I had thought that my life would improve after grad school.
During grad school, I lived on a very constrained income determined by the small amount I could earn from jobs around the university and a small monthly stipend from my fellowship. As a result, for a long time afterward, I could not stomach peanut butter, wieners, or the strange Pennsylvania introduction to my diet called scrapple. When I ran out of money, I ran out. It was a prodigal way of life.
I assumed that life would improve after grad school. But there were no available jobs that I could find for an applied anthropologist, and I was lucky to find a job doing what I had done before grad school, working in an operating room. My grey cat, Clancy, was eating better than I was for a while, but we managed to avoid the peanut butter and the scrapple.
It might seem the height of idiocy, but I had never had a formal budget up to that point. Perhaps this lack of precision in my life was a hangover from my Folkie days in the sixties, but a lecture from one of my superbly organized girlfriends introduced me to the basics. Perhaps she understood that I wouldn’t grasp the concept if she made it too abstract, so she just had me add up the average expenses, divide them into categories and then split my weekly and monthly income into “heaps.”
I had a heap for transportation, one for food, one for bills, and a tiny miscellaneous one for the occasional book or movie. But, you say, where was your emergency savings heap? Well, like many poor people, there wasn’t one, and yes, I was penniless for several years after grad school.
Over the years, the heap system improved and became more sophisticated as my finances improved. Its modern successor has rows and columns, spaces for saving, debt retirement, health care, and such. But it’s still the old heap system, and I still think of it that way.
Of course, I could go to an online forum that might offer more sophisticated advice on financial planning. Or I could seek a financial advisor, but most of their systems are just the heap method with different names. But, importantly, I do not have trouble following my process. And yes, it evolved to having an emergency savings heap.