Contrast is what it's called when you have an experience that is less than fabulous, and it serves the purpose of setting you up to a greater understanding of that which you do want in your life. Maybe you have a horrible experience with a boss, or relationship, or a past-due bill; it makes you feel terrible, but simultaneously makes you realize the way you want your life to be. That's contrast.
Well, I've been experiencing a lot of contrast recently, some of which has made me really miss connecting with people I love in person. I want more of that in my life. Also, being so still throughout the pandemic has made me realize how much I love to get up and go! I love hopping an airplane and appearing somewhere that a friend or loved one lives; seeing interesting things, and above all, connecting. So, I've taken advantage of a couple of teacher breaks so as to get a little more of that in my life. I visited some family in the Pacific Norwest, saw one of my very best friends, and made the last-minute decision to catch my cousin's wedding in Arizona. These were honestly some of the very best dollars I could have spent, as these experiences will remain with me long after possessions are gone.
But let's talk dollars and cents here... I am done with the days of spending money I don't have on vacations and other experiences. While they make me feel good in the moment, there's a certain "financial hangover" that we tend to experience when we spend money via credit that we don't have the cash to pay off. I no longer do that. I don't put it on a credit card if I don't have the cash to immediately pay it off. So, that's a good thing. However, I didn't exactly budget this. I literally took cash from a place I had it and decided to pay for my travel, and honestly, it's fine because the cash was there. But, when I check in with my emotions, I find another example of contrast. You see, I had the money sitting there, and was thinking I'd use it for a particular savings goal. Instead, I used a portion of it for my travel expenses. While I didn't do anything particularly wrong, I also didn't feel great about it because once I decide how I want to attack a certain savings goal, I really like to stick with it! I started experiencing some slightly lower feelings about rearranging my cash in this way, and started to ask myself "Could this negative experience be contrast? What does this make me realize I want in life?" The truth is that it really was contrast and it was highlighting the fact that I need to add a line item to the budget for travel. During the worst of the pandemic, it was largely unnecessary, but things have shifted, and my soul's desire is more time with people I care about. This involves travel. Travel involves money. I actually don't feel bad spending money on travel at all! I only feel bad when I take money from another savings bucket. So, let's alleviate that!
I use the 50/30/20 budget popularized by Elizabeth Warren. I've written about it before, and enjoy its simplicity. The quick recap is that you figure out your overall income (take-home pay plus things you intentionally have coming out of your check like retirement and HSA). Then you allot no more than 50% of that to Fixed Expenses (rent, mortgage, water bill). Fixed Expenses usually don't change and can't really be gotten rid of. They're usually needs. Then, 30% of your income goes to Lifestyle or Flexible Spending. This includes everything from cell phone plans and groceries to haircuts, travel, and movies. While you might be thinking "Hey! I need food and my cell phone!" I place these items there because we often spend more than we need in those categories based on lifestyle choices. This is absolutely fine, but I find it important to recognize that we do this. The last category is for Goals, which makes up 20% of your income. This includes savings, investing, and debt reduction goals. On a month-to-month basis, I generally only really do much with the Flexible or Lifestyle category. My fixed expenses get paid but rarely change. My goals are largely scheduled on autopilot. Obviously, if something gets paid off or a savings goal is met, I pause to reconfigure that category. But most of the monthly work takes place within Flexible/Lifestyle. So, this is where I will be revisiting. I will decide how to rearrange things to build my travel budget back in.
The contrast in my life has highlighted that which I want more of in my experience, and now I am going to be sure that I am using my money in order to support those desires. It was a bit of momentary financial discomfort, but it has allowed me to recognize the need to revisit my budget and use it in order to facilitate activities that bring me joy. I would encourage you to take a look at some of the contrast in your experience and use it to your advantage as well.