Monday, April 27, 2009

Dollars and Cents

Having lots of time to burn Saturday, I found myself pouring over my planner. In it, I list every transaction I've made using my debit card, all the bills I've paid, any cash I take out of the ATM, and precise information about my gas consumption (down to calculating my mpg after each fill up).

It may seem a bit obsessive, but when I started noting money information in my planner, I had just started a job with no set hours. I used my planner as a backup for verifying my checks each pay period. Since then, I've increased what I log, figuring knowing more can only help, not hurt.

On Saturday, I set out to track my spending by opening up my planner and crunching the numbers. Though I have had all this information, going back as far as this time last year, I have never used it to figure out what I was doing with my money. So, I decided to bite the bullet that night. I copied all the numbers, separated by month, broke everything down into categories, and added it all up. It wasn't pretty.

The quick and dirty synopsis is, I'm broke. I only calculated January through March of this year, but I found I'm running about $3000 - $3500 in the red. Yes, the three zeroes are correct. I am that much in the hole.

The impetus for this experiment was noticing my checking account looking a little small. It seemed to me that it shouldn't be so low so soon into the year. My hunch was correct.

Getting into the details of the numbers, I found my average income is only $100 more than the average total for my bills. And this number doesn't take into account the money I spend on gas each month, which wipes out that minuscule cushion.

The more worrying numbers are the amounts I've spent on food (eating out too much), the random money I've taken out of the ATM (used how?), and the amount I've spent on Play. Play, as a category, includes money on gifts, books, CD's, and other unnecessary nonfood purchases. All told, these three categories alone set me back on average $1000 a month.

The point of this post is to say to myself, and the online world, that I have to fundamentally change how I spend money. Otherwise things are going to get bad, fast.

Moving in with my SO will help, but that step alone is not going to solve my problem. It will, at best, only slow the bleeding.

No, I have to make changes, big changes. I've never lived on a budget. I've only cared about money in as much as making sure my bills are paid each month. Now I have to look at every penny I spend. Now, I have to treat money with the respect it deserves and the fear I have of loosing lots of it.

I posted some time ago about how Ella left me a large sum of money from her death. I am so thankful that money was out of my reach these past few months. I locked it up in an account, that I cannot access until the end of this year, back in December. If I had had access to it, some much more money would be gone.

So I'm starting to work on a budget. As my life currently stands, there is no way for me to be making money. I will be constantly in the red for at least the next few months. My goal, though, is to minimize the damage. I have a list of things I need to do by June to start making the situation less painful.

1) I'm going to quit my gym. Though I need to loose weight to qualify for lower costing health insurance, that is fifty dollars every month I will save. I can buy a set of weights, I already have two workout DVDs I haven't used, and I live in a nice area where I see plenty of people running every day. I will now be joining them.

2) I'm going to close my storage unit. The rental fee is $60 a month. All the stuff in it I want to sell or give away anyway. So now is the time to get off my butt and do it.

3) Eating out is going to be brought down severely. The one meal I may have with friends on the weekend is not the biggest of burdens. In fact, this weekend I spent only $20 on food, compared to the $35 I spent during a working dinner last week. But eating out with my SO is going to end.

4) Still on the food front, I'm setting myself a limit on how much I can buy in groceries each month. Most of the time, I would buy what I wanted and not think about how much it cost. Now, I have to set my meal plans for the month and buy accordingly, no more.

5) I'm limiting myself to $100 out of the ATM per month. This will cover incidentals (co-pays, meter parking, when I really really want a soda).

That's where I will start, but I'm sure that's not where it will end. Besides moving in, the second biggest expense I need to rid myself of is COBRA. $450 every month is an incredible burden, though the idea of getting sick without it is scary. I have to redouble my efforts to loosing weight, for my health and my wallet.

I'm going to keep the financial log going, analyzing my spending each month and readjusting it as needed. I hate to think what would have happened if I had not sat down and came to this realization.

My Saturday analysis was a shock and awe campaign that has left me bewilder and amazed. I thought I was doing well financially. I thought I had learn from the burden my mother faced with credit cards and bankruptcy. That experience, apparently, was not enough.

But Saturday also opened my eyes to what I need to change. I know what I have to do. I'm going to do it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Yuppie Representing

Last night I was completely geeked out to go see the This American Life live show, beamed to 430 movie theatres around the country. TAL, for those not in the know, is a radio show broadcast every week on your local public radio station. It features stories about everyday people and their experiences, fictional pieces, and occasional specials about specific topics (such as the financial crisis).

I was such a geek that, on the way to the theatre, I couldn't stop talking about the show to my SO. I named all the featured contributors, spoke about the pieces I had heard from them earlier, and I bounced in the driver's seat of my car. I was a dork beyond measure.

We got to the theatre 45 minutes early, which was fine with me. To be honest, I was worried it would be sold out. But I was shocked and appalled when I saw the ticket price. I treated my SO to the show, being the superfan in our relationship and the lack of interest by my partner. When my $50 bill was exchanged for a $10, I began to wonder if I had made the right decision.

To pass the time, and lighten my mood, my SO treated me to an in theatre video game. We raced on snow skis, collecting boosts, energy, and rockets to attack each other. It was childish and sooo much fun. So thirty minutes before the show started, I was relaxed and happy again, sitting in my seat, grateful that I had not backed out.

I was more than surprised, and dorkily pleased, that the preshow entertainment was all hangman puzzles, and word games. The last five minutes was counted down on screen with a clock and word progressions following along to the time.

All this was great, but, at the stroke of the beginning of the show, the sound did not change over. During the entire preshow, the back ground noise to the on screen dorkitude was previews and commercials. Everyone assumed that at the stroke of TAL on, the sound would change. It didn't.

No one should be in a crowded movie theatre with pissed off yuppies. A few people dashed out of the theatre to find management. A few people yelled at the projection room. We saw, but could not hear, the first few minutes of the show, which is ironic because this was a radio show converted into a live sight show. The audio was crossed over eventually, and we were able to make out Ira's opening just fine.

This show was named "Returning to the Scene of the Crime." It featured stories about people who, for one reason or another, had to return to events that shaped a part of their lives. Mike Birbiglia spoke about a car accident, which was not his fault, but still required him to pay $12,000 to his assailant. Starlee Kine spoke about returning to her childhood and getting over the crimes her parents committed against her mental well being. Dan Savage spoke about religion, his mother, his sexuality, and how tempting believing in something, anything, can be. And Joss Whedon ended the event with a musical commentary.

I loved it all. My home town was mentioned, which sent a whoop throughout the audience. I laughed way too loud and too much. I clapped, even though there was no way Ira or the cast members could have heard me. And I made quiet comments to myself; well, I thought they were to myself, until my SO sushed me.

[Sidenote: My SO loved it, too. After the show, in a moment of playful giddiness, we took photo booth pictures. The first photo was stupid. The second photo was freaky. The third was kinda scary. (My SO loves all things scary, especially zombies.) The fourth photo was sweet. And, if I had a scanner, it would totally be in my facebook profile.]

The night was great. The price was worth it. I had an amazing time.

TAL geek for life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reassurance

It is what I need more than anything.

I feel comfortable saying this here because, well, this is just a box and only reflects my life as much as I'm willing to reveal.

I'm a needy person. I'm clingy. I'm emotional. And my distemper as of late has centered around the idea of reassurance.

When my SO and I had our financial conversation, ending in a less than secure way, a fury was bubbling inside me. My mind went where my mind often goes, down a long path that leads no where I want to be.

By refusing to hitch a ride on my plan of action, by saying, "Hey, maybe we should slow down," my SO had, in my mind, said he was not fully committed to us. In my mind, the house was a symbol of his pledge to the life I want for us (house, marriage, kid). By not giving me a detailed explanation of how he would clean up his finances and make himself ready for our home buying adventure, I thought he was backing out of the relationship. The whole part about a shared lease for a year, moving in together, that went over my head.

After two and a half years, my SO has finally learned some of my nonverbal emotional cues. And after a week of no sex, less physical affection, and general ill mood, I was asked what as going on. Unfortunately, this came on the way to dropping my SO off at work. In a less than reassuring way, I said this was a conversation we should not have before a gig. It was later settled that I would come by during my SO's very long lunch break and we would talk about it.

I don't know why we seem to have important conversations in my car, but this was yet another one of them in my Civic. We sat in a strip mall parking lot, hot from the spring sun, me trying to explain why I had been so distant this past week.

I talked about how I felt. I spoke about how I was worried, ever since our last hefty conversation. I spoke about how my mind took the leap that if my SO hasn't made a plan for his finances, what happens when I want to move into a house or have a child. One misstep had sent me on an emotional landslide, scared that the life I thought we were going to have together was falling apart.

My SO, obviously strained, talked about being unhappy. My SO talked about how, in the past few months, it felt like I was hot and cold, happy and sad, exuberant and then done. And this back and forth was weighing on the emotional health of our relationship. My SO put it bluntly: if they didn't want what I wanted, they wouldn't be here.

At the end of our financial conversation, my SO had just needed a break. It was too much to think about, the burden that still needed to be dealt with and the plan to deal with it. Now, sweating in my Civic, there was talk of opening up a savings account, making automatic payments, us both saving and working towards the goal of a home. And the medical debt will be paid, but $10,000 takes time. My SO reassured me; he will pay it off.

At the end of this conversation, I talked about my constant need for reassurance, how I often, with no hard facts whatsoever, jump to big conclusions and hurt myself and those around me in the process. I suggested emotional check ins, where I could ask the "feelings" question and my SO could do the same. We hugged. We ate Subway. We were both happy we had had the conversation.

Since then, my therapist has chided me about not speaking up long before my SO said something. Allowing my emotions to fester for a week did no good and hurt the person I care about the most. Yes, my SO needed a break from the financial conversation, but, because I still had concerns, the conversation was not over. I should have given it a day or two and then revisited with my concerns, not accusing, but saying how it made me feel and why.

As part of my SO's new campaign of my emotional reassurance, I now wear a necklace that was purchased a few years ago. My SO loves it, but asked me to wear it. Around my neck, 24/7, constant physical reassurance.

Just last night, my SO told me how much better it has been in the few days since the car conversation. I agree completely. The emotional weight of my doubts have been lifted.

So from this, I have to learn that it is okay to talk. In fact, I must talk to get the bad out so the good to can flourish within. And STOP STOP STOP assuming the worst!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Educational Benefits

Though it did not make the top ten, my college was named by Playboy as one of the top 25 party schools in the country.
Really? I didn't have that much fun.
Now I feel a little cheated.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Burning the House Down

I overreact, especially when it comes to anything going on with my SO and I. I know this. And because I know this, I try to not rush to judgment on us. I try.

But, I just don't know if we are going to have a "happily ever after." And before you think I am being naive, I am not talking about perfection. I know there is no perfect. I'm talking about a happy, healthy relationship where both partners feel fulfilled in the situation. That is my happily ever after.

So to the rub. My SO has very poor financial habits. Previously, my SO spoke about us getting a home together. I, being cautious, have always put "if" in front of statements concerning anything about home buying. I didn't want to possibly jinx the situation, but I always remained truthful and earnest.

I made an appointment for us to talk about the particulars of home buying after I finished taking notes on a comprehensive book about the subject. I wanted to know what I was talking about before I delved into this. I mentioned it on a Wednesday. We were to talk on Saturday.

So the day comes, we talk about it, and my SO says they're not in the position currently to move forward with this. I ask if my SO plans to stay in the current roommate situation we deal with at their place (crying children and an unfinished basement). My SO indicated no desire to follow the current roommates to their new home, and us getting an apartment together would be good.

All this is logical and satisfactory, except for what came before and after the apartment compromise. Me wanting a house is not enough. My SO needs to want this as much as I do. Of course, this just is not so. My SO, in fact, seems to care about very little when it comes to finances, which frustrates me to no end.

My SO owes about $1500 to the MVA for back insurance payments. Since I've been in this relationship, my SO has haphazardly paid off this debt, and the end is near (it was previouly much larger). Unfortunately, my SO incurred yet still more unnecessary debt by not having health insurance and needing an appendix removed at 2am one very long and scarey night. My SO's medical bills now total around $10,000.

It is not the debt that worries me. It is the nature of the way my SO deals with it. Rent being my SO's only bill (and not in his name but paid to friends), my SO doesn't feel the need to take this debt seriously. It isn't that it will never be repaid, for the want is there. But the poor habits of not paying every month or any consistency whatsoever is infuriating. In the time we've known each other, my SO could have paid down so much of that debt. It would have never gone to collections, and, even if it had, my SO would still have the credit record of earnestly trying to rid the blemish.

Instead, in our Saturday conversation, I heard an attitude that does not gel with my tendencies. I heard procrastination and denile. I heard all the things no one wants to hear from someone they are thinking of tying themselves to for life.

I couldn't understand how a 37 year old could have such poor habits. I have the life experience of seeing a parent cut up cards in a trash can to understand the importance of good credit. I pay around eight bills a month. My SO pays one. And yet I am in a better situation? This does not make sense to me.

I was listening to a public radio program where the financial expert said all married couples should join their personal finances. If not, they would always have a "safety net" in case the relationship dissolved, thereby never fully committing to it in the first place. Sitting in my car, as my SO was in the convience store buying cigarettes and soda, I knew I would never have my finances tied to this person unless they changed drastically.

So I'm left with the thought of our demise clouding me. I intend on getting the two bedroom apartment for the simple fact of finance: it would cut my monthly rent by $400. And I know, even if we no longer are a pair, I could still live there. We are friends, if nothing else. And I can't assume my SO won't change in the time between our cohabitation and my decision to end it, "it" being either the relationship or the lease.

The road I have been on with my SO has never been easy. So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. I am constantly worried something I will say will bring a truth from those lips I will not like and will find myself with abundant reason to leave. And yet, I always want to stay.

I can't burn the house down, even with this fire smoldering. I have to give my SO the benefit of the doubt, a chance to prove my fears wrong. I know there is a good chance the simple fact I am "testing" my SO will doom me to an ending I will not like.

For now, I just want a roommate in a nice apartment that I know and like, even if this person turns out to not be the love of my life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slowly Surely

Just wanted to spread some good news.

Vermont legalizes gay marriage!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"...that was the end of my possum career."

I was reading nytimes.com today and came across an article featuring stories from people who were alive during the Depression.
I love the first one. I thought I should share it and the other tales about a time much worse than ours.

Making Ends Meet in the Great Depression

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Self Analysis

I think my biggest problem about my weight in my mindset. I ate my way into this problem. I keep thinking I can just eat my way out of it. But it doesn't work that way. That I know logically. But getting myself to consistently wake up in the morning to work out or going to the gym after work proves itself a difficult mental block I've put up.

I think subconsciously, whether I want to admit it or not, having this weight makes me feel safer. Being overweight makes you less noticeable. Who cares about the fat girl walking down the road. I am constantly afraid of being attacked. Somehow, I got it in my mind that if I was fat, no one would bother. I know that's not true, but that's the way I thought for a long time.

Sometimes, I see my mom as my fate. It seems inevitable to me that I will be big for the rest of my life. She looked good young, but gained weight with age. Why wouldn't that also happen to me?

I find excuses, those two the biggest, to just let it happen, let myself stay 100 pounds over my ideal weight. I don't want to be this size. But it is just so easy to do nothing.

Until I accept the fact that doing nothing is the wrong choice, that not being proactive about getting healthy makes it worse, I'll never be the person I want to be. I'll just be the fat girl, walking down the street, hoping no one notices her.
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