On Pennies and Pinching
Every year I make New Year’s Revolutions and, for the most part, forget about them. Well, that’s not entirely true — I remember them about a week before I make the next year’s ones, then promptly forget about those too. There are some where I’ve failed miserably (see 2009’s “Stop the Internet Coma”) and some that are ever-present: These include varying degrees of “being well,” corresponding to whatever stage I am at in fighting the Wegener’s, a disease I’ve had for the past twenty years.
Over the years I have had varying amounts of success with my Revolutions. Two I’ve done well with include “Use less” and “Be a better friend.” This year’s is a big one: “Do what you say you are going to do.” I think that being true to your word is key to being a good human, but it’s hard — really hard — to do everything you say you are going to do. I feel that this is is important though, to build up trust with my two-year-old son, starting now.
This year I’m approaching things differently: tackling month-by-month some epic issues in my life. This month, I’m looking at stress a la A.J. Jacobs: reading about it, working hard to manage it and then seeing what has stuck by the time I reach the end of the month. So far I’ve unrolled my yoga mat and managed to take a few minutes each day to do “legs up the wall,” a restorative pose that includes some pranayama breathing. I’ve been reading When the Body Says No, though not finding it as revolutionary as I perhaps thought I would.
Money and the lack of it (or the mismanagement of it) is a huge cause of stress in my life. True confessions: I’ll often spend hours, deep into the night and into the early morning, scribbling numbers — doing “figures” — as a way to deal with feeling overwhelmed. It’s my brain’s way of coping with the panic of being in debt, of having too much to do, of knowing how much I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. If I can write it all down, I can deal with it. (At the moment I’ve got a giant poster paper on the back of my office door that’s tracking our month-to-month debt reduction.)
Let’s face it: when you’re living on 1.5 salaries with a small child in daycare, working in the arts and paying down a mortgage, there is never enough.
There are lots of excuses I can make, but when push comes to shove it comes down to this: we spend more than we should. It’s so easy to do in this city — vegan cupcakes as a treat from OMG Bakery on Dundas, iTunes, a really good sale at the Duff and Bam! It’s the end of the month and we’re well over budget. I clamp down, saying, “let’s get back on track!” and suddenly the car needs $600.00 worth of work. (Don’t get me started on the rock van, a holdover from when the RRHB* used to tour with his band. It’s incredibly sturdy and still running, but expensive to fix).
Over the last few years, maternity leave coupled with serious illness on my part left us in the red. Then came a new furnace. And a new roof (where the chimney fell through to RRBB’s** room and had to be rebuilt for the second time). Even before I fully realized it, we had blown through our emergency savings, racked up our line of credit and are struggling to get back to a place where we don’t live month-to-month.
In order for me to actually get some sleep at night, I’ve gone back to the Gail Vaz-Ozlade basics and we’re living off of cash. I’ve got a jar, I’ve got a budget, I’ve got my credit cards locked away in my wallet, and it’s hard.
Even for someone like me who is generally responsible about money, I still do stupid things. (Sometimes, I’m what Gail would call a “money moron”: the $300 jeans in my closet are proof of that.) As I am constantly in a state of panic over the credit card bill and the looming never-getting-paid-off line of credit, going back to having a jar of cash at the beginning of each week for household expenses saves my sanity.
And it’s working. Three weeks in and we’re on budget with the exception of a tiny blip (in the form of an AGO membership) and my constant stomach ache over how to pay all the bills has eased. The last time we did the jar system and followed things to a “T” we had some niggly debt paid off in less than a year and accumulated a whack of cash in an emergency fund.
These days we’ve given up our dream of a ‘leaving the country’ vacation and opted for a moderate two days in Niagara Falls instead. We’re doing day trips around the city (see AGO, above) and it’ll be summer before you know it, which means time at the cottage (family property; I know, I’m incredibly lucky).
For us, it’s not so much the budget that’s hard. It’s giving up the ease of using credit to get by. It’s the ridiculous statement at the top of my online banking that tells me — with overdraft — I’ve got XX available dollars when I really don’t. I’ve got what’s there, not what the bank’s willing to give.
I’m a natural saver. I don’t feel comfortable with debt but, even so, just a couple of years in we haven’t adjusted to our new day-to-day reality of being three instead of two. Whether or not we’ll stick to our jar or to the many things I’ve learned from Gail’s books over the years, that remains to be seen.
One thing for sure, though, I’ve put down my pencil and am only figuring once a month — when I can mark up the reduction in my debt in the giant paper egging me on every day. It’s shocking to see things in blue and white, isn’t it?* Rock n’ Roll Husband ** Rock n’ Roll Baby Boy Deanna McFadden is works in publishing and lives with her indie-rock husband and son in Toronto. She writes about about life, love, books, rock and roll, and living with Wegener’s Granulomatosis here.