Giving Up Aspirational Spending To Finance Real Dreams

Grappling with who I want to be versus who I am

Image: Ingmar Zahorsky

Jobless in LA is not where I saw myself at 29. So, in 2012, when my company got rid of my position, but offered me a promotion in Denver, I said yes. I took it even though I knew the cold and mountains were not for me. Being in Denver away from friends and family gave me a lot of time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Less than a year in my new city, I began applying to grad schools all over the nation as a way out and a way to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer.

When the acceptance letters came in, I decided to downgrade my lifestyle in a major way. I needed to prepare to go from a cushy sales salary to a small grad school stipend. To start saving for the lean years ahead, some changes were obvious — like trading in my luxury apartment with “resort-style living” for a tiny, dark apartment with two flights of rusty stairs I had to climb up and down several times a day during a Denver winter.

The other changes I needed to make weren’t as obvious and were much harder to enact. When my savings account was flush, it was hard to see that so much of my paycheck was needlessly going toward things I can only categorize as “aspirational spending.” I was spending money on the type of person I aspired to be instead of committing my finances to who I actually was.

As a short woman, I’ve always fantasized about being the type of woman that wears heels to work. But I also have freakishly flat old lady feet. I’d spend $100 on a pair of heels, barely make it through an entire work day, and then send them to the back of the closet with the last pair of heels I’d bought when I was indulging in my Boss Lady fantasies. The only reason I still haul all the high heels I bought in my 20s from state to state is guilt.

I discovered I was spending $100 a week on groceries for one and as much, if not more, on dining out each week. While kale slowly rotted in the back of my fridge, I was chopping it up at my favorite restaurant with my favorite bartender — why yes, I’d like another glass of wine with dessert! I needed to get real about the types of things I actually enjoyed eating, instead of filling my fridge with food that sent me running out the door every time my stomach growled.

Aspirational spending is the same reason I’d bought gym memberships that went unused, owned three different shades of pink lipstick I’d never wear, and at one point or another owned Infinite Jest, a book I knew I’d never read for so many reasons. And if we’re going to be honest, it’s the same reason why I’d spent so much money in rent every month living in a tastefully decorated, posh apartment instead of more simple, affordable digs.

Cutting aspirational spend from my budget was a huge ego check for me. I had to come to terms with all of my perceived shortcomings and make peace with myself, so I could start funneling funds toward a dream that I could actually make come true, like going back to school for an MFA degree in creative writing.

I can’t promise I won’t ever buy another gym membership — New Year’s Resolution season is coming up! — but I have gotten a lot better about buying the flats I will wear over the heels I won’t. I now rigorously explore every dollar I spend and the feelings behind that spend. I’m no longer using my income to fund two lives — one for me and one for my much-more-together alter ego.

Minda Honey makes a living off keystrokes, hates onions, and always puts clothes back on the hanger correctly after trying them on in the dressing room.

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