I Am That Girl Now

Friday, August 10, 2007

Money may not make the world go around...

...but it does just fine at brewing a shitstorm here on the home front.

I've spent three days uploading our financial histories for the year into Mvelopes, a fine bit of online financial software which I highly recommend. It's like Quicken and that sort of thing, but it lets you divvy up the cash per paycheck before you spend it and keep track of how that budget works for you-- including which Peter you end up having to shortchange to pay Paul, as it were. I've divvied up everything into specific "envelopes"-- categories, such as groceries, rent, yadda yadda yadda.

Ran some reports.


Well, that explains why we keep running out of money. That lovely budget that I put together works very well when it comes to some things, but others-- like groceries-- it does not. After some scrutiny and discussion, we've concluded that it's because some stuff is just not a monthly expense, it's a weekly expense, and that budgeting for being paid twice a month is not the same as budgeting for being paid every two weeks. There are some things that we need money for every weekend, such as grocery shopping and quarters for the laundry, and there are many occasions when we end up having three weekends in one pay period-- which is one weekend over the budget.

Also: a short rant. Here's the thing: both of us have a certain amount of "fun money" per paycheck. My Hub gets twice as much as I do, which happened not so much because I am a self-sacrificing sap but because I'm trying to keep him from going into debt. If he gets X amount per paycheck, then he can put some into savings and then when the next big thing comes along (and it will always come along) that he desperately MUST HAVE RIGHT NOW, then he can take money out of his savings account instead of putting it on a credit card. So this is an improvement over before, really.

Currently, in order to deal with stress, he comforts himself with driving to work instead of taking the CTA a few times every week (absurd parking fee every time), frozen pizzas (which is a large reduction in expense from when he used to order out all the time) and beer (or, more often, diet soda with a shot of liquor in it, which he deems more financially prudent), and more occasional things such as purchasing video games, books, and whatnot. This is where finances get dicy, because any reduction in his "fun money" amount per paycheck means that he either goes ahead and puts expenses on the credit card (TOTALLY NOT WHAT I'M GOING FOR, ARGH), or is sad, and miserable, and broken, and pissy, and cranky, and altogether not a joy to live with, and there's really only so much of that I can take before I can't stand seeing him like that and give in, as I always do, and fund these things out of my accounts or the shared accounts.

We just can't fucking well keep this up, you know? It's not a major financial issue at the moment-- we're not going into debt, at least, but this stagnation is not good-- but we absolutely can't add anything more. Like, say, kids. So that makes it an issue. More importantly, though, this is really not a healthy way to deal with stress.

I know well the way of external-object-based stress relief. Bad day at work? Pizza for dinner! Cranky at the Hub? I deserve to buy a bag of baked Doritos! (Which is sad because they totally taste like cardboard with Doritos dust on them.) I deserve to go out with my friends and get plastered! I deserve to go shopping (oh, Ann Taylor, why must you have sales? why must your store be located between me and the El?) and get a new outfit! I deserve to go wacky on Half.com and order an entire set of mystery novels from an author I just discovered! I deserve this bag of mini-Snickers! DAMMIT, I AM STRESSED, I NEED THIS.

...Which, wait, hold on. "Need" is a very strong word. Seriously, do I really need this stuff? I can't fit any more books in our apartment, I really don't feel like working off the extra calories of the Doritos or pizza or mini-Snickers, and while I do kind of require new clothes, it's not exactly prudent to go and spend $45 when that means I'll have to avoid spending any more money until the 15th, just so I can afford to go out to eat with my buds on Friday. It is not cool to be desperate for some object that I feel will soothe my problems. Particularly when I'm pretty sure it's not so much the fact that these are great things to have, as that I want them, I'm cranky, and the act of buying them somehow proves my worth. Today, I am worth the extravagance in money and space and calories! Today, I am so important that my whims mean more than the budget, or the meal plan!

Well. That's just not healthy. It's also not as effective as you'd think.

I'm starting to break out of this, I think. I've been able to recognize those moments for a while now, and I'm trying to combat them by giving myself other ways to calm down.

Which... okay, I can remember very clearly that back when I first started this blog, I was trying to figure out this sort of thing. And, in retrospect, it was pretty funny. I would read how a nice-smelling candle would make me feel better, or a nice bubble bath, and I would march out and buy candles and bubble-bath liquid; I have a very clear memory of stoically soaking in the tub, covered in bubbles, lit by candlelight, still tense as a board and wondering how long I was going to have to do this stupid pointless shit in order to feel better. Shortly thereafter, I recall, I ended up weeping all over my Hub. This period of time was also when my binge-eating kicked in again-- shocker. I could not fucking well relax. I didn't know how. I read all these articles on how to relax, and I tried out tons of stuff, but nothing ever really worked and I'd end up binging some more.

That was the summer of 2005, which ended with Hurricane Katrina, my catastrophic meltdown spurred on by seeing something so horrific happen, my diagnosis of depression, the Zoloft, and therapy. Now that I'm off Zoloft (one week and two days and nothing bad has happened; huzzah!), I'm pretty clear on one thing: relaxation is crucial for my mental health. Cruicial.

Budget-wise, I'm also clear on one thing: if we don't find some relaxation techniques that aren't tied to spending money, we're in trouble.

I think I'm improving on this. The first step was being able to recognize that I was having those moments, AS I was having those moments; the second step was to develop a way to deal with stress without requiring external input (for me, it's meditation, but as they say in fandom, your milage may vary); the current step I'm on is being able to recognize in those stressful moments that I do have a choice in what technique I use to deal with it, and that one version is totally free. I don't hold any illlusions that I'll get myself into a 100% healthy stress-management level, but I'm shooting for about 75%. Also hoping that, over time, continued mindfulness practice will lower my overall stress levels so I don't hit quite so many "peak moments", but instead will be able to dissolve little pockets of stress along the way.

The problem is that I'm not there yet, and the much, much bigger problem is that my Hub isn't there at all. Okay, that's not quite true; he's taken the first step of realizing that there are other ways to deal with stress, thanks in part to me using him as a sounding board about my meditation project. He has, on a few stressful occasions, asked me what he's supposed to do in this situation; I talked him down and got him breathing and rubbed his feet. Lately, I've been trying to explain that it's a long-term project-- that meditating every night is, literally, practicing for those moments, getting it ingrained as a reflexive response the way that fighters have to get moves into their muscle memory so that they don't have to think of what move to use to defend themselves. So... I gotta remember, these are big steps forward, and modern boys are not known for introspection. This is going to take some time. Lord knows, I've been working on this since March and I feel like I'm still scratching the surface.

So as things go, I feel like I've got kind of a plan. I want to get my Hub to have-- and manage-- his accounts on Mvelopes, so at the very least he's assigning his transactions to the appropriate envelope and will get a basic knowledge of how much he's spending each month. And I want him to start investigating alternate modes of relaxation, at times when he's not stressed, because trying a new form of relaxation in the middle of a stressful moment is just not useful at all. Which means that for the forseeable future, he'll still be responding to stress with money, and will still be spending that money... so I must be patient and not flip out over that.

On a side note, I was on the phone with my sister for two hours the other night and read her the chapter on demand-sensitivity and demand-resistance from Too Perfect: When Being In Control Gets Out Of Control, because some stuff she'd been saying led me to believe that her fiance' is very demand-resistant, especially considering that his mother is one seriously pushy broad and any sane human being would need to develop demand-resistance to survive her presence. She's written down the info for the book and is going to check it out. She's also concluded pretty much what I did-- that our family, both sides, is riddled with obsessive personalities, and the problem is that they feel very justified in being so, because of THE DEPRESSION. Seriously, it's 75 years later and any "why/why not" argument about obsessive traits like frugality and cautiousness is automatically won by somebody talking about "well, back in THE DEPRESSION, this and that, which is why I'm right." Most of these people weren't alive during THE DEPRESSION. Including me, because I've used that argument. It's like my family's version of Godwin's law. Gads.

Anyway. More later, probably; it's been too long and I have much built up. ;-)

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  • I think I could have written this entry my very own self. You have just hit on two killer issues of mine: an inability to relax and the compulsion to shop because it soothes me for thirty seconds (or less). Excellent points! Excellent self-awareness too. And I'm glad I'm not the only one dealing with this junk.

    By Anonymous Angela, at 2:04 PM  

  • That's a good description of daily meditation, that it's practice for when you will really need it.

    I also find relaxation difficult. I've definitely moved past the food-as-comfort problem, but I don't know any good replacements. Candles, baths, manicures and pedicures - BAH.

    It's so sick to even say this, but I've found exercise to be the best relaxer and mood-improver in my limited arsenal. I never used to feel good after a workout, I had no idea what people meant about "runner's high" and "endorphins" and that crap. It really took me 2 or 3 years of increasing activity - both in intensity and frequency - before it made a difference. But now I find that a hard workout really does effect miraculous changes in my mood and outlook.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 11:50 AM  

  • I swear I can't believe I'm about to type this. But the husband and the stress thing, and getting him to turn away from the material on that one ... have you thought of suggesting a little nooky?

    And yes, I am very, very sorry to be the person that is bringing the bedroom into your blog. It's just that I think men "get" that relaxation technique a little faster than things like meditation and deep breathing.

    I'm going to look at your money management site now. Thanks for posting about it :)

    By Blogger Salma Gundi, at 7:15 PM  

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