November has been a rather costly month for me, between an $800+ airplane ticket to visit the parents for Christmas, and finally breaking down and buying a new cell phone. So now that the month is drawing to a close, I’m taking a hard look at my budget and deciding to buckle down and really live within my means.
This budgeting, though, is an awkward balancing act that is really making me think about my place within the economic hierarchy of Washington, DC, and the United States as a whole. On the surface, I’m doing pretty well–I have a decidedly white-collar, professional job. I live in a decent neighborhood in DC, and I have my own apartment (no roommates, beyond the fuzzy, four-legged ones) I just bought an f-ing iPhone! I try to shop at my farmer’s market whenever possible. I refuse to shop at Walmart.
And yet, I have a negative net worth, thanks to the fact that I rent (so no home equity), I have student loan and credit card debt from college and graduate school, and I have a very small amount in savings.
So it seems that I’ve pretty much been living beyond my means for quite some time. But as someone who has a graduate degree and works a professional office job, there are things that are “expected” to fit in. I mean, I was one of the last people I know to buy a smart phone! You’re not supposed to have to think long and hard about whether or not you can afford to drop $30 or $40 on a night out.
I need to stop with all this “keeping up with the Joneses” BS. As much as I love my foufou coffee and my local coffee shop, I need to stop dropping $6 several mornings a week on a latte and a chocolate croissant. I need to stop buying $15 skeins of yarn when I could just buy something basic for less than $5. I eat out so rarely that I can’t really cut much there, but I can work on making sure that I cook at home as cheaply as possible, while still being healthy. I don’t have cable, and split my internet, so not much to cut there. I already don’t own a car.
And then there’s rent. I adore my apartment–it’s adorable, and very “me”, and it’s wicked convenient. And it’s an amazing deal for my neighborhood. But it still costs me about 60% of my monthly income.
As much as I love my apartment, I’m keeping an eye out for something that would put me under 50% of my monthly income going to rent. Yes, this will probably mean giving up a dishwasher, and the convenience.
But I really, really, REALLY don’t want to move. But I feel like something has to change. As much as I want to be, I’m simply not middle class. And I need to stop trying to be, if I ever want to be able to live within my means.