Ever go through periods where you feel utterly divorced from frugality?
The last few months have been spent, well, spending. And it’s got me feeling like the financial equivalent of an out-of-body experience. (Out of account experience?)
Logically, I know that stocking up makes sense. Still, I can’t help but feel detached from my frugal ways.
We’re close to being stocked up on Philosophy, so soon I’ll lose my excuse to haunt eBay. That will help, I think. But, in the meantime, I feel this manic little cry coming from somewhere in my brain that tells me to go out and enjoy myself. To buy myself (and Tim) some nice things.
Not such a bad idea — except that we still have $3,000 of Tim’s student loans and I want an emergency fund in place. So, even though it feels like we jumped the last hurdle, we still have a couple more to go.
But I can’t seem to care. The fact is, I’m burned out. You can blame my materialism or the new hair color — which did actually necessitate some new clothes and make up… never thought I’d have to say something clashed with my hair — but the fact is there is a little chant going on in my head, “Buy, buy, buy.”
It’s a little better reasoned than that. It points out that we have some free money now. Things are easier. There are pretty, sparkly things to be had. But the gist is “Buy, buy, buy.”
I was confused, at first, about why this sudden change of heart. I was raised to be frugal, so it really shouldn’t matter all that much whether we’re in debt or out of it. But then I realized what’s going on. For the first time since I was 18, I am out of debt.
Which means that I spent the last nearly 14 years in debt.
I grew up believing that the only acceptable (to a point) forms of debt were student loans and mortgages. My parents’ plan was to borrow from Alaska and let my money sit in the bank accruing interest. Since the loans didn’t earn interest until I stopped school, it made sense.
So, starting as a college freshman, I got into debt. And got deeper in the red each year I borrowed. A little disturbing, but I knew I had the money to pay it off.
Right up until I used those funds as a down payment on a house. I rented out the rooms, and then struggled to cover the rest of the mortgage without being able to work a full-time job. For awhile, I had insurance through a part-time job. But I couldn’t make enough, so I tried full-time and failed miserably.
That left me with no income and no insurance. Individual plans wouldn’t cover my mental health drugs, so each month I paid over $400 for my pills. Because my renters gave me money, I made too much on paper to qualify for financial help. So it went on my card.
Eventually, I moved out and tried to be a resident manager. Adding the extra tenant (for my old room) helped make sure the mortgage was paid, but there were still utilities. And being a resident manager paid my rent plus about $100 a month.
So things had to keep going on my card.
By the time my mom got to Seattle, I had about $6,000 of credit card debt.
She had some savings she had brought with her. She shelled out to pay off my credit cards and spent about $1,000 to get me a bed I could actually rest in. (I was sleeping on a secondhand futon. The Tempurpedic improved my sleep tremendously, so she said it was worth it.)
Then, I lost my job as a resident manager. So she had to take over paying rent. She also bought groceries, couponing up a storm of course, and cooked. I pretty much just had to sit there and try to become vaguely functional again.
In the meantime, I got $330 from the state of Washington. Medicine was no longer an issue, thanks to Medicaid. Even so, it was surprising how quickly $330 was gone — considering my basic needs were taken care of — and I was in danger of credit card debt again.
With my mom’s help, I was able to more or less stay out of it, but it meant a sort of emotional credit card debt, if that makes any sense. I felt like my life wasn’t mine. I felt unable to become a real adult because I was unable to provide for myself.
Finally, my disability case was approved, and I could pay my own rent. But, shortly thereafter, I met Tim. He moved in pretty quickly and got a job. It made finances a little easier in some ways, but he came with defaulted student loans, the need for oral surgery and his own set of medical problems.
Since the debt was based around his health problems, it felt familiar to me as my own debt. And, of course, I loved him, so I wasn’t going to let debt deter me from marrying him.
Still, it meant that the last four years together, Tim and I have spent in debt. Which was really just the same as before: debt, no money, whatever. It all blurs together.
And now that I write this I a) feel very old and b) realize just what the hell is going on with that consumerism-loving Greek chorus in my head. Looking through all those years, it’s no wonder I didn’t completely combust years ago, although I’ve certainly had my booms and busts in the frugality department.
So, maybe I’m not losing my frugal roots, like I thought. Or maybe I didn’t have as many frugal roots to begin with. Maybe I’ve always been a spender, trapped by circumstances into behaving responsibly.
I think it’s perhaps a good thing that we’re down here, away from family. Maybe this is the best chance I have to find out who I am, rather than who I want to be. After all, none of it has worked out like I planned yet. So I really don’t know why I keep on banking (so to speak) on my financial personality.
Away from my mom’s uber-frugality and clear of the cloud of credit card debt, which loomed over everything we did, maybe I’ll actually have a shot at figuring out where I stand when there aren’t so many restrictions.