When I was 24, one of my best friends and I pooled our spare change and $1 bills and came up with roughly $88. It was almost enough money to buy two tickets (at $50 each) to a music festival that was 3 hours away by car.
We each worked in the food service industry and put in time off requests with our bosses. With backpacks full of protein bars, homemade pasta salad (ziti, black olives, and cold tomato sauce), various fruits and a bunch of alcohol, we put pedal to the metal and headed out.
The festival was in the middle of nowhere Texas. The town has quite literally one road and fewer than 200 permanent residents. We pitched a tent (that we had borrowed from a friend of a friend) that promptly fell down when the rain began.
The ground turned into a giant mud pit. Since the area was so remote, there was no light except for the sun and the stage lights. When the sun went down and the rainclouds blocked the moon, it was nearly impossible to see outside of the performance area. We were drunk, wet, and filthy within 4 hours of arrival.
And it was amazing.
YOLO: A License For Stupid Decisions
I have not one ounce of regret for that trip. It was incredible, never mind the mud and the rain and the fact that the tent was useless, so we had to sleep in the car. In fact, all of those things added to the experience, because it was so absurd. We were 24 and single and free- this was exactly how we were supposed to be spending our time.
Except for the fact that we had to dip into our very meager checking accounts to cover $22 for our ticket prices, plus food and gas expenses. Except for the fact that we took a weekend off work, and everyone knows that weekends are when servers make their money.
We were living by the classic YOLO rules: you only live once, so put all responsibility to the side and jump into any opportunity that comes your way with everything you’ve got.
That music festival was wonderful, but it did nothing to my finances except make them worse. It exacerbated my financial anxiety. I spent money I didn’t really have.
YOLO has been a rallying call for the Millennial generation for years, and it’s easy to see why. For a generation that was dropkicked by the Great Recession, that faces higher cost of living than our parents while being paid the same amount as them, that is saddled with debt and faced with a disappearing job market, YOLO is a light in the dark.
Why save for retirement when we’d realistically need $1.8 million to sustain ourselves BUT these Coachella tickets are just $429?
Why postpone joy when life is literally on the edge of extinction and who even knows if the systems we’re paying into today (hello social security) will even be around by the time we have access to them?
More to the point: why think about the future when the future is so clearly fucked and I could go to Bali right now?
Defining + Living ‘Financially Secure YOLO’
I actually deeply believe in the principles of YOLO. We are just tiny beings on a floating rock who can’t stop fighting each other. Using our time here for the things that bring us joy and that we might not have the opportunity to ever do again is a mindset I can get behind.
But I also know that while the future is looking a hot mess right now, it’s still going to come. I’m still going to need somewhere to live in 40 years. I’m still going to need to have money to buy food, especially if climate change is fucking with our food systems. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know having money is going to anyone’s future a hell of a lot easier.
And having paid off my own debt, I know how much nicer life is right now without the ever present shadow of financial anxiety.
So today I live by the mantra of financially secure YOLO.
Financially secure yolo: seizing opportunities to live a fabulous life, without compromising your financial health.
You see, for most of my adulthood, I was not financially secure. I was flying by the seat of my pants in the early part of my 20’s, living la vida YOLO with a hefty portion of financial anxiety on the side.
The when I got serious about paying off my debt, I was hyper frugal. Super human levels of frugal. I’m talking not-even-paying for-groceries-some months frugal.
More on living that frugal life
Several years after paying off my student loan debt and starting Bravely Go, I now have enough in investments, savings, and cash flow that I feel comfortable saying that I am financially stable.
Standing on financially firm ground is one of the biggest head rushes of my life. It’s exhilarating to know that I am not at the mercy of good tippers to pay my rent. It’s liberating to know that my investments earn me money as I sleep. I even paid my boyfriends rent for a few months this year, which was huge proof that my business is in a solid place.
How I Build Financial Security While YOLOing My Heart Out
In 2018 I took a month and a half off work to travel. In 2019 I took my business on the road for three months and visited several US states and three European countries. It was YOLO in the deepest, most pure definition of the word- it was just financially secure yolo.
Guess what else happened?? I added to my retirement accounts and my cash savings in each year, further building up my financial security. It’s not financial security OR European adventures. It’s financial security AND European adventures. That’s how ya girl YOLOs now.
At the start of each new year, I save for one thing, and one thing only: maxing out my IRA. That’s $6,000 as of 2019. For the last several years I’ve maxed out my IRAs by April of each year.
More on retirement savings
After my IRA is taken care of, I turn my attention to saving several thousands dollars for travel. I prefer to travel slow and spend more time in one location than to location jump.
Once I knock that out we’re usually in late summer. (I prefer to travel in the late summer and fall, when the crowds subside. I usually spend my money right after I hit my savings goals!)
My savings for the rest of the year turn back towards retirement AND padding my cash savings. For example, last year I started saving for a down payment. That’s a cash goal I’m keeping in a high interest savings account. Sticking to my values based budget helps me hit all these different savings goals each year.
Having these cash and investment reserves allows me to feel good about spending several thousand dollars each year on travel. It allows me to take a few risks in some areas, because I know I have financial security in other areas.
Spending a few years focusing on my financial life was a short term investment. I put in some work that will pay off for the rest of my life. By opting out of the traditional YOLO and choosing to build financially security, I can now rock financially secure YOLO knowing that my investments and business are working for me even when I’m not actively working on them.
While I’m sipping red wine in Italy, my investments are earning dividends. I have the savings to cover my monthly expenses for 8 months if I lose all my streams of income. With these buffers, yeah- I can exercise a some YOLO tendencies. And not feel even a little bit guilty about it.