out, hold out, meltdown. I thought removing all nonessential expenses equated to living responsibly on a budget. But, like boiling water in a pot, the urge to splurge always built up and inevitably boiled over (like the time I put a few hundred dollars of redundant hiking gear on my credit card).
It all seems pretty obvious now but it’s frightening how easy it is to lock oneself in budgetary jail, which inevitably leads to lashing out with a budget-breaking swipe of a debit or credit card. That pad Thai-and a-movie Valentine’s Day expanded into other small regular treats: Some new vinyl for the record collection here, a trip to the movies there. Before I knew it, I’d begun peppering my life with simple pleasures, like exploring new restaurants every few weeks, or going to see a band once a month. Doing so broke up the monotony of penny pinching, but didn’t drain my bank account. In short I began to live a little – with the help of a budget calculator of course.
Valentine’s Day may be a silly holiday, but it presents us cash-strapped single people an opportunity to discover a roadmap for thoughtful—arguably soulful—purchasing throughout the year. You just have to decide what little pleasures make you happy and then readjust your nonessential spending habits to nurture that happiness. Maybe it’s snatching up a new beer release from your favorite brewery or downloading a new book on your tablet. Whatever your splurge, just don’t forget the “living” part of living on a budget.
[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]