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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.