Monthly Archives: August 2009

On Living Within Your Means as a Young Professional


Lately, I’ve been meditating on this topic and how it translates into the careerist corners of my life. In this economy, I must allow my generation to take a chunk of the blame for the credit crisis – we are, after all, not used to immediate repercussions (in any situation) and while we consider our spending habits (and lack of saving habits) normal, previous generations are appalled that we don’t save. That we earn to spend — in general. I know this is largely true for me, I’m not a huge saver.

But times like these call for penny-pinching gumption and at some point, your financial choices become a direct translation to how you are as a young professional. This isn’t a stretch — a lack of accountability to the people who loan you money (creditors, banks, er… parents) means a lack of accountability to teams, employers and clients. No bueno. I hate to immediately Debbie Downer this post, but here’s a list of some correlations that, I think, prove my point:

  • Taking risks: When you take financial risks, it’s a self-centered choice. You’re only thinking about you and how it affects you (unless you have dependents or, in my case, roommates who rely on your portion of the rent). In the professional flip-side, being a risk-taker doesn’t mean thinking outside the box. It means you’re dangerous. If you’re a risk-taker with your money and assets (and the security and freedom they provide) it means that you aren’t really looking at both possibilities for repercussions (good vs. bad) or at least not properly weighing them. While employers and clients appreciate creativity, they don’t appreciate it when you don’t think about how it affects them.
  • Overspending: Overspending doesn’t mean over-confidence. Worse. It means recklessness.
  • Borrowing too much: Like shrugging out of a mistake one time too many, you’re asking people to forgive you and give you a second chance with the same confidence they had in you before, but in the end, they’ll be unwilling to dig you out.
  • Not paying off debts: This one isn’t about consequences. You’re not being punished when you have to pay a credit card bill. The professional equivalent is doing grunt work. Not investing to earn the confidence that creditors (employers) put into you (employment) means bad credit and that future creditors won’t be too keen on giving you loans for important things like houses, cars or perhaps your own business some day.
  • Compulsive buying: This action usually leads to buyer’s remorse, and in the workplace, the equivalent leads to the same sort of gut-wrenching, “how soon can I undo this” feeling and also means that you don’t think things through, which makes you a liability.
  • Not saving: The fact of the matter is that we’re a live-in-and-for-the-now generation. Not likely to change and it doesn’t need to. But because of that, we need to embrace the responsibilities that come with it. We need to realize that there are worthier investments to go after than whatever this paycheck can fit in — like a well-earned vacation or a house — instead of buying that new pair of boots.

I’m willing to admit that a lot of this thinking is from personal experience with overspending, not saving, and risk-taking — in the worst possible ways. I had a magical childhood (as the daughter of a high school math teacher and stay-at-home mom) and played outside all the time, read a lot and used my imagination because we weren’t bought a lot of toys, movies or any video games. But being imaginative and having read a lot of books wasn’t cool in middle school — Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch were. Later those turned into Paige Jeans, Frye boots and that lovely study-abroad stint in London (that never actually happened because I couldn’t stomach taking out an extra $10K in loans for a mere 3 months there). I look back on my life and all those times when I suddenly had money, I spent it frivolously and quickly and I still often have the urge to. Treats were special when I was young because they were unexpected. I miss that.

In any case, while I’ve made mistakes, I will say that I do not have a lot of credit card debt — the significant debt I do have is school loans, and by every definition, good debt. I attribute this nice situation to loving parents who taught me to enjoy life — not buy it.

The other reason I bring this up is that it is becoming important to employers — I recently saw an employment listing for uber-hip Portland  experiential marketing group, Henry V, who, in their ad, asked for applicants who could not only stand a demanding worklife, but also had respectable and mature financial standing. Gulp. Way to whittle that list down, Henry V.

For those out there looking for a job, don’t let your lack of financial accountability and maturity be the one thing that holds you back from a job you’re perfect for.