On New Year’s Day I took a yoga class. The instructors passed out index cards and asked us to write down a simple intention. Then, if we wished, we could put the card in a self-addressed envelope to be mailed to us at a later date as a reminder.
My intention was to think less about money.
I know this is just a blog and you think I can’t hear you, but it’s not polite to laugh out loud like that.
January first our finances went like this: Both daughters’ college tuition bills were due, I had to complete the FAFSA, and all tax forms had to be gathered and tallied. I was in need of a new car as would two of my kids be come the Spring. Our insurance was about to renew and go up, a lot, due to an accident. My other daughter needed a plane ticket to Costa Rica as part of her college Spanish program. We had a short term “interest-free” loan whose interest-free days were over and needed to be paid in full. My ancient laptop was slowing down, and I cracked the screen on my ipad that I use for work. And I needed an unexpected medical test that was covered after my $2000 health insurance deductible – that I hadn’t used at all.
Now you have my permission to laugh with abandon.
I wondered if I could have made a mistake in my address on that envelope. I mean, what were the chances of that, exactly? That the card might not reach me?
I understand these expenses are part of normal life. You pay for one thing, another needs attention. I understand there are emergencies, and that’s why there’s an emergency fund. But sometimes everything looks like an emergency if there’s no wiggle room in your checkbook. I have this burning quest to get ahead. To have security, independence, and to live debt free. I want to buy and do things when I have earned the cash to pay for them and it’s in my hand.
Are you seriously laughing at me again?
My Dad liked to gamble. If he did well, we had a great Christmas and a summer family vacation. Actually, we had these things either way. But when my father’s luck was down, my parents took short term loans or used credit cards to pay for them. There’s an exciting element to this, but it’s also stressful. I remember the tension in our house when there was no money. My dad would say, “Your Mother sure knows how to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
I want to be ahead of that sort of financial volatility, without robbing anyone.
And I am. But I am because I am always strategically planning what to do next with my money. I guess what I should have wrote on that index card was, I am going to make an effort to think differently about money. Which is what I really need to do.
Often when I address a financial crisis, I project to the next ten down the road, feeling overwhelmed by the total burden of them all instead of tackling them one at a time. Too often I forget that against the numbers on paper, I have managed to pay the mortgage on my house for 11 years plus. I forget that I have money put away that’s there in case I need it. I also forget that if I want something bad enough, I can earn it by yes, working more.
Again, my father had words of wisdom for this. When I first got divorced I was in an utter panic about failing financially which was realistically very possible. But he would say, “Is your mortgage paid today? Do you have heat, water and electricity today? Are your children healthy and clothed, is your refrigerator full today? Then be grateful for what you have today. Tomorrow is another day.”
So I just stopped doing the math on paper, worked as hard as I could, budgeted and tried to live within my means.
The truth is, we have to accept that things happen that are out of our control. We can save money, and refrain from making purchases we can’t afford, but we can’t stop our taxes from going up, or our car from breaking down. I keep my eyes off the balance in my checkbook when I know I haven’t added anything to it. No sense in looking for what’s not there, right? And no need to worry about a bill due in 3 weeks when you will have ample opportunity before then to earn the money to pay that bill. When you have three kids, someone’s going to break a bone, need medical attention or dent a car.
And if you are lucky, there are going to be college bills and family vacations that are memorable experiences that you treasure for a lifetime. And if you are truly blessed you will have an abundance of work opportunity to earn enough to pay for what you need, and even some of what you want.
I got that reminder in the mail the other day. I think you can guess, I hadn’t forgotten:)