Numb to Money

underemployed, in debt, college grad money, surviving recession, what is your value, money values, gen y

How to survive being young and in debt.

One way to deal with young adult life in a “down” economy is to numb yourself to money. Decide that your value has nothing to do with money, so that being broke won’t get you down. Money can only make you miserable if you measure yourself by it.

In the first year of my career I was depressed about the economy and my student loans. I felt robbed, and told myself that if my younger self had known, he wouldn’t have worked as hard in college. Then it dawned on me; I wasn’t doing it for the money back then, so I shouldn’t be sad now. Most college students take it for granted that they will do well financially, but like most of them I didn’t choose my major because of money. Still, I began working to take money completely off the table.

It was as if someone said: “No matter what you do, you will be broke for a while. No matter how hard you work, you will be in debt for decades. So, what will you do?” This was both a question and a dare.

The solution? Meditation and Self-Awareness. I don’t mean sitting down a certain way, and closing your eyes. I mean taking a long hard look at who you are, liking it, or changing it to someone you will like. This is something you do alone, by yourself, with the television and cell phone OFF.

In those days I would go straight home from work every day and just sit and reflect. I thought about my life, and who I was. I thought about who I wanted to be. I asked myself whether my life would really be any happier if I didn’t have student loans (the answer was no because I had issues at work). I asked myself what I could change in my life to improve it—even though that might not affect my wealth.

It was as if someone said: “No matter what you do, you will be broke for a while. No matter how hard you work, you will be in debt for decades. So, what will you do?” This was both a question and a dare. I decided that I would live. I would find other ways to measure my worth. I decided that I would measure my worth by how much of who I am, that I was able to be.

I decided that I was someone who enjoyed music, so I tightened my budget and acquired a digital piano. I decided that I enjoy learning about money, and to keep doing that whether or not my employer needed that from me. I noticed that I already had a small following of people who asked me for advice ranging from how much to save to how to make a budget. I went from doing people’s taxes for free, to making them paying clients.

Today, I make more money both from a job and from my tax and financial planning practice. I have paid off the piano completely. But the real joy I have comes from doing something I enjoy (learning everything I can about money) and using it to help people. I have a small group of people who read my articles online, benefit directly from my knowledge as clients, and to top it all, they are my friends!

I have learned that no matter what you do for the world, you cannot guarantee that when it is time to sell it, the world economy will pay you big bucks for it. But if you enjoy what you do, people who need it most will gravitate to you—and whatever they pay will be enough for you to keep doing it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with all the young, broke people is that they are so miserable about it? Maybe instead of feeling sorry for ourselves for being in debt, or unemployed, we should go out and do something valuable for the world? Nobody can guarantee that we will never be broke, but people who eventually get rich are the ones doing valuable things. Instead of feeling sad about how society values us right now, (as reflected in our financial worth), I think young adults should strive to focus on creating value within ourselves, then letting others benefit from it. This has nothing to do with money.


Read more on Money on The Good Life.

Image credit: bradipo/Flickr

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About Albert Okagbue

Albert has devoted his life to understanding money and wealth, especially how they mix with culture. He writes and is the author of Stop Budgeting Start Living: How to Sync Your Money and Your Life. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and has a Tax & Financial Planning practice in Houston.

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