Reevaluating my choices

01 debtI’ve been plagued with poor judgement in many facets of life – love, friendship, housing, bike jerseys, ordering curry on a first date – and I’ve focused on improving the decision process around  these over the last few years with the help of my trusty shrink lady.

Ok, maybe just the love and friendship ones.. but I’m been working on them really hard.

NOTE: for none therapy types, “work” generally means discussing something until you realize why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then cry a lot. It takes a long time and generally retails at $120 per hour. Tissues are free.

As a result, these days, I know when I’m making a bad decision (as oppose to blindly stumbling around assuming the best case scenario), and can now choose to forge ahead  (and suffer the UTI), or go do something less destructive. My friendships are more authentic, my romances and crushes less all-encompassing, and overall, I think my shrink has earned that condo in Aspen I’ve bought for her. She’s pretty darn good.

But one thing continues to evade me despite nearly 18 months of discussion.

My relationship to money.

Two words. It SUCKS.

I’m not a blood sucking consumer whore. I don’t want to be rich, I don’t desire a big house or a fast car, and I could care less about swanning around the Med on a yacht a la Beyoncé. But I do like nice things, and I don’t make enough money to keep me in the style to which I imagine I am accustomed.

Easy fix? Stop buying shit. Stop doing shit that you can’t afford.

I did that.

I buckled down. I sold my house. I sold all of my shit. I followed a budget. I stopped buying shit. I stopped doing anything that wasn’t essential to my professional life or personal sanity (sorry, but I need to eat raw fish now and again or life isn’t worth living).

The result after a year? I dug myself a little ways out of a hole. But it took a looong time to not get very far, and there’s only so long you can convince yourself that ‘stay-cationing’ is your choice and that another layer of NikWax will fix your rain jacket. Especially if you’ve got 30 odd years of bad financial choices whispering in your ear and a friend who really needs a cocktail.

If you’ve never been in substantial debt, you can read all the articles, follow all the rules: consolidate, prioritize, budget and monitor, but still wind up with 5 red zeros after your credit card balance for a really long time.

But I did make progress… right up until life happened. I didn’t plan on that fender bender, or that vet bill, or that unexpected medical bill or the IRS bill (for 2011?) with 3 years of fines that landed on my door in the space of a month. It was as though the universe saw I was trying to get the money thing locked down and wanted to send a message about who really was in charge. And as I headed into my second year of ‘financial awareness’ I found that for every step forward, life handed me a bottle of oil and a slip n’ slide just for fun.

I just couldn’t get ahead… which – embarrassingly – led to me giving up entirely.  I decided ‘fuck it’ and put my fiscal conservation on the back burner for a few months.

Fuck it that I’m in debt.

Fuck it that I’m not getting out of debt any time soon

Fuck it that I can’t afford things.. whats an extra $32 on top of my mountain?

Fuck it ..I can’t control this shit anyway.. no matter how hard I try.

Stupid? – of course. Did I know it? – of course. What did it cost me? Basically the last 18 months of saving and skimping…. all down the drain in 3 months. Did I mention stupid?

Do I now own a yacht? A Porsche? Have I traveled to China? Am I writing this on a gold iMac from a downtown loft?

Nope. Nothing more substantial than a new purse, a few dinners out and a new bike.  But I’m now, almost 2 years into my ‘financial freedom’, EXACTLY where I started.

Yes, I want to slap me too.

It’s been the biggest failure of my life, right up there with my marriage. In fact, at this point, it’s going to take an awful lot longer than my marriage to fix.

Ms. Shrinky lady says that we buy things to make us feel worthy. To elevate our status to other or even just to ourselves. To console or even replace something that’s missing.  I know why I said fuck it. I know why I make the decisions I do. I’ve done my crying and gone through those tissues faster than I go through my paycheck.

“I am not my things” she makes me say.

I know I’m not, but things help me go mountain biking, buy my dog more pain medication and keep the IRS off my back.

“Things will not make me happy” she also intones.

I know, but dinner with friends does. A trip back to the UK to see my nieces for the first time in 3 years will.

“Things are just things” she sagely advises.

I agree. I really do agree.

I live in 770 sq feet of rented apartment with no dishwasher or AC and I’ve never been happier.  And the only thing which intrudes on my contentment (other than my snoring but pain-free dog), is the nagging thought of all those dollars in the red. Which currently will turn black sometime around 2019. Yes, 5 years.

From one poor decision to the next over a period of 15 years I’ve accumulated enough red ink to see me through to almost the next decade. I’ve been incredibly lucky; surprise bonus’ and running my own business for while kept my head above water when by all rights I should have drowned, but these days those surprises seem to have all dried up. The only thing between me and instant salvation is a dead rich aunt in Australia suddenly emerging or my boss having an aneurysm and giving me a pay increase.

Since neither are likely, I’m firmly back on the budget path for the foreseeable. Resigned to a longer term rental life than I planned, and a ‘fly on a plane and stay in a hotel’ vacation once every 3-4 years if I can save for it (and nothing goes horribly askew with my car).

On the positive side I’ve got plenty of time to plan it (I’m thinking Brazil or China), and in the meantime my cooking ability is coming on gangbusters.  And yes, that even includes a killer curry for any first dates I might have.

Apparently I can only make smart decisions in one area at a time..



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