In the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.
Today, one woman shares how her constant anxiety over money caused her to go overboard with her frugal habits, which adversely affected her life in many ways.
I was a pretty lucky child growing up in a suburb of New Orleans. I attended summer camp, went to private schools and learned to play the piano and dance ballet. With their upper-middle class incomes, my parents were able to provide for me in a way that many families can’t.
But while I never knew what it was like to want for anything, my parents did think it was important for me to learn the value of money. Once I became a teenager, they encouraged me to get a part-time job, so I could foot the bill for hanging out with my friends and any shopping excursions. At 14, I got my first gig as a babysitter, moving on to restaurant host and day-care worker during the rest of my high school years.
My paychecks were mine to manage, and I had my own checking account. By the time I graduated, I felt financially independent because I was responsible for all my own spending money.
So I naturally figured I would be able to juggle jobs with school in much the same way once I got to college. But college was a totally different world—and it didn’t take me long to realize that “having enough” would take on a whole new meaning.
My Path to Obsessive Penny-Pinching
In the fall of 2007, I entered Barnard College in New York City. And although I was a straight-A student in high school, keeping up with undergraduate coursework was decidedly more difficult.
From 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., I attended classes, studied, wrote papers and managed to sneak in meals. Unlike many of my fellow classmates, my parents didn’t give me spending money. They took care of my tuition, room and board, and plane tickets home, but I was responsible for scrounging up money for day-to-day expenses.
Because of my nonstop schoolwork, I could work only on the weekends. By my senior year I’d held a medley of odd jobs: babysitter, translator, English tutor, dog sitter, house sitter, model and personal organizer. I never made a lot of money—$200 a week at most—and that didn’t go very far in Manhattan.
As a result, I developed some extremely frugal habits that helped me reduce my spending and save some of the little money I was making—but also launched me on a path to a near-crippling obsession with cutting costs.