When I was a freshman at UC Santa Barbara and living in the off campus dorms of Fountainbleu, my friend (let’s call him) Pete was living in my bedroom back home. One day he called me in a panic because instead of backing his car out of the driveway he had driven it through the garage door crumpling it. I never saw the damage but it was an aluminum door which I suspect looked dramatically injured. As I tried to reassure him it would be fine and he wasn’t believing me I struggled to find the words to truly convince him that my mom wouldn’t be upset. Sure she was letting him live in my room and sure what he did was stupid but that just wasn’t the way she looked at life. It wasn’t until I talked to her myself and she said those magic words, “it’s only money,” that I had a way to sum it up.
Now she meant that compared to what could have happened, loss of life or limb, property damage wasn’t that big of a deal. Lives couldn’t be replaced, but more money would come. I admired her for her humanistic attitude and ability to let things be and I set out to value that myself. It’s also worth noting that her finances were pretty solid; bills were paid on time, there was plenty for extras, and running her credit report would reveal gold stars accompanied by a trumpet serenade. As a young adult might I took the catch phrase a bit too literally and left the essence of the value behind.
I found myself saying “it’s only money” often as I tried to buy the “love” of people around me with meals, gifts, and a refreshingly carefree attitude that the power of a wallet full of credit cards could buy. Over the next (let’s see, it’s been) 12 years (since then) I racked up tens of thousands of credit card debt on four separate occasions (first saved by a debt consolidation firm, then that same mother referenced before, once by good old fashioned cutting corners and paying it off, and finally through the grace of the US bankruptcy trustee). As I grew older the reasons for the spending grew more legitimate (including a sick, out of work spouse) but the spending (electronics, clothes, eating out) didn’t.
Not lacking for knowledge, information, resources, or brain power it felt baffling to continue to get in this same trouble over and over again (same with why I continue to eat foods that make me feel terrible) and all I’ve come up with at this stage is that I simply have no respect for money (nor do I my body or self perhaps… hmm… another post at another time). It makes perfect sense it you look at the literal translation of the mantra. “It’s only money,” that’s all. Nothing important. Nothing serious. Just money. Jeez, no wonder I behave this way, I ingrained it into my own beliefs! And people wonder why it’s important for us to do some self examination… um because if we don’t we run the risk of being much more foolish than we need to be.
So here I am; alone with my money (which is a bit more than half of what I had collectively with my husband just weeks ago and my expenses are only reduced by about 25%), and I don’t have a new checking account (because it’s a bank holiday and my timing isn’t always great outside of making jokes), and I am generally terrified of cash (because of it’s nasty habit of disappearing at super speed into the hands of cashiers) and I have to pay rent on a house on December 1st that is the same amount as my paycheck that will come a week before. Now I know I’m going to need money between the first and the tenth when the next check comes and I don’t have the skills to just make that work. But what I do have… is a spreadsheet of my budget and envelopes.
So out come the envelopes and as if possessed by this logical, responsible force (in the form of a list because the blogosphere seems to appreciate that):
1. my hand starts to write the budget categories on the envelopes (one each) along with the total dollar amount of that budget item.
2. and I find myself sorting the envelopes into categories that represent the type of spending (need or want, consistent or variable, blah or blah)
3. and THEN suddenly I am putting money (generally half of the total monthly budget for that item since I get paid twice a month) into the envelopes and feeding the “need” envelopes first. And get this Suze Orman, I have an envelope labelled savings that I paid first!
4. and once I’m through savings, rent, utilities, child care, car payment, gas and auto insurance, and an uber-modest food and gas budget I realize that I have $11 left for my “other spending” envelope. Yep. $11 for clothes, eating out, buying a $400 blender without having get approval on the purchase from the co-holder of my accounts… AND I have a speeding ticket to pay so any of the above named “others” are going to be quite delayed…
5. I burst into tears (I also cried when my mom sent me slippers via zappos and offered a ride and to foot the bill for spiderman and I at a family birthday dinner celebration that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. I’ve cried a fair bit this week.)
|This is what I look like in the morning when I cry too close to bedtime and then don’t wash my face. Still kind of pretty right? Say “yes.”|
6. and when I was done crying I put the food and gas envelopes in my wallet and the others in a super secret and secure location (that you’ll never find so don’t bother looking)
7. took a deep breath
8. started telling everyone who asked what they could do for me that they could buy me presents
9. and carried on.
10. AND I haven’t spent a cent on anything since (2 days ago) And I know I’m going to need gas soon. And I’m terrified. Envelopes, don’t let me down!
So what if I only have $22 a month of discretionary spending money… “it’s only money.”