So yesterday involved, among other things, me having my quarterly Totally Disordered Meltdown about Personal Finance. My dear friend has launched a blog called Smart Girl Money and it is timely as all f*ck. So today, I’m going to yammer on (and on) about how money makes me completely insane, and the things I need to do to fix it.
I agree with Amanda that everyone has a thing that is not simple for them. For some people it might be food, for others it’s work. Sometimes it’s your identity as a parent. For me, it’s money. Money is a thing about which I have some pretty seriously disordered thinking, and I’m only quasi-aware of its origins. I do know that since I began work when I was fifteen years old, I have not felt that a single cent I ever earned was actually Mine. It always has belonged to someone else, and I was just holding and distributing it to the proper parties. Parties like: College, the book store, a landlord, the power company, a friend in need, my loan holders, a credit card company, a car payment. As debt from school racked up, I counted it not in dollars but in hours of labor. I was paying my debt as soon as I started accumulating it.
Total Transparency Moment: I am thirty-two years old and as of this moment I have paid off just shy of $170,000 of student loans with a balance remaining of around $27,000, all but $800 of which is from my graduate degree. I have trouble saying that out loud because dudes, that is the equivalent of a (fairly nice) house that I cannot sell because it lives in my brain. In the meantime, I’ve had other smaller loans for things like cars that have also been taken out, paid down, and closed out. My credit score is pretty crap, and I’m doing what I can to fix that and plan to do so more actively through my credit union this Winter. I have under $1000 of credit card debt, which is a thing I remain proud to say. I managed all of this while (mostly) supporting myself and until this past December, making under $40,000 a year. Sometimes, a great deal less than $40,000 a year. For example, I started my professional career as a paralegal nearly four years ago at $25,000 gross annually. So, you know. There’s that. Barf.
I share that in part because I feel like people (me) should get less walking-on-eggshells talking about money. There’s a lot of shame, and taboo, and self-recrimination and other bullsh*t floating around out there because I don’t think too many people have a good handle on the realities of adulthood. There’s this notion that you’re “not a grown-up” if you haven’t checked a certain number of really huge items off of a list. Do you own a home? Is your debt paid off? Have a kid? Do you have at least 4 months’ salary in a savings account? What are you contributing to your 401K? Credit score in the high 700s? If you don’t have the ‘right’ answers to these questions, the message is: You’re insolvent. You’re irresponsible. You’re slacking. You’re a disaster. You’re some equivalent of a seventeen year old living in your parents’ basement.
I’ve had to cut it out with hearing those messages and get pretty real: I’ve been doing a pretty fantastic job of managing in a pretty responsible way with a single income that is what I expected to be making when I entered the work force properly in aught four. I’ve never gotten out of control with credit cards. I came close to defaulting on a car during 18 months of unemployment, but managed to dig myself out. I’ve paid things late, but I’ve always, always paid them. Doing that when you’re making $35,000 a year is NOT EASY and a lot of us are doing it and still feeling like shite about that stupid checklist.
Meanwhile, back in Crazy Land…
I miscalculated a bill withdrawal date this month. I had forgotten that I moved the date, and this was apparently the End of the G*dD*amn World. Seriously, folks: You’d have thought it was Ragnarok if you had spoken to me yesterday any time before about 16:00 EST. My account balance dipped below the “Panic” Mark ($200) and my immediate thought was, “I am the Actual Absolute Worst.” This was followed shortly thereafter by, “I am Worthless.” Mid-meltdown, I talked to my partner about it, and being the concise (and correct) man that he is, he said quite mildly, “We need to eat out less. We absolutely shouldn’t have [done XYZ which was my idea], and probably have skipped [other thing that was my idea].” Which, you know: yes. However that is not what I heard. What I heard was, “I am scolding you like a child for making bad decisions which are clearly 100% your fault, and also reminding you that of the two of us, you make less than I do and have more obligations, and why are you augh the actual worst Rabbit.” Which is, you know: Not actually what he said. But I was already aboard the Crazy Train, about three stops deep, telling myself all of those things, and seeing them written on toast and billboards like pictures of the Virgin Mary. Turns out, what he meant was “Let’s be more careful,” but you could not have convinced me of that short of holding me down and potentially tattooing it to the insides of my eyelids.
Tied up in there is the fact that hey, I’m a woman, and I’ve been getting all of these messages my entire life that there are bound to be inequalities in relationships, and one of these is often income. This happens to currently be the case in my relationship, however we are on the horizon of a reversal as T prepares to return to school, we move (again), and I begin looking for teaching jobs at independent schools while pursuing my teaching certification and continuing in the meantime to
slave work really hard at a legal firm. Given that my performance at said firm is evaluated in terms of billable hours, I have now reached a point in the Crazy wherein my Time, in addition to my Money feels like it is no longer my own. I could afford to sleep until around 07:45 to be in my office by 08:30. Typically, I’m up by 06:30 and I’m in the office with my light off so no one notices, so I can squeeze an extra two clock hours into my work day. I’ve been behind in my billing this summer, and so I’ve now taken to skipping lunch to get another hour in. I’ve resolved to (probably) stop that next week, because it makes me hangry and generally unhappy, but it’s like: this time doesn’t belong to me, because bonuses are coming. That money (which is honestly, ridiculously generous but also sort of calculated to prevent turn-over and depress salaries) is already accounted for: moving expenses, apartment deposits, moving truck, car loan, savings, and maybe, if I’m very good a pair of shoes or some touch up work on one of my tattoos. My time belongs to that bonus, just like that bonus belongs to other people. So I’ve shifted from thinking about spending money (money that is discretionary and disposable) on myself as “stealing” from some other Proper Possessor of Money to thinking about spending my time (sleeping, eating, putting on makeup, doing my hair, going for a walk, going to the doctor) on myself as “stealing” from the Time to Money Conversion Monster. I took my first full vacation day without coming in early and staying late to make up my lost billable hours in FIVE MONTHS last week. And I used it to do sh*t I’ve been putting off like: Go to the doctor, get my tail light fixed, and clean out the fridge.
That is insane. Like, legitimately: That is not a healthy thought pattern, and clearly I have the capacity to let it spiral completely out of control. I think the way my job is structured is compounding the problem (because that’s the way legal lyfe works), but even at baseline: I am always thinking about money, and feeling a set of feelings about those thoughts that I’m probably hiding from people, up to and including Self Loathing. There is a knot in my neck that I’ve nicknamed My Christmas Bonus, because that is its origin. If you press on it, you will ask where I got all of those lug nuts, and who put them in my right trap.
So. There’s a lot going on there.
So Felicity’s blog: Taking the emotion right out of it. I’ve resolved to do as she says, and start tracking my spending (rather than just beating myself up about it). I’m fairly sure I know where my spending sinks are, and what I can do about them. Namely, I live in Wilmington and my kitchen is where I reside (naturally), and I currently spend between 3 and 5 nights weekly parking (and paying for parking) then riding from work to Philadelphia, and then realizing my blood sugar has crashed and then finding, paying for, and putting food in my body. So: a get real moment – I need to start planning ahead, packing lunches and dinners for myself, if that’s a thing that I want to continue. I suck at that, and need to figure out how to get better at it. I also need to take a good hard look at my tabletop gaming schedule, and probably cut at least one (if not two). Carrying snacks in my purse ain’t a bad idea either.
Okay. So now you know all of that. Go read Felicity’s blog. I’m serious.