When I was a teenager, I judged how well I was doing financially by the amount of change in the ashtray of my car. I don’t smoke, and I didn’t let people smoke in my car, so I used the unneeded ashtray to hold spare change. When times were good, there was an abundance of change rattling around in there. When times were lean, I raided the change to pay for everyday expenses and there was not a spare penny to be found.
As I got older, the vessels changed, but the mindset was the same. Instead of my car’s ashtray being the barometer of my financial well-being, it became my checking account. When I had a lot of money in my checking account, I felt like we were in good shape. When my account was stretched to the limit and I was anxiously monitoring every cent, things didn’t feel so good.
Now, since we started this focused debt paydown journey, assessing my financial health has become much more complex than just a single piece of our financial puzzle. In the past, I really only had one piece to monitor. But now my financial picture is much more complicated, and I am glad. Because it means my financial outlook is maturing. To be honest, I don’t really keep track day to day what my checking account balance is. I have a budget and a spending plan, I know how much has gone in and how much I have planned to come out, and as long as I stay within those parameters I let the actual money flow take care of itself. I do check every day for signs of suspicious activity, but otherwise the actual balance doesn’t exactly matter.
What I do use as my own financial barometer now is my savings accounts, our contributions to our retirement account, and our debt totals. As the savings accounts slowly rise, the retirement account is consistently contributed to, and our debt total decreases, I feel more financially healthy. And this is a much more stable and true feeling of financial health, not based on day to day variations of inflow and outflow. My mindset and outlook on my finances has matured, and it only took until my mid-thirties to accomplish that. I guess now is as good a time as ever to become a grown-up. And eventually I will be in a healthy financial place, hopefully for good.