Fiscal responsibility starts with being honest, with taking a candid look at your life, your finances, and the choices you’ve made to get to where you are. So, for me, the logical place to start our Fiscal Friday series is with my financial confessions. Some of them are pretty typical, some of them are reminders of regrets, some of them are personal and uncomfortable. I’m doing it because to say that it’s been easy would be a lie. To pretend that I don’t have to constantly work at it would be doing you a disservice. To say that I’m not still trying to erase the mistakes of my twenties would be inaccurate.
And so today, in a terrifyingly transparent move, my Fiscal Friday Confessions.
I could say that I got myself into a hole because I didn’t know any better, but the truth is, I did know better. I am an educated woman. I knew what using credit irresponsibly can to do a person’s life. But I still continued living a life I knew I couldn’t afford. I accumulated credit card debt for no reason other than I wanted to go shopping. I knew the balances on my credit cards were increasing, but I wasn’t worried. After all, I had a full-time job. I was an adult. I could afford to pay off my balances – I just chose not to. Every paycheck something more important took priority.
I have almost $45,000 of student loan debt. While I’ve paid off all of the credit card debt I accumulated over the years, I haven’t even begun to put a dent in my student loans. Just like the credit cards, something else was always a priority. I never had the money. And so I would defer. They make it so ridiculously easy to do, so why wouldn't I do that?? Let me tell you why. Because when you continually defer, you will be 31 years old and still be in $45,000 worth of hock to Sallie Mae. That's why.
I was never content, never happy. But if I could just buy this bag or these shoes or this piece of furniture for my apartment or home, I would be. If you don’t already see where this is heading, it doesn’t work. This is something I’ve found especially difficult with the rise of social media. Having the next greatest thing and the $100 face creams doesn’t make me feel better. It ultimately makes me feel worse…and still inadequate. If I let others’ need to always have name brand things or the latest and greatest affect me, I’m never going to be happy. It’s been tough, and I still struggle with it from time to time, but for the most part, with my Fiscal Responsibility gals, I’ve been able to kick those feelings. My wallet and my self-esteem thank me.
I still struggle with making poor decisions. I eat out far too often and, sometimes, I still live paycheck to paycheck. I’ll spend months doing everything perfectly. I have money in savings, a nice cushion in all of my accounts, ahead of all the bills, and then it hits. The overwhelming feeling is almost too much to be able to handle. Sometimes I am able to fight it and continue on the straight and narrow. Other times, I revert back to my comfort, to my coping mechanism of spending money and buying things. I’ve gotten much better at fighting it over the past year or so, but I won’t say that I haven’t slipped a time or two. Because I have.
I still struggle with making a budget. I know why I struggle and, for the first time, I’m going to say it all out loud. Because the first step to recovery is acknowledgement, right? And I’m counting on all you Fiscal Responsibility partners to keep me accountable! I don’t like making a budget because it forces me to get the numbers down on paper. And to not match those numbers at the end of the month, makes me feel like a failure. So, the way to avoid failure? Just don’t live by a monthly budget. The way to never have any money or achieve the goals you have? Don’t live by a monthly budget. It’s time to change this, Internet. I’m declaring next month, the Month of the Budget.
When I wanted something, I had to have it. I could blame this on growing up in a home with a bipolar mother, but I won’t. Her actions do not define me. Because she spent money with reckless abandon, does not mean I should have done the same. It was nothing but self-gratification. I saw it, I wanted it, I purchased it, with no regard to the power bill or how I would buy that week’s groceries. I still find myself fighting this urge sometimes. It’s a hard thing to break when it’s ingrained so deeply. But one thing I’ve found that feels better than having things is feeling comfortable with all the bills paid and money in savings.
I learned at a very young age that material possessions equaled love. Since I’ve brought up my mother, I might as well continue to be honest about the root of the issue. I said I would be, after all. I won’t get into the ins and outs of bipolar disorder, but there are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In the highs, we went shopping together and bought pretty things and it was amazing. In the lows, it was really, really bad…a much deeper story than I’ll get into here. But to make up for the lows, there were no apologies, no tears of remorse. There was only shopping. Buying me something pretty to make up for the ugly. There were no hugs, no I love yous. But there were material things. And that? That is something that runs so painfully deep that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully shake it. It’s a constant struggle. It’s always in my head. But I can’t keep using it as an excuse.
All of the education and talking in the world cannot combat the power of denial. I have a problem. I don’t want to live like this anymore. The day I actually sat down to calculate my debt and see the impact my past (and some current) decisions have made, I couldn’t believe how bad the situation actually was. I was so overwhelmed that I just sat and cried. It was the only way to release the anger, the sadness, and the disappointment in myself.
I'm not proud to see these things in writing. I'm not thrilled (or really even comfortable) with having the truth about my financial life out there in the world. But if I don't confront it, I can't deal with it. And dealing with it is the only way it's going to change.
And that's with Fiscal Friday is all about. Sharing our journey to changing our finances and our lives.
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