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- I grew up in a household that struggled to make ends meet.
- My parents always filled the gas tank for $20 at a time.
- After I started taking a long-term approach to finances, I was able to fill my closet completely.
- Compare the best savings accounts with Fiona.
I learned to drive in the suburbs. This was what my mom always drove: Since we were a family of six and often traveled with a bunch of cousins and friends, we needed the nine seats and roomy luggage space. Unfortunately, the gas tank was also huge, so a few times a week my mom would stop by, get a $20 bill, and send me to the gas station, where I learned to ask for “$20 on the fourth pump”.
We were busy – running to four different activities for the kids – so it was easier to stop once a week to fill up on the stench. But my parents needed to earn $20 each before they could spend it on gas. They’ll refund the $80 or so needed to fill the tank, but they didn’t have all of that at the start of the week.
Of course, I didn’t think much of why we had frequent gas stops when I was a kid. But when I met my partner and he moved in with my family, he pointed out that we stop for gas every day.
“Why don’t you just fill up?”
That’s when I realized filling up was a privilege. It wasn’t until I made financial changes to go beyond salary living to salary I could fill in without a second thought. This summer, with gas prices higher than ever, I complained and groaned at the pump like no one else. But I took a minute to appreciate my financial progress.
Let me budget a long-term approach to money
Soon after that conversation with my partner, I started thinking about budgeting. I realized I could think of money not just in terms of what was in my bank account that day, but in terms of what was coming in and going out over the course of the month.
It was a simple shift in perspective – many people probably understand it intuitively. But I grew up in a family where we were constantly dealing with financial crises. The limited money was directed to where it was most needed at that moment, whether it was for a gas tank, to buy groceries, or to keep the lights on. Tomorrow’s expenses are tomorrow’s problem. There was an immediate necessity for spending options.
By making a budget, I’m starting to throw off that logic. My partner and I had enough in attendance to make ends meet, so for the first time I had room to breathe. If I already set aside $80 a week for gas, I can confidently fill up my tank without worrying about my card being rejected or not being able to afford groceries the next day because I spent so much on gas.
High gas prices made me realize how different life is now
It’s been years since I had to put only $20 or $40 in my closet. When I was a kid, seeing how low a gas tank could be was a form of family art. We have run out of gas more than once. Now, it is rare for my warning light to come on. Once I’m less than a quarter of the tank, I’m full back up, even with record-high gas prices.
This seems very ordinary. But it represents the ways in which not having enough money affects all areas of your life. It interrupts your ability to make logical decisions or plan ahead. It leads to more expenses – like AAA calls and lost work in those times we crash because we didn’t have $10 to spend on gas.
When you’re on the other side, the right way to do things is obvious, as my husband pointed out all those years ago. Fill up once and save yourself time and effort for the rest of the week. But when you don’t have that option, you simply do your best. Small changes like budget and advance planning won’t make a difference for everyone – they can’t make up for very low incomes or very high expenses. But for me it was an important tool that allowed me to reach a goal I didn’t realize I was aiming for: a full gas tank every time.