I Have No Money to Save. Here's Why I'm Not Worried

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  • Financial plans prevent worry during tough times.
  • Pay attention to stress when life is boring. Make a financial plan. Be flexible.
  • Focus on paying off debt, saving an emergency fund, and automating your savings.

You can cross "winning the Powerball lottery" off your list of guesses.

It's been a rough year. My rent went up, and I overspent on clothes and food. Now, I've delayed my move-out date, and it's all I can do to keep my savings account from drying up. I'm not in crisis mode -- I'm not losing more money than I'm making -- but it's a near thing.

Worse, articles keep popping up telling me to invest when the market is low. Or that the average American has $X in savings. Sure, they're exciting reads -- I've even written a handful -- but when I have no money to save or invest, it can feel like America is moving on without me.

Sometimes, I mess up. Or the world breaks. Sometimes, I can't meet the rigorous goals I set for myself. The end of 2022 is one of those times.

Ugh. It's frustrating. Even so, I'm not worried about going broke. While breaking the budget is stressful, I've already done the bare minimum to keep my stress from boiling over.

The bare minimum

I don't believe in cheap "mindset hacks" or get-rich-quick schemes. Hacks focus on short-term things like "quick stress management" and "nifty napkin folds" that ultimately don't matter. Or they require big life changes (e.g., "yoga every day makes the pain go away"). Or both.

No thanks. Yoga is great and all (heck, I dabble), but I don't have time for daily 30-minute vinyasa challenges. There are a million things I could be doing with my time, and like many people, I have a general sense of how I want to spend it.

I want simple financial strategies that fit my lifestyle. Bare minimum, they must do the following:

  • Work right away and for a very long time (preferably forever).
  • Prevent me from worrying in the first place.

I have no money to save, and it sucks. By doing the bare minimum -- embracing stress, making a plan, and being flexible -- I have the confidence to weather hard times and come out okay.

Embrace stress

I'm not worried about my financial future -- much -- but I am human. On bad days, the little things get to me. On bad days, I get the sinking feeling the number in my checking account is doomed to an inevitable death spiral. On bad days, I let myself munch on donuts and Google life hacks like "how to calm down" and "how to do yoga while eating donuts."

Bad days happen. They're normal. They're also terrible times to make major life decisions.

I pay attention to the boring days. On boring days, stress is something I can examine without feeling overwhelmed. Stress lets me know where I lack confidence in my finances. It tells me where I'm underprepared for tough times.

Typically, when I'm stressed about money, it's because (1) I haven't made a financial plan or (2) I haven't changed my plan to keep up with everything happening in my life.

The solution may not be easy, but it is straightforward.

Make a plan

Financial plans prevent worry. When you follow good plans, you know you're on the path to financial success. You're prepared for things to break -- in fact, you expect it.

A good financial plan has three elements:

  • It works right away.
  • It prepares you for tough times.
  • It includes some way for you to track your progress.

My plan involves canceling my DoorDash subscription, deleting my favorite shopping apps, and downloading a simple budgeting app so I can keep track of my progress. It involves postponing my moving plans until I have enough emergency savings to pay half a year's rent.

No plan is bulletproof. Sometimes, bad days turn into bad years. Sometimes, life events flush my pretty predictions straight down the toilet (hello, 2022). That's why it's important to be flexible.

Be flexible

Plans fail. It happens all the time. Despite that, plans are worth making. Learning from failure is easier when you know exactly where expectations break down.

Plans are my blueprints. They map my successes and failures. When the stock market crashed and took my portfolio with it, I retraced my steps. I compared my financial plan to my financial reality and saw where things went sideways. And then?

I tweaked the plan.

That's all anyone can do, myself included. And knowing I've done my best to prepare for an uncertain future prevents me from worrying -- I've already done what I can.

Where do you start?

If you want to stop worrying and start planning, there are some things you can do to reduce stress right away.

Here is advice I've found useful:

Here are the things that have saved me the most money this year:

  • Living with family (cheap rent)
  • Living near friends (cheap travel and help)
  • Shopping through Instacart (groceries are cheaper than dining out)

TL;DR: Pay attention to stress when life is boring. Make a financial plan. Be flexible.

Start small. Track your progress. If you fail, change things up and try again. It's been a tough year. Deep breaths -- you've got this.

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