You Won’t Regret Your Frugal 20s

The topic of regret is a controversial one, especially in personal finance. Whole treatises have been written on the premise that if you live frugally during your twenties and make sound financial decisions for the future, you’ll regret wasting your youth as a joyless loner.

We reject this characterization of a frugal youth for a couple of reasons:

  1. It doesn’t take a lot of (or any) money to have fun with your friends. In fact, some of the best times I’ve had with friends involved spending zero dollars!
  2. You can (and should) pursue fun long past your twenties. A great woman once said that if you’re not getting happier as you grow older, you’re fucking up. And I whole-heartedly agree! Life has only gotten better after thirty for me.
  3. You’re at more risk of regretting not saving than you are at risk of regretting not going out to da clerb that one time. Saving for retirement in your twenties isn’t a ticket to Regretsville or Unfuntown. It’s a way of ensuring you’ll be able to have fun later in life instead of working forever.

And yet fear of this kind of regret persists.

FOMO

I get it! No one wants to constantly feel left out. FOMO is real! But I also firmly believe that no one wants to get to retirement age only to realize that all the money they could’ve lived on for another twenty to thirty years got puked out after a night of binge drinking. (It has been said that you’d have to drink a lot of alcohol to puke out your retirement savings. These naysayers underestimate both the power of compound interest and the alcohol tolerance of the average 23-year-old.)

Yet I don’t fear regretting my frugal twenties when I get to my twilight years. Now, depending on a single, barely funded income stream after retirement, one that could easily go up in a puff of smoke… that’s something worth regretting.

One of our adorable and beloved Tumblr babies asked recently:

“I’ve been reading this blog for the past three hours or so and just finished the post regarding financial vampires. This reminded me of a dilemma I’ve been struggling with. I’m young and I want to have fun. I don’t want to be 35 and realize that I wasted my 20s worrying about saving money and being responsible. But on the other hand… I really want to be financially well off. Help me convince myself that I won’t regret not going out every Saturday night.”

Honey child, we are here for you.

Our wasted youth

When Kitty and I were penniless college students, we shared a tiny apartment with a shower so small you’d bump your elbows just lifting your arms to wash your hair. It was a fourth floor walk-up and the diminutive kitchen was… merely decorative.

We were both working hard to make money on top of unpaid internships and studying for class. We didn’t have two extra ha’pennies to rub together! So for fun, we wandered the streets of the city at night with our friends.

I remember the night we got dressed up like models and headed down to the wharf to do a fake photo shoot with our friend’s fancy camera from his summer photography class.

One night we dared each other to climb the statue of Paul Revere on his horse. It took three of us to boost our friend Charlie up there and he nearly broke his ankle jumping off because we couldn’t figure out how to get him down again. (Charlie’s fine. I’ll never look at that damn statue the same way again.)

Another night we played strip poker on the roof of our apartment building because it was hot as balls inside.

Then there’s all the times we played Mario Kart until the sun rose.

I have to smile remembering when we sat around our tiny kitchen making up songs on my guitar and laughing so loud the neighbors pounded on the walls.

And I remember bringing the worst book proposals home from my internship at a literary agency. We sat around doing dramatic readings of these proposals over cheap wine and yesterday’s bread from the 24-hour bakery across the street. (Shout out to Princess Popperina Pezzle of Popperania, the unpublished YA novel about a princess who just wants to be a pop star. #NEVERFORGET.)

These memories are priceless to me. And they cost us nothing to create.

But no no, give me a moment to weep over my wasted twenties.

NO REGERTS

I don’t have a single memory like this of going out to a bar and dropping a shit ton of money on a Saturday night. Not one.

We must have done it… but it clearly isn’t as important to me as the time we threw a party to celebrate the anniversary of our friend losing half his finger in an unfortunate table saw accident. It was a finger-themed party, so we served finger food and made finger-themed decorations and played with Chinese finger traps. We even composed a blues song from the point of view of his missing finger. We performed it to raucous applause (I never claimed to have a tasteful sense of humor)!

The point is that the memories I cherish have fuck all to do with spending a lot of money to have fun with my friends. I value the times we made our own fun, got creative, and bonded over trying to save our meager incomes.

I don’t have a single regret about getting through my twenties with money in the bank.

It is possible to have fun after age 29

Sadly, my thirtieth birthday was the last time I was ever allowed to have fun. The very next day, the Fun Police arrived to rescind my fun license. After that it was all PTA meetings and balancing a checkbook on my weekends. I neither have children nor write checks for most of my expenses but still… these are the sad affairs of a thirty-something who wasted her twenties attempting to save money!

Srsly tho: being over thirty is dope.

For one thing, I care less about what anyone else thinks. I still do all the fun things I did in my twenties. But I also don’t do the things I was supposed to find fun but… didn’t. I don’t bother to go to parties and events just to chase social standing. And I’m way more likely to do weird and wacky things I was too afraid to try in my twenties.

Plus? I have the disposable income to do stuff.

I can afford to pursue more fun in my thirties because I didn’t dispense wads of $20 bills like a fucking human T-shirt cannon during my twenties.

Everything in moderation maybe???

Have fun in your twenties. Sure, go out to da clerb once in a while. Take a trip once or twice. But don’t fool yourself: this is not what will make you happy. And it certainly won’t make you financially secure.

I have never feared being so frugal as to miss out on fun. If anything, I wish I’d been able to save more money when I was younger. Think of the compound interest, the security and peace of mind I could have had at age 25 if I hadn’t been saddled with student loans and instead was able to put that money toward my savings and retirement goals. That’s the real FOMO right there.

So I regret nothing about my frugal twenties… except that we never actually managed to free the harbor seals from the aquarium in the middle of the night. And neither should you.

14 thoughts to “You Won’t Regret Your Frugal 20s”

  1. All of these anecdotes are totally true and giving me life.

    As I sit here, in my rocking chair, darning the shawl of the woman I married after Mister Kitty passed on from The Gout, I reflect upon all the fun we had when we had to make our own. It really was like a second childhood. We couldn’t afford to participate in the sanctioned, suggested forms of fun, so we made castles in the air. (And by castles in the air, I mean we replayed ever Final Fantasy from VI to X, naming all characters things like “BUTTS.”)

    If you have forged real and true friendships, you don’t need money to have fun. And the loneliest people I know have some of the best Instagram accounts.

  2. Great post Bitches! I love it! Well to be completely 100% truthful, I actually love the writing style. The content is just the cherry on top :). Anyway, you guys nailed it here. Everyone goes to bars and clubs – but how much of problem this is depends on where you live. My experience was 50 cent drafts, and dollar well drinks. I used to go clubbing with like $5 in my pocket. (yeah that was within the last 10 years) Wasn’t the best drink… but you were there with your friends. This being said, most of my best experiences were in a quieter setting where you could actually hear your friends. You’re just built to enjoy people, not clubs.

  3. Totally off topic but that author you linked to at the very beginning is ridicuclous. Just read some of her other articles, like about how if your gf/wife is happy, she’s actually cheating on you. This is satire, right??? No way she could actually believe that haha

    But totally agree on the good memories I have not being about spending money. Sure money may have enabled them in some cases (like vacations) but not going out to da club all the time. Key is to find a healthy balance. I do regret not saving more in my 20’s – that’s something you can’t get back. I can always make more memories though. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I cannot tell if Lauren Martin is a savvy entrepreneur harnessing clicks with deliberate nonsense, or a shallow self-contradicting contrarian troll. Either way I’m not into it.

    2. I think she’s sincere! When that article first came libertine lost their minds. I think she defended herself too. And I believe Broke Millennial has a good takedown of the original. But holy not damn, what a misguided premise.

  4. We should regret nothing or we shouldn’t free the harbor seals in the middle of the night? The last sentence was a bit unclear and I want to make sure you’re telling me it’s ok to free the harbor seals.

    1. I see where the confusion lies. Mea culpa. Just to be clear: you should never feel regret… AND you should absolutely try to free the harbor seals. They are yearning for deliverance. Do not deny them.

  5. I think the 20s are the easiest time to be frugal. In my 20s all of my friends were broke students like me! I used to periodically go for $10 sushi, and I felt like I was totally ruining my budget when I did. Most of the time we would get chips and pop and maybe a pizza and hang out in my apartment because I was the only one who didn’t still live at home. It was wonderful!

    In my 40s, now that all of my friends are doctors, being frugal is hard!

    1. I definitely agree that I am seeing more of this split in my friends as we hit our late 20’s and the differences in our incomes are becoming more pronounced- I imagine it will get worse over time. I am very lucky that most of us have retained our frugal instincts from college, so our habits haven’t drastically changed since then. I have seen this scenario play out among former friends/acquaintances, and I think a lot of it is due to a) people not being open about their financial situations and goals and/or b) others just not respecting that. Sometimes we are embarrassed to admit that we are making so much less than our friends. Sometimes when you mention that you are focusing on saving for retirement/kids/grad school, others will see you as acting superior or judgey over their own habits and try to guilt you for “not being fun” in retaliation.

  6. No-fun, boring 20-something here to say I hate da clerb anyway and doubly hate paying cover charges (I have to pay to walk in the door? Fuck outta here with that bullshit!) so I guess I’ll just sit alone in my apartment counting all my pennies and wasting away my youth and charm and good looks.

    Oh wait, just kidding, I’m an awesome person who definitely knows how to have fun without spending her meager earnings. Whew, so glad I’m not wasting away my 20s!

    “I have to smile remembering when we sat around our tiny kitchen making up songs on my guitar and laughing so loud the neighbors pounded on the walls.” Ah, so you were THOSE people that I hate living under/near! 😉 But you’re forgiven for that by your attempts to free the seals!

  7. We followed a similar path when we were in San Diego: shared houses with roommates to keep the bills down, avoided the things we couldn’t afford, and made our own fun. And it WAS fun. I had a blast.

    We kept a lot of the same tactics in our early thirties, too: renting out a room in our first house until we paid off the mortgage…and then found out we were good friends with the renter, so she stayed a few more years.

    There’s really no direct correlation between how much money you spend and how much fun you have. Considering how much fun people tend to have during the decades where they didn’t have or spend much money, there might be an inverse correlation.

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