Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 3, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

Learning the importance of financial adulting

By KATY WILNER | February 27, 2020

One of the trickier parts about growing up is figuring out what to do with money. In high school I worked at an ice cream shop and got paid 10 dollars an hour. 

To me, money directly correlated with time. When I would buy something, I didn’t ask myself, “Is this cup of coffee worth five dollars?” but I would ask myself, “Is this cup of coffee worth 30 minutes of scooping ice cream?”

Long gone are the days when work consisted of making cones and dealing with overly excited children. Now work equates to internships, aka eight straight hours of sitting and staring aimlessly at a computer screen.

Last summer my internship paid — thank goodness — but made me rethink the very concept of a paycheck. Instead of asking if something was worth 30 minutes of labor-intensive work scooping ice cream, I began to ask myself if it was worth 15 minutes of sitting in an office doing nothing.

This is not the adult way of looking at money. A dollar is worth a dollar, regardless of if you made it at work or found it on the floor.

This concept is even more important for me to learn because my current internship is not paid. 

Some people think that unpaid internships are morally incorrect, and for the most part I agree. I would argue that no one should have to work for free, and it leads to companies taking advantage of kids who are desperate for work experience. 

Also, these internships are only accessible to people who have the privilege of not needing to be paid, which calls into question how unpaid internships perpetuate socioeconomic inequality.

However, the organization I am working for helps place abused and neglected children in safe, loving households, so I’m not going to fight for a paycheck.

The only issue, as it turns out, is that getting to and from work isn’t that simple if you don’t have a car. My first week, I Ubered to and from the office in Towson, quickly realizing this was the most unsustainable and laziest mode of transportation. 

I calculated how much I would be spending if I continued this habit throughout the semester and concluded that it was time to figure out how to ride the city bus.

Fortunately, the bus stops two blocks from my house and is a brisk 15-minute walk from my office. At $1.90 per ride, I feel much better about choosing an unpaid job. However, this process of figuring out how to not stupidly spend money made me wonder where else in my life I stupidly spend money.

Of course, I already knew the answer. 

Oh Carma’s, how I am going to miss you. And you too, overpriced Bird in Hand latte. But, alas, fiscally responsible adults do not eat out every day. 

A grilled cheese sandwich at Carma’s costs $11.60. A loaf of bread and a pack of cheese from Giant equates to $4.78. 

Since I am skilled enough as a human being to make my own grilled cheese — and I could potentially have two weeks’ worth of them for the same cost as one from Carma’s — I knew it was time to start cooking at home.

Thankfully, my first grocery store trip was not alone. Although it was comforting to have a close friend with me on this spiritual journey, she seemed concerned when, after walking around for five minutes, my purchases consisted of a sole eggplant and a thing of tofu.

I began to mimic what she bought, because luckily for me, I have competent and very patient friends. We went 50/50 on the basics like eggs and milk and shopped the two-for-one deals together. My total, although it seemed like a lot at the time, lasted me for two weeks.

Then I discovered an amazing compromise that addresses both my desire to cook at home on a budget and my undying detestation for leaving the house to do mundane, adult things: Instacart.

Although I love the concept of Instacart, I probably wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t find a free delivery coupon. Also, thinking too much about having another person do your shopping can make you feel overly entitled. 

Because I have an erratic and very uncomfortable relationship with food, it made me incredibly nervous to know that another person knew exactly what foods I eat. 

The woman who delivered my groceries was completely lovely, but when I answered the door I couldn’t help but fear that she was silently judging me for ordering eight cans of tuna.

Maybe I’ll learn some new recipes to enhance my home-cooking experience. Maybe I’ll take the time each week to actually write down a grocery list based on what I plan to make. Maybe this column is really just me accidentally becoming my mother. 

But ultimately, I know that small things, like riding the bus and making coffee at home, add up. Financial adulting, it turns out, seems to be a lot more about how important the little choices really are, rather than the ability to not sporadically spend money.

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