By Courtney Beesch

My first set of consistent paychecks began when I was 15-years-old, working as a hostess for a local food joint. After finishing my school day, I’d wipe down menus, seat families, and make sure there were enough crayons for children accompanying their parents. I didn’t need the extra cash, but I felt a sense of pride in knowing that the money I did spend came from my own pocket.

Back then, my expenses were relatively small and frivolous, including things like gas for my car and other discretionary items such as movie tickets and meals out with friends. Attending an all girls private high school also meant that clothes, makeup, and shoes were nonexistent desires as far as my wallet was concerned. When I did indulge in shopping trips, I stuck to thrift stores and clearance racks. Weeks could go by without me needing to check my bank account; an unimaginable luxury that today causes my heart palpitations to increase exponentially.

The cycle of earning a little, spending even less, then earning a little more lead me to believe that I had a better-than-average understanding of financing. Until I had to consider spending that went deeper than whether or not I wanted a side of guacamole in my Chipotle, I would’ve argued that personal financing came naturally.

Beyond having to conceptualize the cost of rent for the first time, college me had to consider things like drinking copious, but necessary, amounts of caffeine, healthy items were almost always more expensive, and that investing in a jet pack would probably be less expensive than having to pay to park everyday. Relearning the basics of budgeting felt comparable to re-learning to walk; just when you think you’ve got it, you end up tumbling down again. Stress-inducing as it was, it forced me to think creatively about how to develop a sustainable lifestyle. Little changes like buying coffee grounds rather than by the cup, taking the light rail instead of parking and even changing my choice of protein to tofu over meat products made it much easier to save. A few simple adjustments made it easy to live within my earnings bracket and skim by each month, just fine. That was working perfectly until I found myself needing more than just the basic necessities.

I made a vital mistake in seeking for the cheapest parking and ended up paying the price, quite literally. Another lesson learned in my journey to understanding financing was that of seeking and respecting signage in parking structures. While visiting a friend’s apartment complex, I parked my car in the two-hour parking zone. I figured I’d be back in time and even if I wasn’t, they probably just put the “tow away zone” sign up to scare people. Plus, I had plenty of negative reinforcement through stories of people parking there overnight and returning to their car without even being fined. However, when I returned, having stayed a longer than anticipated, there was no sign of the yellow bug I’d left. Poof. Vanished. Towed.

There was no line item in my budget that allocated funds for having to purchase my car back from a tow lot. There was no line item at all that included savings of any kind. Anything discretionary was probably spent on coffee. In those first moments of disbelief, I lost all ability to justify every time I’d spent 5 dollars on a coffee I could’ve made at home without even blinking an eye. Beyond the embarrassment that came from having to call my parents to ask for money to release my car, this accidental fine made me realize that when it comes to money, its imperative to think beyond just what you can afford in the moment. Budgeting requires also thinking about the “what if” that comes with learning how to be an adult. Never again will I overlook this necessity or the authority of signage in parking lots.