3 months in L.A.: How I see money differently

Mo' money mo' problems

Before I moved to California, I had a lot of savings, very little debt, few financial responsibilities, and a restlessness for something more.

Now that I’ve been here for three and-a-half months (where does the time go?), my savings are dwindling, I’m thousands of dollars in debt, I’m paying most of my own bills, and that restlessness has morphed into general anxiety. I think I’m finally an Official American Adult.

Needless to say, the way I think about and deal with money has changed drastically in a few short months—which is a good thing, because I don’t take it for granted anymore. Still, money can be a challenge when you’re living in a new city. Part of the point of moving to a new city is actually experiencing the new city. Luckily, we’ve managed to do plenty of that with all the free and cheap things L.A. has to offer. But the several dozen or so amazing restaurants just down the street from our apartment? Not really in the budget to try out right now.

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece for Lady Clever about most people’s attitudes toward money and the false belief that more money means greater happiness. “As long as our basic needs are met and a few indulgences are granted,” I wrote, “We’re not getting any happier.” And yes, while we’d all welcome more cash always, it’s not going to fix depression, a lack of creative inspiration, relationships gone sour, or anything else that might be getting us down.

But my self-quote (ha) brings up an important point: indulgence. What exactly do I mean by indulgence? Well, when I still had a ton of my own money in the bank, I would indulge with the occasional shopping trip. Bad day at work? I’ll just head over to LOFT—I got a coupon in the mail, so I might as well use it to buy a cute new dress and feel better. Hell, good day at work? Today, I’m happy. I’ll celebrate with a new dress from LOFT.

…You see my point.

Now, what I consider indulgences are the basil plant sitting in our tiny 2×6 garden patch and the $6 car wash to keep my new, reliable car (that I still owe $10k for) free of the L.A. dust that’s always swirling around. Maybe if I’d always been of this mindset, I’d have saved even more money and wouldn’t be eyeing my savings account with a wary gaze.

And let’s not forget those student loans. I’m lucky that my undergrad schooling was paid for and relatively inexpensive to begin with, but what I’m spending for two years at USC for grad school (with additional living expenses, because I’m hardly earning enough part-time to pay half of rent) is, admittedly, obscene. To be honest, I frequently question whether I’ve made the right decision by going to this fancy school. Which is why it’s so important that I make the most of it and bust my ass so that when I graduate, I’m able to get a job—or several jobs—that will allow me to start paying back those loans… and hopefully afford to eat, too.

It’s an expensive life lesson, and one I’m grateful to learn early on. I recognize the privilege and opportunities I have by going to school, but I don’t have any delusions that the perfect, well-paying job will just land in my lap because of the prestigious name.

One of the biggest changes for me is how I think about material things. I never liked to think of myself as a material person. What person with substance does? But I was. Am still, I guess. To some extent, I probably always will be. I can’t help it—I love beautiful things. But I see them differently now. I got rid of more than a third of my wardrobe before moving out here, and looking in my closet now, I’d like to get rid of even more. Gone are the days when I shopped just for fun. I used to daydream about making our place Apartment Therapy-beautiful, but now all I care about is making it feel like home. And money? I could most definitely use more of it. But I no longer look at it as a gateway to happiness—just something to be monitored and dealt with. Money is what got me to L.A., along with some serious determination, patience, and planning. And for that, I’m grateful.