Last week in the middle of the night I ordered seven tins of tea from London. It was absurd. The cost of the international shipping was equal to the cost of the tea. I could walk into a Teavana. I could order $7 tea from Adagio. Hell, I could go to the damn grocery store. Instead, I made an impulsive and indulgent order because I damn well felt like it.
And it was the most reckless thing I’d done in ages.
The next day I then went to the bank and sat down with a financial officer to calculate reasonable purchase prices in order to keep a potential (theoretical) mortgage under my bi-monthly paychecks—which, in case you’re wondering, is perhaps the most adult and boring, yet strangely exhilarating, conversation you’ll ever have.
While I was walking home from the bank, contemplating potential fixer-uppers and where I could set up a tea cabinet, I had a two-fold revelation: I am a boring adult and the least impulsive person I’ve ever known. When it comes to thinking before you leap, Congress puts out a budget faster than I’ll act on a big decision (spoiler: The first one in eight years was passed last month). I like to think things through, ruminate on them, carefully plan, and then leave myself not only a very sizable safety net but an exit strategy as well.
I paid for a local grad school out of pocket while living at home with my parents and working full time. I’ve been saving at least half my monthly paycheck for the last five years as a house fund. I held off on making any large purchases or disrupting my financial bottom line for three years because I worked for a company that liked to have layoffs every six months. When it came time to choose stocks for a company 401K, all I could think of was how all of these brokers single-handedly helped destroy the economy and how foolish it seemed to trust them.
Maybe it’s the by-product of graduating into a recession, of being the daughter of a self-employed man who makes his money off his own sweat and tears, or an innate older sibling feeling that I must always have a back-up plan, but I’m over-the-top cautious. For many, this makes me boring. I don’t go on vacations I can’t afford in an effort to “find myself,” despite all the press advising that it’s the thing to do. I haven’t bought a new car or gone off to international schools for more post-grad work even though I’ve saved enough to do so because it would be irresponsible.
Everywhere I look I read another article about being impetuous, throwing caution, reason, and responsibility to the wind and just do it: #YOLO, #FOMO, invest in experiences, etc. We’re constantly surrounded by terrible advice that will leave us broke when we’re older, with no assets, and in a world without social security. Maybe there will be some good memories to come out of it, but those are hardly going to keep you warm at night.
Or so I tell myself as I continuously make the “right” decisions, only taking risks when I’m 99 percent sure of the outcome in advance. I watch in half-jealousy, half-judgement as my peers blindly move to new cities, act on a wish and a prayer, and rely on an optimism that “it will all work out.” I sit at home and look at perfect houses online and calculate whether the interest rate is right instead of taking a leap and just putting myself on the line. I budget exactly the same amount for vacations each year, going to the same place because I know it and it’s safe. My nest egg continues to grow and with each dollar I save the more I fear that it’s not enough, that I can just let go and jump if it was just a little bit bigger. If my job was slightly more secure, if I made just a little higher salary, if I get a promotion. But I take baby steps: I changed careers. I’ve started buying things for a house half in hope that it will be a kick in the rear and half because it’s more fiscally responsible to stretch out the purchases.
I’d like to say that I know one day I’ll take a big gamble, I’ll put it all on the line, risk everything and live the life the Internet tells me to. But I won’t. I’ll act, eventually, but I’ll always be cautious. I’ll always be too responsible, a little boring, and missing out. I won’t say that it’s OK and I’ll keep doing me because #youdoyou #noshame, but I will likely keep living my life the way I do. I’ll still be half-judgmental, half-jealous of everyone who laughs in the face of “being responsible.” I’ll keep missing out, but I also won’t ever fall so hard I won’t be able to get back up on my own.
And I bet, that if you’re in your late 20s, lived through the crash, or grew up fiscally uncertain, you might be a lot more like me: A boring, responsible adult.
But hey, maybe we won’t be the generation that causes the next global economy crash because of it.