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Through bi-weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video by Grace Lee

Written by Mandy Oh

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A portion of this video was sponsored by Neutrogena Hydro Boost+ Niacinamide Serum.

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Click the link in our description to learn more about Hydro Boost+ and where you can get yours. And look out for other Hydro Boost+ products, like there Glycolic Acid Overnight Peel or Caffeine Eye Gel Cream. And thanks again to Neutrogena for sponsoring a portion of this video.

Aesthetic culture is the internet's answer to subcultures. And like many people, I am a seasoned vet. From fashion to interior decor and every niche in between, we get to be a part of a community with a bunch of people online who we will never meet but are linked by our shared interests.

As a college student, I constantly felt the need to fit in, especially when it came to the social scene. There was always a certain look you needed to get social credit that came with it. The look had to be current, It Girl, and, most importantly, come from a specific pop culture reference that spoke to your taste in entertainment.

Internet trends are constantly evolving, so much so that they become repetitive. But this is by design. Social media has rebranded the traditional Cat Eye to the Fox Eye and Siren Eyes in the makeup world.

Lip gloss is now sold as lip serum or lip oil. And the logic is if we change the name, buyers won't notice. Chasing aesthetic culture is now what I can confidently call a losing game.

The idea that you need to have a Dyson Airwrap to achieve that '70s look for a social media post or another cream blush to achieve your clean-girl aesthetic just isn't reasonable. I was able to justify my $5 Shein summer dress purchases because they were, in fact, only $5. And as a broke college student, these were deals I just couldn't miss.

This would have held true if I had not made a twice-weekly habit of my, quote/unquote, very cheap purchases. As a first-generation immigrant, my attitude towards money always came from a point of trying to escape the scarcity mentality that I felt growing up-- a revenge spending approach, if you will. But then I found myself with no savings, $2,000 of credit card debt, mounting college debt, and along with the rest of the world, suddenly in the middle of a global pandemic.

As soon as we were locked down-- as soon as the world locked down, I was let go from my job. And with no source of income and bills that would still need to be paid, I started scouring the internet for online jobs. I got lucky and was able to start putting my skills to use by freelancing as a social media and SEO expert.

But the pay was not great but enough to get by. In many instances, I had to settle for less than the standard rate so as not to lose out on opportunities. And as exploitative as that was, pickiness was not an option.

All the money I earned went straight to bills and an attempt to chip away at my credit card debt. Suddenly, it didn't matter that I was one of the few who was able to buy the viral, floral, pretty-little-thing backless dress back in 2019. I had put myself into financial ruin.

With a looming economic crash, I understood that I needed to change my financial attitude so as not to get caught up in a worse situation than I was already in. The first thing I did was delete my online shopping accounts. It seems extreme, but they had to be out of sight to be out of mind.

I also unsubscribed from all email lists-- a process that took quite some time but also made me realize just how much time I was spending on online shopping. My next step was to set up a payment plan with my bank. I committed to pay a set percentage of all the freelance paychecks I got, and the amount would go straight to my credit card payments.

These multiple payments-- aside from keeping my payments slightly over the minimum, which helped me meet my clearance goals early-- also contributed to improving my credit score. My irregular payments meant that I had to adopt a survival budget strategy for a while before I could fully get a hold of my finances. Once I was more settled within my freelancing career, I was able to transition to a zero-based budget system where-- and this may shock you-- for the first time in my life, I was able to plan for every dollar earned on an Excel sheet and commit to the set budget.

With my finances planned out, I switched my gears to confronting the source of all my troubles-- my clothing. I had been avoiding doing this for a while because it meant facing the consequences of my bad decision making, something I was just not ready to do. Having acquired an objective lens and awash with buyer's remorse, I was finally able to see my purchases for the shallow fulfillment of instant gratification they represented.

There I was in the middle of the scorching summer, staring at twin tweed blazers from my dark academia phase, where one was frayed at the edges after three washes and the other covered in lint. Two pastel-embroidered-- at least they were meant to be thread-embroidered, but the fabric was definitely printed-- Bridgerton-inspired corsets from my Royalcore phase were sprawled on top of the pile, and so on and so forth. Going through the pile brought me to the realization that the majority of the clothes were just unbearable due to the various degrees of fabric ruined.

And the salvageable pile was just not me anymore or never really was me to begin with. I have since adopted better shopping habits that involve finding capsule pieces that can be rotated throughout the year with different styling and purchasing said pieces from reputable sustainable clothing companies. The one downside that presents an upside is that most sustainable brands are quite costly because of the type of materials used, but this also means I spend less overall.

Finding a way to responsibly get rid of the clothes I bought in the name of aesthetic culture has been the most difficult part of this process. One Google search can show you horrific pictures of the massive landfills of clothing from fast-fashion brands and the environmental impact that causes. As a result, I've decided to repair those that can take it with a little love and resell the rest that are in mint condition on second-hand sites.

And while I'm not sure how much of this method I can sustain long term, I at least have to make the attempt. My journey thus far has led me to believe that my need to participate in aesthetic culture came from a point of wanting to express my personal identity. But being in a more mature space mentally and financially has given me an understanding of how to responsibly explore the current aspects of my personality while taking care of my future self and my finances.