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YOLO and Money: How to Improve Your Finances and Live Well

The YOLO mindset is perfect when applied to the understanding that today is the best day to start living by saving, investing, and consciously spending.

Connecting YOLO and money is not new.

As older millennials, we grew up through the dot-com crash of the 90s and experienced firsthand the Great Recession during our formative years of personal and career development. Some of us saw our parents lose their jobs, retirement savings, and homes. We saw the luxury cars, oversized houses, and stuff our parents purchased to create a happy life taken away. We were also raised in a period where we’ve been in a constant state of terror and war.

These were the foundations of our YOLO mentality for our generation.

What is YOLO?

YOLO stands for “You only live once.” YOLO itself is derived from social media uses and is relatively new (c. 2012), but the mantra has been around for decades. The rapper Drake brought the YOLO term to the masses with his popular song, The Motto.

However, Mae West, a famous actress born in 1893 (yes, in the 19th century), said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

I’ve actually grown quite fond of this quote from Mae West. In fact, I used it in my book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

The quote supports my mature millennial mind that we must make the most of the life we’re given. It’s not about being careless, making impulsive purchases, or taking life-threatening risks. The opposite of these things is true.

“You only live once” is about awareness that you have an opportunity to create a meaningful life in this lifetime.

An excerpt from my book, You Only Live Once.

What is the YOLO Mentality?

When we were coming of age, YOLO was at its peak in pop culture usage. It was uttered feverishly by the first millennials as a lifestyle choice and to explain our irrational belief that there is no tomorrow. The catchphrase replaced “Carpe Diem,” the Latin phrase for “seize the day.” Both the Carpe Diem and YOLO mentality are similar in usage and may be associated with risky behavior.

I used to hear the YOLO acronym often exclaimed while mindlessly shopping at the mall or taking shots at the bar. It became akin to making irrational decisions in the heat of the moment. Why? Because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so it is better to act on impulse today. Financially speaking, the actions tend to support overspending.

As the years go by and I’ve gained more experience, there is one thing I’ve learned to be true. The choices we make today create the life we live tomorrow.

So, I’m not arguing against YOLO. I’m reclaiming YOLO in its full context of living a life of moments.

The YOLO mindset is perfect when applied to the understanding that today is the best day to start living by saving, investing, and consciously spending. There is no better day than now to start learning about money and build the actual YOLO lifestyle–a life filled with more joy and satisfaction.

When I use the acronym “YOLO” during seminars, I typically hear chuckles from the crowd. Being an older millennial, the YOLO lifestyle has been part of my experience and, therefore, ingrained in who I am. I do value living life. And I am the first to admit I used to believe valuing purchases was similar to valuing my life. That has changed with maturity.

Can YOLO Mentality Be Good for Your Money?

Now, what does the YOLO mentality have to do with your money? Personally, I used YOLO as an excuse to party all night during the workweek and buying things on credit. Back then, I thought it was about satisfying impulses. I soon realized I would be paying a high price for YOLO living.

When you live your life based on short-term gratification, you’ll find yourself unable to achieve long-term satisfaction.

Every YOLO financial decision you make can affect the quality of your life. Remember that 65-inch LED TV you bought on credit? It now occupies 20 years of your life. It seemed like a great YOLO moment but turned out to be a daily reminder of why you need to wake up early—to work to earn money to pay that minimum monthly payment.

What is the Impact of YOLO on Your Finances

I’ve learned that YOLO is actually a beneficial mindset for living, saving, investing, and consciously spending today.

There is no better day than today to start learning about money and creating wealth.

YOLO isn’t about an impulsive moment but an actual sustainable lifestyle when you are mindfully aware of your financial decision-making.

You only live once, so make decisions that support a healthy, financially stress-free life.

Saving is delayed for instant spend gratification.

We all know that saving money is important, but spending money is so much more fun. We can easily associate the hours we’ve worked with a physical item. As millennials, we grew up in the age of continuous marketing that shaped our perceptions of what we need. The result is confusion between what we need, what we want, and what actually brings us joy.

Do we really need a new smartphone every two years and, in many cases, every year? Since we worked hard for our money, shouldn’t we have the right to spend it any way we choose?

Choosing to spend mindlessly rather than save purposefully will keep you from achieving financial wellness.

Learn how you can save purposefully to achieve your short-, mid-, and long-term goals.

Spending more requires allocating future hours to work rather than fun.

I don’t really subscribe to the idea of never spending. I do want you to spend where it matters. You’re exchanging your time for money and what you buy says a lot more about your values. Are your bills, monthly expenses, and things you buy reflective of things you value. If they are not, then understand you’re exchanging your time for money on things that don’t matter in your life. That is not YOLO living.

YOLO is about controlling your time and allowing you to do more of the things you love. You can do this by spending mindfully.

If you’re spending most of that time working to pay for things you don’t value, then how much life are you actually living? Are these purchases worth the extra hours you’re required to work at your job?

Debt is a ball and chain, and your time literally becomes money.

Debt is a ball and chain and, once shackled, prevents you from YOLO experiences like fancy dinners, exotic vacations, and luxury goods. When we don’t make enough money but continue to spend using credit, we create long-term debt. Whether it’s student loan debt or credit card debt, any debt obligates our time to work.

If you make $10 an hour and have $10,000 of debt, you will have to allocate 1000 hours (or 25 weeks) of your life to that debt. Credit is a useful tool that can help you achieve life goals.

However, mindless credit usage can lead to long-term debt. The more debt you have, the less time you have to enjoy your life.

In debt? Learn strategies to achieve debt freedom.

Not investing in your future because of uncertainty.

The key to living in YOLO is to regain control over your time, and that can be achieved when you make money with money. This can help you become less dependent on exchanging your time for a paycheck. You can be this by intentionally investing in stocks, index funds, ETFs, and bonds.

Growing up through two economic crashes has profoundly impacted how we view investing in the stock market. We’re less willing to take market risks, but wealth is often created through wise investments.

Fortunately, investing is accessible for many more people with micro-investing apps and discount online brokerages.

YOLO on your company benefits.

Make sure you’re contributing to your company’s 401(k) plan and taking advantage of stock options and Employee Stock Purchase Programs (also knowns as ESPP). Speak with your HR department about retirement benefits. It’s your life, so you want to plan to retire well too.

Remember, you have the opportunity to live the life you’ve dreamed of by making informed, mindful decisions. You only live once, so YOLO.

Read more about how to live your best life while reaching your financial goals. Get a copy of You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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  1. I think the danger with the YOLO mindset is that nothing is your responsibility and money just comes and goes. There are going to be a lot of people who reach 50 or so and realise that their money has ran out and are not at all prepared for retirement.

    1. It’s very true that living just for today can lead to living a stressful tomorrow. If you only live once it’s important to make sure that it’s as enjoyable at 50 as it was at 20 and that comes with planning and preparing for the future.

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