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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Much Ado About Money

Money makes the world go round, they say...and yet we understand so little about how to manage it and use it as a tool, not to mention the energetic nature of money.

Little coins, pieces of paper with specific designs or account numbers on them, a plastic card...mundane items with immense power. These items are like little objects of power, they carry some essence of us when we use them as an exchange for something. (I'm not suggesting that money is in any way magic, though it sure seems like this at times, just that it represents a form of energy.)

I'll be the first to admit that I'm as uneducated and stupidly naive about money as the next person. I've spent most of my life living above my means, in other words, too many items of energy going out, not enough coming in. I don't just do this with money, but also with my energy. Maybe there's a closer link than even I realize. All I know is at the end of every day, my bank account and my emotional and energetic accounts are both near empty or even theoretically overdrawn. (Bills I can't pay...debts still floating in the ether of the credit world...)

So, this year, I've committed to learning how to live below my means, in all ways. Wow, so not easy! I've been observing the pattern in my life that lead to where I am. Namely, broke and in debt and struggling to make the bills each month. I have no savings, no cushion, nothing. Sound familiar? It's not that I don't know how to make money. I do. I've made up to 11K a month at times in my life. Not rich, but most people would say that's good money, especially in a two income household. However, I'm now realizing that the more money I made, the deeper into debt I got. How can this be? Wouldn't more money mean more freedom? No. More money meant more opportunity to live above my means in greater ways. New and bigger house. New and bigger car. New furniture. And so it goes. Until all that new stuff took over my life and even when I was making the most I could I was still coming up short. I've lived on almost nothing a month at times in my life, and yet I couldn't make it on thousands of dollars more than most people make? Absurd.

I made some radical changes at the end of last year in an effort to live below my means. I walked away from the bigger house and car and the private schools and in fact the state I was living in, and moved to a community with a free charter school, less expensive rent and a much more affordable car. I structured my life so that my family and I could live on my spouse's disability and VA benefits. Neither of us would have to work. I could write, heal my body and take care of my 2 and 4 year old..spend more time with my 6 year old when she comes home from school. My kids wouldn't have to spend 10 hours a day in day care because I was working all day and my spouse wasn't capable of taking care of them. They would have a better life. My spouse could recover from his illnesses and injuries, write and do whatever he wanted without worrying about supporting his family. We would all have a better life. We would have some wiggle room for savings. For fun. For maybe even paying off debt!

We made the move. Said good-bye to a community we loved. A house we loved. Friends we still love. I thought...OK, it's done. I did it. Moving on. Well...not so fast...

Apparently, this is a lesson that needs to be really embraced for me, through all obstacles. Shortly after relocating, my circumstances changed again. My spouse and I separated, and I was again in a sticky spot. This house, this life, was budgeted on all of us living together on his income. It was not budgeted to support two households. Now I'm struggling again, unable to pay the bills, knowing my outgoing expenses (not including savings and debt repayment) are more than what's coming in. I have some choices to make. Some hard choices to make.

I could do the obvious thing and get a job. Somewhere. I live in the country, so I would likely have to commute over an hour to the city. Again, didn't pick this place for work. I even found a job online that would pay what I used to make with all the perks, including a car. Should I apply? Certainly we'd all be happier if we were making more money, right?

But I fell into that trap before. I'm too physically ill to work with my own health conditions. If I pushed through it I would likely make myself worse or end up in the hospital and the few hours a day that I was home I would be too sick and exhausted to be a mom at all. My kids would be raised by others. They've already lost the daily contact with their father, they would lose me as well. Is that fair to them at this stage in their life?

Then there's the fact that since I haven't learned how to live below my means, I would likely end up just as stuck, no matter how much money I had coming in. Yes, now I have less to live on. But I do have something to live on. The challenge is structuring my life so that what I have coming in is more than what I need to spend to survive. Much more. I need a 10% shit happens cushion. I need a savings, and I need to tithe. I need to start tapping away at my debt. I can't do that if I'm struggling to pay for propane. This isn't as easy as it sounds. It's requires a serious shift in my worldview, one that is painful and slow.

My inclination is to have stuff. Not obsessively like those people who's houses become the topic of the nightly news, but enough that my kids now have more clothes than they can ever wear. (Very little of it has been bought by me, but sadly, all of it has to be cleaned by me.) I have more knickknacks in the house than I can put up. More furniture than we need. It is time to scale down. To live simply. So...

I am moving...or getting a roommate. Something to lower my rent. I am selling off clothes, furniture and anything else that really doesn't serve my family. If I move, it will be into a much smaller house and I'm not putting anything in storage. If I can't fit it into my house and use it, I don't need it. (Don't worry mom, I'm not throwing out my box of baby stuff.) There are some things worth keeping, but if I was honest, those could probably all fit in my closet. If the clothes demon hadn't invaded, that is. I am also creating a budget that is reasonable. And...here's where it gets serious...I am not just holding myself accountable, I am being held accountable by a dear friend from my church. She is my confidante and my coach. She helps me see what is really necessary and what isn't, and she helps me creatively discover news ways of structuring my life for ease.

That way, I won't have the stress of living above my means. I will be comfortable. I can spend less of my personal energy worrying about money. What I do make through the things I love to do will only enhance a budget that is already in place. I can do a spa day, take the kids somewhere fun or pad my savings account. I can spend time with my kids and raise them myself...though as a single mom I do need some time without them to write and run non-kid errands. To heal. I am learning that simple is better. This year many changes are taking place in my life, my health, and my bank account.

I am also learning to say no to demands on my energy. To scale back. I was recently doing a favor for a friend by watching her daughter. I already have 3, what's one more a few afternoons a week? A lot, apparently. The girls all got along great, but it was sapping me and I couldn't give attention to my little ones. I had to say no. I'm learning to stay focused on what I need to get through my days sanely. I haven't gotten there yet, but at least I'm headed in the right direction.

Once I get the basics in place...money, health, time...I can start to really fly.

How can you simplify your life to add dollars to your energetic and physical bank account? In what ways does money drain your life rather than serve you? Is there someone in your life that can be a partner for change with you? Please share any great ideas on how you've been able to manage money, reduce expenses or change your views on finances.