Investing To Know Yourself

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It was Friday, the sun was setting and we had just finished the typical Ikea-meal: meatballs and mashed potatoes with brown sauce and lingonberry jam. We decided to check the outlet-corner (or the Corner of Findings as it’s called) before hitting the rest of the store, curious to see what they had there.

We have never actually found anything we wanted in the outlet, the furniture being either too expensive or unnecessary for us, but this time my partner spotted a grey armchair on the staff-side of the outlet, kept behind a red-white line that separated the customers from the staff space. We walked to the red-white line to take a closer look at the chair (both curious because we planned on getting armchairs for the new apartment instead of a sofa) when a staff member asked if we wanted to step over the line and try sitting in the chair. Yes, please!

We stepped over the line to the staff-only-space, and I got to test-sit the chair first.

Let me tell you – it was  the  p e r f e c t  chair.

It wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t too hard, it was just perfect (and yes, it was a total Goldilocks moment). And apparently I looked so comfortable sitting in that chair that the staff member reminded me friendly not to fall asleep there. He had a point – the chair felt so comfortable I could have taken a nap in it right then and there.

However, we left Ikea without the perfect armchair. Why? Because 1) the price was not exactly student-friendly, and 2) we aren’t staying in the next apartment too long which made me think it was unnecessary to invest in that kind of armchair for such a short amount of time. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really wanted the chair, but the facts spoke against buying it so we left the grey armchair to the outlet.

Yet, in the evening (after we had returned from the 2,5 hour-long trip to Ikea) my partner asked me this: although the chair was expensive and even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for a very long time – wasn’t I worth that perfect chair? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the perfect chair as long as I could, and invest not in the chair but in myself?

And that was an excellent question. What was I actually doing when I decided not to buy that chair that was so comfortable, so perfect? What kind of logic is it, and is it a sensible logic in the long run?

Cheap Living

I’ve been a student now for five years. I’ve lived on my own, handled my own money and been responsible for many adult-life-things, including my finances. Being a student with a very limited monthly income means that I’ve also lived as cheaply as possible for the past years. It has become a routine of some sort: comparing prices at the food store, making detailed grocery lists, avoiding spontaneous shopping and so on.

Especially after I returned from Ireland in the Fall of 2016, having studied there for one semester as an exchange student, I started paying more attention to my finances. That had most probably to do with the fact that when I came back I had less than 20 euros on my bank accounts (not my most glorious days, to be honest). Before Ireland I hadn’t really considered how I consumed my money – but now I decided to take action, never wanting to be in a similar economic situation again.

Today and two years later, after returning from The Green Island, the situation is quite different. I’ve become more conscious about my incomes and expenses. Together with my partner, we’ve managed to minimize our expenses, and I’m doing my best to update an Excel-file every week to keep an eye on our money.

During these last couple of years, I’ve managed to build an economic buffer for myself for emergency cases, for a rainy day or simply to be able to invest that money someday in something. But as I’ve reached this state of economic ”welfare”, it has made me think: I’ve been saving and saving and saving, 10–15 percent of every payment I’ve received on my bank account from subsidies to study loans to salary. That has been a plan that has worked better than I expected. But when have I saved enough? Or, rather: when can I put my savings into good use? I mean, the money isn’t just supposed to sit there on that bank account until the day I leave this world, right?

Right?

Because, as I wondered about the armchair I had left in Ikea, I asked myself this: how do I know when to skimp and save the money, and when to invest in myself and in my own life? After living the life of a student for so long, do I even know what investing in myself is anymore?

Rerouting the Thinking

As I’ve been living cheaply/economic-consciously for the past couple of years it has become almost like a lifestyle. The economical thinking is rooted into my thought-system and turns on automatically when I’m making choices. In one way, this is extremely helpful, giving me the continuity in cheap living – but when seen from another perspective, it gets a bit tricky.

I feel that this kind of autonomous cheap thinking twists the way I see myself and what I’m worthy of. Often I find myself thinking ”I cannot afford this” and opting for the cheaper alternative instead. Or I leave the object in the store, thinking that ”maybe I don’t need it anyway”. And in one way, again, this is helpful – but then again, I wonder this: do I hinder myself from buying something that could give me great joy simply because I think I can’t afford it?

As the amount of money on my savings account has been increasing slowly but surely, I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are actually quite a lot I could afford. But it’s amazingly difficult to try to switch from that cheap thinking to investment thinking – mostly because when I find something that feels worthy to invest in, those items tend to be the more expensive ones. But if I really want those things and think they will help me do the things I love to do – aren’t they worth the investment?

(By the way – although I’m talking about having money on my savings account and being able to afford things, it doesn’t mean I’m in any way wealthy. I do okay, mostly thanks to government subsidies and a study loan, but I rarely eat out or buy new clothes.)

Investing In Yourself

There is a thing I’ve thought about a good deal after that Friday night in Ikea:

I need to invest in myself to know who I am and what I enjoy.

If that money stays on that savings account from here to eternity, simply growing in amount, why have I been saving it in the first place? Isn’t saving money supposed to be about saving for things you enjoy or want to try out?

If you never invest that money you’ve so patiently been saving, how will you ever learn to know yourself and what kind of things you enjoy? If you only leave cheap, always skimping and thinking ”I can’t afford this” although you do, have you actually lived life to the fullest at all?

During this move we’ve made oh-so-many choices from carpets to chairs to lamps, and it’s been a constant balancing between what to invest in and where to save the money. And the conclusion we have come to in this decision-making process is that if the item you are thinking about helps you get closer to where you want to be or helps you to do what you enjoy, then it’s worth the more expensive one (that also tends to be better quality).

(For instance, the carpet we picked for our livingroom is an investment in our creativity. We call it the jungle mat as it’s a crazy jungle-themed dark-colored carpet with birds and other jungle-like things, and it’s thought-provoking to look at.)

So, after this lengthy thought process on Friday night, we woke up a bit earlier the next morning, drove the car to Ikea five minutes before they opened the doors, raced to the Outlet of Findings, and I bought the chair.

I bought the chair for myself.

I bought the chair because 1) it is comfortable, 2) it doesn’t make my butt hurt, 3) I can see myself drinking my morning coffee in it, reading books and sometimes even writing while sitting in it. In a way, investing in this chair is also an investment in my creative process and my well-being.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

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How much effort do you put into your choice-making when you’re buying something new? What do you think about when making that choice?

Why It Was A Tough Thing To Do

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For the past three weeks I have been writing about how and why I quit my job. But you might wonder why I’m making such a big deal out of it – it’s just a job! Nothing more, nothing less.

Nothing more than a job. Nothing less than a job. That is the problem.

Nothing Less Than A Job

My grandparents grew up in a world filled with political conflicts. They lived in a society where economic security was a luxury only some people had. For my grandparents having a job, money, savings and investments was very important.

Their values were passed on to my parents, who raised their children during the inflation in Finland in the 1990s and who got their share of the economic crisis in 2008. And so, for them having a job, money and savings is also extremely important.

For any of them, quitting a job voluntarily is something that is hard to understand and accept. I think their arguments could go something like this:

”It’s a good thing to have a job. Why quit unless you have another job to go for or some other significant reason for doing it?”

”How can you finance your life if you don’t have a steady income?”

”It doesn’t give a good impression to have quit your job for no proper reason.”

So their three main arguments here would be 1) the economic security of having job, 2) the good reputation you get for having a job, and 3) the norm of having a Monday to Friday nine-to-five-job.

For them having a job is more than just a job. It’s the insurance of a lifetime which you cannot throw away without having some significant reasons for doing it.

But I have grown up in a different world with different values. The working world as we now it is already so different from that my parents and grandparents learned to know. One can create a career online, it’s easier to become an entrepreneur or work half-time while doing projects of your own. But unfortunately, they don’t see the opportunities in the same way as younger generations do. And that’s a challenge.

Only a year ago I believed, for the most part, in the same working values as the rest of my family – and society – does.

Nothing More Than A Job

Now, this is what I think. My job as a radio journalist was only a job and I thought that if I quit it isn’t the end of everything. Rather, it’s a new beginning.

For a long time, I thought I would enjoy being a journalist and that was what I worked for. I had the opportunity to try writing traditional newspaper articles, web-based news pieces and articles and this summer, I tried doing radio. None of them felt right – not in the way I was hoping they would, anyway.

So when I decided to throw away my former dreams of becoming a journalist, it felt like I had the right to do that. I mean, I had tried different forms of journalism without the results I had been hoping for, and felt as if I could motivate my decision to quit as well as I can motivate why I choose chocolate ice cream over strawberry (because chocolate is chocolate – but it goes great with strawberry so if I can have both, I’ll take them).

After all, it was only a job I was quitting. It wasn’t as if I was throwing away my life and absolutely everything I had ever worked for. I had learned new things and values along the way. This job experience had made me wiser and more clear when it comes to my thoughts on what I want to do with my life. I had the opportunity for turning the page and begin a new chapter called ”I quit my job – now what?”

However, not everyone recognize quitting as a new beginning. Not at least in a positive way.

Toughest Conflicts Exist In Your Head

Only a year ago I believed, for the most part, in the same working values as the rest of my family – and society – does. It was important to have a job because 1) it gives you economic security, 2) what else would you do if not work for a company or an organization and 3) it was the decent thing to do.

But a year later, I found myself questioning all three reasons:

1) By proper and realistic economic planning you can plan your year, i.e. how much you need to earn and how much you can spend per month, and still have savings or even invest in something.

2) Finding a job where you enjoy yourself and what you do is extremely hard to find. Especially for HSPs it can be tough to find a work environment that suits one’s needs. Instead, why not work for yourself? It definitely isn’t unheard of these days.

3) This was the hardest thing to question. I had always been the girl who got an A in many of the subjects at school, who worked hard and got the jobs she went for. And now I was thinking – is working in a place I dislike really the decent thing to do – especially if it isn’t what I want to do?

The people-pleaser in me knew that the toughest conflict here was in my head – to do what was the decent thing to do or do what I wanted to do although it was against the norms of the society and my family? Well, as you know, I opted for the more rebellious alternative.

The other conflict in my head was how I would be able to communicate these thoughts to someone who doesn’t (want to) understand my decision. Here, instead of trying to explain the whole truth I decided to tell only part of the truth. This didn’t really make the decision any easier, to know that I wouldn’t be able to answer the question ’why?’ as truthfully as I wanted to. But it felt like a better option than having really complicated conversations with someone who necessarily didn’t even want to understand my decision.

In the weeks before and a week or so after quitting felt as a tough decision. But today it feels like I could do it again, if needed. And that’s a good sign, I’d say.

Now a question to you because I am curious to know – how are the social norms in your family or society when it comes to working? Is it a norm, ’the decent thing to do’ or are you encouraged to embark on your own career path?