Monday, June 10, 2013
If FB had a relationship status for money, mine would be "It's complicated."
And for a time, we were poor. My mother went back to college and we found a little rental house. I ducked my head in shame when a substitute teacher asked me loudly why I only paid five cents for my lunch and I had to explain the reduced lunch program in range of the listening ears of my new classmates. My father rarely sent the meager child support checks on time and my mother fumed about it. To us. To say that I was angry about the turn our lives had taken would be an understatement.
I believe that's when it started. I began squirreling money away, terrified that I might need it and not have it. Because I had seen how easily it could happen. The ten-dollar bill in my birthday card from a relative? You might find that rolled up and hidden in the curtain rod. The pockets of my winter coat, in between book pages, in the space behind a dresser drawer - all were good hiding places for money. Coins were counted and purchases very carefully considered. I went door to door offering to rake yards or wash cars for a buck here or there. And you better believe that when I hit 16, I took the $200 I had saved and bought myself a battered '68 Chevelle so I could work at McDonald's.
So here I am at 50, established in my career, and I still fret. I'd mostly laid that aside until my own divorce and holy God did that stir it all back up. But I was determined to do it differently so that my kids would not be burdened with worry. When people criticized me for buying a house and pouring money into fixing it up and furnishing it, I sloughed that off. Yes, I'll take a big financial hit when I try to sell it. But it's been a good home for my boys, they got their own rooms, and I don't regret a single decision I made.
However, I do like two things that involve money. First, great food. Thankfully I'm a good cook so mostly I can provide that myself, but I admit I will spend money on eating out. And second, travel. But it is so, so hard for me to carve money out to go somewhere and I am really itching to travel. So I've resorted to a little shell game with myself. My sister told me about a plan of setting aside a sum of money every week, adding a dollar each time. $1 the first week, $2 the second, until the last week you add $52. In the end, you've saved $1378. But that would mean saving only $10 the first four weeks and having to cough up $202 the last four. I suggested it might be more fun to randomize it. And while I was thinking that through, I came up with my own plan. I divided the year into 2-week periods, reminiscent of how I used to get paid before I was self-employed. Wait... let me take a moment to recall actual regular paychecks... yeah... that was nice. Aaaanyway. On 364 slips of paper, I printed the numbers 1 through 14 26 times each and folded them up. Every day, I draw one and put that money in a bag. To make sure I don't forget, I have a little calendar to record each day's amount and the total amount.
I know that it's the same money regardless, but somehow it doesn't feel that way. And this is not my only money issue. I can't bear to owe anyone money, so I only go into debt for housing. I have a mortgage, but other than that, I'd rather buy a used car than take on payments, and won't buy anything I can't pay for. I use a credit card the way others use a check book, for the convenience and the frequent flyer miles I'm earning on it. But I keep it paid off because I have a horror of paying interest. And it's not even that I won't spend money. I believe in tipping wait staff well, for instance, and when my cervical cancer ended up costing me $15,000 out of pocket for tests and surgeries, I considered it money well spent. But pay someone to do anything I can reasonably do myself? Nope. That's why you will find me all summer mowing my own yard.
Every time the money in the vacation fund bag on my dresser tops $100, I will pull that out and sock it away in the safe in my basement. In my cold war era house, the original owners built a bomb shelter in the basement with a safe that is permanently cemented in. You heard me. Seems I'm not the only one with a little anxiety about the future.