jillianduch
The most obvious answer is - HA! You're a journalist! Money? Ya ain't got none.

:: loooooong-suffering sigh ::

Some stereotypes exist for a reason. But no matter how little (or how much) money you make, you still decide how to spend it, and clearly spend more of it on some things rather that others.

For example, after years of stalking Gap and other typical suburban mall shops enough to spot a good deal on jeans or an emerging trend that MUST be followed, I REALLY limit my clothing purchases. Especially those made outside of an outlet mall. In fact, I would say that my only true mall purchase in the last year has been some Clinique make-up. Which replaced (some of the) make-up I bought a year earlier. (Yes, the mascara I'm using is at least 8 months old. It's true. My eye-sight seems fine, though.)

On the flip side, I have dumped well over $300 on work-out gear at Dick's Sporting Goods and New Balance. Because when you spend several hours a week sweating profusely, you can really tell a difference between cheap shoes and yoga pants and the stuff with dry-wick and extra support. It's worth it.

In the meantime, I've been plunking pennies into my savings account and 401(k). I've reached the point where clothing and purses and cars kinda register on my radar as status symbols, but my heart skips a beat when a guy clearly has a healthy retirement account, a good view supported by expert opinion of how much house he can afford and a general disdain for paying interest on credit cards. Maybe it's because I don't completely fit in any of those categories, although I want to. I'm not a gold-digger, but I'd like to be attached to someone whose definition of financial responsibility loosely aligns to mine.

It's hard to balance. I feel as a college-educated, hard-working adult, I deserve to have a certain amount of outside-work fun (that's how I justify all the money I poured into the 3-Day and the trip to Washington, D.C. Oh, and that trip last winter to New Orleans). I also need to present a certain image of myself as a professional (Hence, I buy clothing that is more expensive and better made than the fare at Wal-Mart. I don't have the most expensive or newest stuff, but I can't say that I've ever bought clothing at a thrift store. Or likely will.)

But, it likely will be a long time before I can afford another vacation. I have an emergency fund, but it's not even close to the three- or six-months expenses financial gurus suggest you have in case of unexpected unemployment. I put some money into a retirement account each month, but it's also not close to the 12 to 15 percent these same gurus recommend.

I don't believe in paying interest on credit cards. But I do like the free bonus points, so I generally dump car insurance and other big expenses on a zero-interest card and pay it off gradually while taking those free gift cards straight to the store. (Although some have said that party's just about over.) Money for health and dental insurance is taken out of each paycheck, but I don't think I can really afford the major dental work that probably needs to be done in the next year or two. And I'm pretty sure a major medical incident would sink my finances.

So, how does my money define me? I'm not the best-dressed, but I'm not the worst. I have good stories to tell, but those come from my job, not my super-exciting weekend adventures or vacations. I own a car, but it's a 2006 Ford Taurus I'm still paying for. I splurge on dog treats, but that's because BlackJack is the cutest real-live teddy bear ever. I haven't made the worst spending decisions ever, but I don't exactly consider myself financially stable. If there was an easy way to bring more money into my life, I would undoubtedly take it.

Did I just describe the situation where at least 40 percent of 20-somethings find themselves? I don't know, but I'm only a year and a half away from 30, so I'd better figure something out soon...
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