I Am That Girl Now

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kidding myself is a luxury I just can't afford

My Hub would sooner put a fork in his eye, I think, than do any kind of financial tracking. (Let me pause to offer a fervent prayer to my deity of choice that this does not turn into another thing that will bite us in the ass.) When he has money, he spends it; when he doesn't, he stops spending and mopes; tracking or analysis of his spending would give him the chance to even out the bumps in the road, but he holds to a general rule in life that if a thing involves self-exploration or analysis of any kind, it's not for him; he prefers to be unencumbered by such. He'll take the trade-off of having days-- occasionally weeks-- in which he doesn't get to spend money and has to sit around feeling poor and morose.

I, on the other hand, adore tracking, but only so long as it tells me good things. The history of my financial tracking efforts dates back to 1999, when, freshly installed in my first solo apartment here in Chicago, I set up a complicated tracking system for all my receipts, used it for about a day and a half, and then watched out of the corner of my eye as it gathered dust until I finally ditched it after six months. I clearly remember feeling strongly that I ought to organize my finances, but I didn't have a clear idea of why, and I was really not good with how, since I really had no idea where I was headed.

My second shot at tracking occurred in 2001, although, having learned from 1999, I compromised and made it so that I would divide all my money into two accounts-- one that would automatically pay all the set expenses, and the other that I could use for the ATM. Which wasn't so much "tracking" as "well, at least this way the bills will get paid." In retrospect, it was a very rudimentary form of the Mvelopes system I've got set up now, but with only two sections: set expenses and everything else.

After things got complicated when me and my Hub moved in together and got married, and I ended up in charge of money because I was the less-flighty of the two of us, I sought the services of a financial adviser. Note to everyone considering this: this solves fewer current problems than you might think, because while they're setting you up for the future, financial advisers don't do much to sort out what you're doing now. This mostly led to us adding on more and more bills for insurance, IRAs and the like, with a twice-yearly pattern of collapse and digging back out again via tax refund or bonus check. We'd get frustrated with the tight noose of the budget and the "I'll pay it off right away on payday" credit purchases began, which quickly turned into balances on the cards, which we'd "solve" by throwing all of our tax refunds or bonus checks at the balances, and then we'd be good for a few months before it would begin again. Every time, I'd start to avoid doing the math because it would tell me things I didn't like.

Apparently in order to keep us from going under, I have to pay a service to do all the math for me. Well, so be it.

The lesson learned here, I think, is that we have a vast ability to kid ourselves, which kicks in right about the time that the empirical data coming in stops telling us good things, stops making us feel proud of ourselves. It's easy to track information when the bottom line keeps improving; when it stalls, or starts going sour, that becomes difficult-- and that, I've found, is the most important time to keep tracking, keep your eyes on the empirical data, and avoid the huge temptation to start kidding yourself. Which sucks.

We are the children of the good times, folks, and it's hard to learn to restrict yourself when there's no outside force that makes you learn. Our generation (and yes, I'm generalizing about the United States again) hasn't had to learn self-restriction, hasn't had to learn to make do, because more is always available-- and, worse, more is the culturally accepted method of making yourself feel better. More credit, more clothes, more house, more food. Less, then, is not something we're accustomed to doing. Less feels not only restrictive, but embarrassing; with what seems like the whole world spending money they don't have and eating tons of food, restricting yourself to necessities looks freakishly monkish by comparison. So when reality strikes, and the alarm bells go off that say "something's gotta change", it's so, so tempting to avoid thinking about it because you just want to stay in that dream of denial a little longer, that dream where you're not that far over, it's not so much of a problem that it can't be fixed right away, so the strict rationing doesn't have to begin again quite yet.

Gotta tell ya, folks, my vast ability to kid myself has led to project "take off that depression fat" turning into project "oops, put on another 10 pounds on top of that". Which I can blame all I want on my Hub and his bulking diet (and oh, I do), but at the end of the day there has to be a point where I stop and say, "Okay, that didn't work. Try something else."

The trick is finding a happy medium between a) spend ALL DAY keeping track of shit (i.e., which is what my time on Weight Watchers turned into) and having any break from that unbearable load make it incredibly unlikely that I'll get back to it unless forced to, and b) spending no time at all keeping track of shit, which means I can kid myself all the damn time until, again, forced to admit that something has gone awry.

For finances, Mvelopes takes the middle option for me, since after the herculean task I had of setting up eight months' worth of finance tracking by hand (my one gigantor complaint: they do not let you upload past info from your bank and sort it, which means no reports for pre-Mvelopes months, which... WTF, dude, I NEED that in order to sort my shit out in the FIRST place, otherwise I'm just putzing around moving things into envelopes with no concept of what my real budget is)... er, after my initial giant task, it's actually been very very low-maintenance, just takes a few minutes of the day to handle, and thus I don't have a real excuse to "take a break" every once in a while. I am pondering low-maintenance options for food intake at the moment (please, don't try to sell me on anything right now, due to being uncomfortable with the process in the first place and demand-resistant in the second, it would probably just send me into another round of avoidance), and have given myself a mental deadline of next Friday.

It's odd, trying to hash out something that's low-maintenance that will give me enough information to keep me from kidding myself. Everything I've seen from commercial diets is pretty much an engraved invitation to an eating disorder, or a one-way ticket to malnutrition, or utter crap, or two out of three, or all three. I'm sort of leaning toward a combination of tracking my weight (like, daily, on a spreadsheet, with graphs), keeping up the exercise, keeping up the meditation, and making a vague effort at "eating better", because frankly I know what my problem is: I've got a moderate amount of OCPD, that I've soothed the tension and stress from that by indulging in mindless eating, comfort eating, comfort purchases of large containers of junk food which then gets eaten mindlessly because it's right there, and other food-related crimes against my stomach.

That's it.

That's the main thing.

That's what has buggered me after every diet, that's what makes each diet such an effort in willpower, that's what makes my mind drift toward thoughts of chocolate whenever the tension levels start creeping up. That's what drives me toward shopping for clothes and books and electronic doo-dads when I manage to avoid the chocolate.

I've mentioned before that it's been almost impossible for me to focus both on weight-loss and financial solvency at the same time, but since in this case the root of the problem is the same damned thing, I'm going to do something very foolish here and tackle both at once. Neither my body nor my bank account can continue to pay for the problems that my head is creating. It's time-consuming to spend 40 minutes doing walking meditation on the elliptical every other day, and to spend 40 minutes in a prone position on the off days, doing a body-scan meditation, and it's time-consuming and awkward to have to stop in the middle of things and re-focus myself and just breathe, because I can tell I'm getting wacky again. On the up side, it costs nothing and it's calorie-free, and it does make me feel better than a chocolate bar or a shopping excursion, so there you go.

If I can get into the habit of eating mindfully 80% of the time or more, and practice non-food-related calming methods, and track my weight (I put together a spreadsheet with a "scatter" graph on Google Docs where today I started tracking my daily post-pee, pre-breakfast weight), and keep exercising, I should be okay. I don't think I have to spend all day tracking things; I just have to stay fucking well calm.

Example: got to work this morning and beheld my desk, covered in paper, including three notes from my boss delivered after I left yesterday. I'd already had the vague idea brewing in the back of my mind that I ought to go get candy or something, but the desk really made that thought stand up and wave its arms around for attention. Did a minute of meditation, and that seems to have settled down, but I'm guessing that my project for the morning is going to be catching myself every few minutes and re-focussing, re-calming.

That's just where I am. No good kidding myself about that.

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  • Dave Ramsey does great things with money management. I took his Financial Peace class through my church 4 years ago and it literally changed my life. It sounds a lot like the Mvelopes system, but he also teaches the principles behind it. His website is here: http://www.daveramsey.com/ and he has a daily radio show you can tune in and listen to for help and advice.

    I went from wondering where paycheck went every 2 weeks to having savings, bills paid, and a great credit score. I highly recommend it. Try to get your husband to look into it, too. It makes it that much harder when you're working towards something and he isn't. Dave Ramsey's books and classes talk about that, too.

    Good luck!

    By Blogger cliopatra, at 11:22 AM  

  • Unfortunately, money management is a lot like weight management in that inertia plays a strong role. We develop eating/spending habits that then fail to work for new periods of our lives.

    Tracking works really well for me, in terms of giving me feedback and motivation, but I am "good with numbers and a little OCD". I have a friend who tried out the job I'm in for a few years before wanting to poke her eyes out with a fork, and she keeps looking for more holistic, creative approaches to weight loss. Mentorship? The "what would (beautiful athlete) do?"

    The lack of financial role models makes current lives difficult. There are inspiring financial blogs, though. I like no credit needed, savvy saver, and single ma's fabulous financials. But be careful, for all the good financial blogs there are a dozen struggling-with-it-not-quite-there blogs. I think you have to be careful not to follow a blog that isn't achieving goals.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:16 AM  

  • I find that my food and health issues are the exact issues that make me struggle to balance myself financially as well. You've captured the essence of it really well here. Part of the issue, for me as well, was growing up with a pervasive sense of deprivation...for food and for things that money SEEMED to provide. I'm working on understanding that abundance has less to do with money---and copious amounts of yummy food---that it seems to. This was a great post.

    By Anonymous Angela, at 11:11 AM  

  • Hi Meg,
    Self-diagnosis can be pretty scary. Trust me, I spent 5 years in psych slapping labels on myself (depression, anxiety -- all sorts, personality disorders, even a wee bit of autism). Of course I googled OCPD and guess what, I'm a little bit too! The current system of diagnosis (DSM in North America) basically takes clusters of behaviours to define a disorder. It is not an exact science, it's not like pregnancy when you do a blood test and you're either pregnant or not. A bunch of mental health professionals get together every few years and decide how many of those symptoms are required, like 8 out of 10 for at least 2 weeks. What if you have 7? You don't meet the clinical definition but you're still exhibiting some behaviours that are troubling to you. You'll also notice that lots of different disorders are diagnosed with the same behaviours but in different combinations with other behaviours. So everybody's a little crazy, just at different points on the spectrums.
    Anyway, forget the label. I'd say you're pretty damn high functioning. Also from what I've read, you have a lot of wonderful creative traits incompatible with classic OCPD. But, I'd highly recommend cognitive behaviour therapy, it's amazing, it's worked wonders for me. It was actually group therapy for social phobia (I certainly did not diagnose myself with that, who knew). It was done by PhD students and they were excellent. And it was free because I asked my doctor to refer me. Ask your doctor if there's something like that in Chicago.
    By the way girl, if you want to track your food a little and give in a little to OCness, www.sparkpeople.com is FREE and fabulous and not affiliated with any evil diet.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 PM  

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