I Am That Girl Now

Monday, August 20, 2007

Walking meditation, budget brain.

I've been back on the elliptical machine at the gym these days, and since I am not by nature okay with cardio (in the past, I've watched DVDs of TV shows to bribe myself onto the machine), I've been trying to do what Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to as "walking meditation". In his books, he seems to assume that this would be walking around in circles in one's place of residence, or around a track or some other set thing where the scenery is not a big deal and the surface is unchanging; personally, I find that it's perfect for the treadmill or the elliptical machine. I can close my eyes and spend 40 minutes ignoring the rest of the gym, ignoring the lights and buttons on the control panel, vaguely hearing the music from my headphones, and just concentrating on being right here with my body, step by step by step.

Sometimes it works better than others. Yesterday it worked exceptionally well, as I tried to unwind a nasty tension headache (and if you make it through the rest of the entry, you may understand why I had that headache)

Five days through our first pay-period on Mvelopes, and all's well thus far. More than well, actually; I'm hugely relieved that when my Hub asks, "Hey, how much do we have left in the budget for groceries?" or "Do we have any extra cash in the budget for gas?" I can open my account, point at the screen, and give him precise answers. The embarrassing thing is how much better I feel to have the numbers coming from somewhere else; it's like when I was doing the math, it was somehow my fault that we didn't have more cash in the budget for gas, but now that I can point at the Official Numbers a la Mvelopes, I am blameless, 'cause it's just the way it is, no arguing with facts. I don't have to freak out about my math maybe being wrong, but more than that, it gives me a feeling of having Authority behind me.

I think what this means, mostly, is that I am a wuss, and am not really that good at being the iron hand o' the law at home because, in my head, it seems to be less important to have all the books balanced than to have my Hub like me. So sad. Ah, well, at least we have something in place that works, you know?

I am enthralled at being able to see how much money is left in each envelope. If I look in the checking account, it'll say $1,000, which I know in a vague way means money for X, and Y, and Z, and all that, but it's so absolutely, uncompromisingly clear in Mvelopes what that money really means. This is for life insurance; this is for the phone/internet bill; this is half of the rent that's not due until the first, but which the paycheck on the 31st won't be able to handle entirely; this is for groceries, and no, it's not equipped with a great deal of wiggle-room. It's like having a little imaginary account for each one. My anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive side is in ecstasies over this, but mostly, it's just such a relief to have it all laid out like this. I don't have to go back to our Excel budget and do math every time I want to know if we have money in the account for such-and-such. I just know. Every time.

Totally can't lie to myself anymore, or conveniently forget after a while and thus miss the trends. If I have to transfer money from my Clothes envelope to fund my splurge-y purchase of Mario Badescu products (I totally bought some, will let you know how that works out), then that notation is still there next month when I talk myself into buying frozen pizzas and beer, and the month after that when I ask "hey, why do I never have money for clothes?", I'll know why. Oh yes, I'll know.

I'm looking forward to showing this to our financial advisor. I am such a kid; something in my head is longing for approval, praise, and possibly a gold star on my chart (gold star = an elementary school thing, at least in my experience). This is the hardest thing about being an adult; no praise for doing your homework or washing the dishes, it's just expected. Phooey.

Re: this week's groceries, I brought the thing in under-budget for the first time in... well, as per my records, at least eight months. (Probably more like five years. Oy.) This took a strict list, striking several things off of said list because we didn't really need them this week, adding up an estimate before I left the house, and (I am such a geek) crouching over my grocery cart in a corner and doing some feverish work with a calculator before bringing everything up to the counter, still holding my breath. About eight bucks under budget! Hooray! I did a little dance right at the check-out counter. AWESOME. Best part: this included bacon and spinach, which had been on the list provisionally "for if we have enough money".

I do wish we had more money. Apparently part of the reason I avoided getting the budget this detailed was that I didn't want to know just how tight things were, and now I do. An extra $500 coming in every month would let us step up the repayment of my Hub's student loans (er, more on that momentarily), put a little more into savings, and give us a little more leeway so I could budget in some non-essentials like Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. An extra $700/month would make it so that we could do all that and handle something like, oh, say, child care. I'm considering the idea of a second job, since the headhunter hasn't called me in three months (grrrrr) and it seems like there's no new job for me on the horizon. I have to admit I'd prefer to make money off my small talent in writing instead of doing retail work; perhaps I should put up a sign that says WILL BLOG FOR $$. (Seriously, I would. If anyone wants to hire me, e-mail me and we'll talk. I can swear less and make more sense if called upon to do so.)

My Hub is adjusting to the current regime, which at the moment is the most I feel comfortable asking for. I did get him to add his student loan info and his 401k info, so now I can get a much more accurate look at our net worth, and for that, I am grateful. (It may take a strong stomach to deal with watching our 401k accounts in the current market, but I gotta remember, long term.) I asked if he wanted to put his checking, savings, and credit cards on Mvelopes, and he snapped that he was just going to assume that his fun-money was being "frittered away on parking, restaurants and video games." Which... well, fair enough. He seems to have sniffed out my clever scheme in which I hoped that, by tracking his expenses for a few months, he'd eventually start to see patterns, and start planning ahead a little, and maybe, maybe decide that he was spending entirely too much damn money on parking and restaurants.

Note to self, #1: Remember, he's not dumb, and he can read me like a damn book. My subtle little schemes are nowhere near as subtle as I think they are, and he doesn't like it when I do that. Say it all out loud, or don't say it at all.

Note to self, #2: It's enough for the moment that he's no longer being backed up and/or occasionally subsidized by the shared account. He's doing more thinking about things now. As long as this doesn't turn into a credit card issue, which would impact both of us, then it's his money and if he isn't ready to deal with being responsible with it, then he's not ready, and that's fine.

Note to self, #3: Get him used to checking Mvelopes for info. Do not answer questions anymore or look info up for him; tell him to go to Mvelopes and look it up his own damn self. If something happens to me, he's going to have to know how to find this information.

I complained to one of my buddies on Friday that I still kind of resent the whole thing because before we got involved, I was pretty flighty when it came to finances, myself. It was finding out about the balances on his credit cards and his student loans that shocked me into the realization that he was even more financially flighty, and that this meant that if I wanted to avoid a 21st century Dickensian fate, I was going to have to step up and not just get my own shit straightened out, but his, too. Deep down, I'm still kind of mad about that-- about being so alone in this, most of the time, and feeling like he's undermining my efforts or, at best, being a heavy weight that slows me down.

Even more, I resent the student loans. More to the point, I resent the years he spent not paying them, back when he was with his ex (who is even worse with money, if you can believe it), and the extra year of deferment he took during the first year we were living together, that I couldn't talk him out of taking. Particularly the part with the ex, because the money those two wasted together could finance a small but well-equipped army. I know the money this woman makes, and even though I know that they're both financially retarded and that actually paying down the balances of those student loans would never have occurred to either one of them, on days like Friday-- when I got access to his student loan history online, and saw just how much interest racked up over those years-- I am still pissed. It's not right of me; he's apologized, hundreds of times, and I really need to be able to forgive this for my own sake, if nothing else (unforgiven stuff just burns in the back of my head and adds to the stress levels). For some reason, though, I feel like I need some kind of big extravaganza of an apology and a thank-you, from both him and his ex, for shouldering this where they couldn't. I feel like I deserve a parade, and flowers, or at the very least an acknowledgement of what a shit deal it is, and how much they fucked over the future by making those decisions, which eventually became fucking over me.

I know I'm not going to get it. Most days, I'm okay with that. Friday, I was not okay with it, which made it an exceptionally unfortunate day for us to have dinner with his ex. (Which is a thing that we do, 'cause we're all still friends, mostly due to her exceptional grace and generosity of spirit.) To make it even less okay, we had a flat tire, and this led to some friendly advice from her direction on how old the tires were and how I ought to put some room in the budget for all new tires. I managed not to say the first three things that came to mind, all of which had to do with ancient history and her less-than-stellar track record with money and all of which were really not acceptable, but I did snap at her that I really wasn't comfortable with financial subjects tonight and could we please change the subject?

I didn't exactly avoid being rude. I have mixed feelings on the subject, because current-her didn't deserve being snapped at when we were just having a friendly evening, but past-her deserves a lot of ire for putting me in a lousy situation, in spite of the fact that I walked into this with my eyes open, and that by anyone's standards, as her ex's new wife, I owe her apologies just for existing. It's complicated. I'm still hashing out how I feel about it. The long and short of it is that all the complications came, once again, from not relating to someone on a purely here-and-now basis, and by over-thinking things and letting my head get in the way. Gotta work on that. I can't fix the past, I can't change it, I gotta let go-- and, apparently, I gotta let go every day, because it seems like I don't have the mental oomph to let things go for good.

In other news, off to the doctor's today, to ask some questions about some funny stuff going on with one leg (this somehow makes me feel like a horse) and a weird spot in one eye. I'm hoping she'll just tell me that this is nothing to worry about, but if either of them is something to worry about, I'd rather I actually told her. Besides, it's a good point to check in; three weeks off Zoloft. So... well, we'll see how that goes.

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  • Ack.I'm in charge of money too, and I hate it, for the very reasons you state. I hate having to be the one who says no. It makes me feel trapped and ticked, most of the time. Is MVelopes free???

    By Anonymous Angela, at 1:16 PM  

  • Sadly, no, not free. There's a one-month-free offer to suck people in, and after that you pay for it quarterly, yearly, or bi-yearly, with the price adjusted down as you pay for more in advance (which is way more than I can handle, so, no). I avoided it for a few months after I found out about it because I was just like NOT ANOTHER EXPENSE, ARGH.

    And seriously, peoples' milage may vary on this thing, since it does have a bit of a learning curve and it takes a certain mindset, but once I got the hang, I was hooked. I don't know if it's worth it for you, but hey, it can't help to check it out, right?

    By Blogger Meg, at 3:18 PM  

  • Hey Meg
    I'm a loyal reader. Don't have ideas about 2nd jobs but at the very least add some google ads to your blog. They are not very obstrusive and you might as well get some cash for the writing you are already doing. And, perhaps, having them there will compel you to write more often!
    I share your pain re: money. I too get very tired of being the grown-up or as I tell my hub..."the mom" in this relationship when it comes to such stuff.
    Recently worked with a career consultant doing some myers briggs stuff and she mentioned that when two disorganized folks (F characteristic) get together one of them always takes on the J characteristic since the alternative is chaos. There literally is no way around this. :(

    By Anonymous Cathy, at 8:01 PM  

  • I'm laughing helplessly at the F-characteristic vs. J-characteristic thing. On the one hand, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one; on the other hand... ARRRGH. I am endlessly frustrated over having to be the mommy.

    I'm kind of scared of the Google ads because I've got Gmail and I've seen what sorts of snake-oil diet gimmicks they advertise on the sidebar when I'm just reading a letter from my sister. From what I've read, there's no way of controlling what kind of ads pop up; it's completely out of your control. That raises my hackles.

    I have a very strong dislike of the useless (and occasionally very dangerous) products that people put on the market in order to take advantage of people in a desperate situation, and snake-oil diet crap is way, WAY up there on that list. Pills, shakes, suppliments, surgery, videos, books, plans, all of them designed to look like they will solve our problems when in fact they only fuck us up further. I hate 'em.

    So... no ad income for me. Not exactly the greatest stand ever taken in history, but it's what I've got.

    By Blogger Meg, at 9:00 AM  

  • I've had a number of good second jobs, including ushering for shows (get paid to see shows) and especially security guard. The security guard thing was great in college, when I had a lot of studying to do, but I bet it would be great now for someone who writes or uses the computer a lot. If your hub could get that second job (to pay off the student loans) or if you could get it together? What about working a desk at a health club, where you'd also get free membership? Sometimes it's the side perks that can really make a second job like that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:18 PM  

  • What about child-care jobs? It might help you feed the baby-lust in the interim as well as providing some skills?

    What about being a dog walker? Exercise and money at the same time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:21 PM  

  • Hi Meg, I am a new reader and love reading your entries. I too have to be in charge of the household money and feel crummy about it when my husband wants to buy something but there insn'y any money left in the account, then because I feel so bad (as if its my fault) I let him use the credit card! Then the next month things are worse. I think its because hes the main income earner and brings in a good salary so I don't want him to feel as though he isn't providing enough money for his family.
    Anyway I signed onto Mvelopes for a trial but I am too scared to set it up because you have to put in your bank log in details, passwords and all. This can't be good?
    What do you think?

    By Anonymous DI _ SYDNEY, at 4:05 PM  

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