Tag Archives: finances

Playing Their Game vs. Survival Mode

A few weeks ago, after we received our tax return, I came up with a very reasonable, responsible plan to pay off some of our credit card debt with a substantial portion of the amount. I even projected my plan into next year with the goal of eventually paying of our debt entirely.

I’m sure my current position as budgeting instructor has contributed significantly to my fabulous life strategy.

Playin’ the game to win, baby.

But here’s what happened.

Real life and the cyber world conspired to place within earshot one too many conversations about the end of civilization as we know it. Since making my brilliant plan, but luckily not yet sending in the check, I’ve heard lots of talk of global warming/peak oil consumption/terrorists getting nukes/ and other nail biting scenarios in which the fire pit out back becomes the hearth of our home and whatever seeds a person happened to buy for their garden lately is what they’re gonna eat for the next, well, forever.

My thought has shifted to: I’m gonna waste the bird we have in our hand on something pretend like a credit score?

A game changing world event could come along any second. And if it does, are the credit card people going to be banging on my door? No, they’re gonna be in their own corner of the planet, trying to build a fire pit in their backyard. Wishing they’d bought seeds instead of another yacht.

So I can blow a wad on paying them back, or I can spend that money on real items that might help my family survive in our own corner.

Even more than the actual money is how I FEEL about each decision. When I was in the mind frame of paying a lot toward credit cards: trapped, small, controlled, sad, resigned, low. I’m never going to win the game. It’s definitely rigged. Once you’ve agreed to play, you’ve lost. You can lose more or less, you have some control over how far you’re gonna bend over, but you’re gonna lose.

Once I entertained the possibility of continuing to pay a bit more than the monthly minimum (after all, I’m not out to default on my agreements) and invest the rest in our life and our actual future: alive!, powerful, engaged, real.

I’m sure the credit card companies would be thrilled with this plan. After all, the longer it takes me to pay them off, the more they get.

But if the ship goes down, I’m swimming away without looking back. They can keep their numbers and their scores and we’ll just call it good.

And even if it means paying more in the long run, it might be worth it to buy this feeling of control.

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Make-Believe Budgeting

I’ve designed my 3 hour budgeting class to lead up to the fundamental exercise: actually working on a budget, with real numbers, needs, dilemmas.

One problem: the people taking the budgeting class currently have almost no income to budget with.

Let’s figure out how to make gold out of straw?

Or, what I came up with on the fly with my one student last week: Let’s pretend that you finish school and become an office manager, and let’s pretend (because I truly have no clue) that you would make $30,000 a year. We both agreed that her salary might well be more than that (I am going to look up some common jobs and their average salaries and have that info on hand next time). We both liked the idea that we were being very conservative to see what things would look like with a possibly less-than-actual amount of money.

In the back of my mind I was thinking, not only look up some average salaries for common jobs, but also look up the national average income in general.

The budgeting exercise went off brilliantly. I think it not only gave her good practice in sitting down with an income limit and trying to make her expenses, desires and dreams fit inside of that limit, but also just the act of pretending to have that kind of power and choice¬†made her believe (“make believe”) that it was within her reach.

Having been poor my entire adult life, I understand the depths of despair a person will have to slog through, and how every shred of hope is torn off as the thorns of reality scrape one raw and down to bare bones.

I understand how valuable it is to regain the belief in oneself and in the future. I think part of this class needs to be about starting that emotional recovery, in addition to gaining the skills and information to achieve financial health and stay there.

So now it’s time to take my impromptu experiment and develop it. I figured if I used the national median income I could justify the number I used as well as simplify things by having each student working with the same figures so we could kind of compare notes and things. I found it here:¬†U.S. Census.

The median annual income for the United States of American is around $50,000. Holy f-monkeys. Rounded off, that’s about $4,000 every freakin’ month. Cripes.

There’s no way in hell I can use that number.

Am I just jealous, because our family can’t seem to get near that number?

Or after all these years, do I think that it’s an impossible figure, and in applying my own lack of faith, I’d be holding my students back from achieving something that obviously a TON of people are able to achieve?

Or do I just not want to give them a shot of hope that will get them SO high that when it doesn’t look immediately possible, they will throw out everything we’ve discussed, even the reasonable, helpful bits?

How can I justify using $30,000? Because it’s a number I’m intimately familiar with? Because it gives one a modest little $2,500 per month to work with? Because it’s most likely a believable, and inspirational, step up from where they’ve been for years?

I’ll have to do more investigating. And more experimenting.

Death and Taxes

Thankfully I’ve only dealt with the latter today. The former feels like it’s all around me, with these bare trees (can you tell I grew up around evergreens?), brown lawns, frigid air… I want to say I’m ready for spring, but around these parts, that’s tantamount to welcoming the insufferable heat. Not quite there yet. I’ll hang out in the chill barrenness of winter a bit longer.

But the taxes are sorted, anyhow. This e-filing thing is the way to go, I think. I generally DON’T enjoy having machinery and the internet take over my life, but when it comes to red tape, I’m starting to think, bring it on!

For some reason writing with pen on paper is a deliciously satisfying activity, unless that paper has little angry boxes on it and places where I have to sign.

As I imagine the seeds I will plant in my garden soon when winter begins to fade, my thoughts naturally drift to the seeds we will plant with our refund money. What will we grow in our lives this year with the resources we receive? It’s like a fresh game of monopoly all over again, with new opportunities to invest in various areas of our lives.

Very appropriate topic with my new budgeting class beginning tomorrow. I hope that the information and ideas I provide will provide the same jumpstart of resources to make my students’ lives even a little bit better, and to make the year ahead a brighter one.