Wherein I’m toast
After all, I’ve been unable to create realistic financial projections. I’ve been exhausted at the thought of regular blogging and/or had a dearth of ideas. And while stress about money still overwhelmed me, I felt not nearly enough inclination to be frugal. I still did it (sometimes) but it felt forced.
How else would you describe that except for personal finance burnout?
I’ve been saying it’s depression and stress. And that remains true. But that’s rather more describing the symptoms than the actual malady.
So, yep. Burned out. A charred husk of my normal self. Guilty as charged. (As charred-ged?)
Getting over it
I feel like I’m slowly pulling out of this nosedive, but the person who floated the burnout idea had a very helpful point: I should share the process. Because everyone goes through this. (At least I hope so. Not that I wish ill on you guys, but I’ll be damned if I’m the only one suffering from this crap.)
So here’s how I’m getting out of it. And have gotten out of it in the past. Because, yes, it’s happened before. It’ll happen again. If you stick with any one thing long enough, burnout will occur.
Avoid (or get over) burnout: Forgive yourself
Frugal burnout will cause you to make mistakes, but arguably the burnout is also caused by your mistakes.
If you’re the type to read a personal finance blog (and you’re reading this so…), you probably work pretty hard to keep tabs on your finances. But no matter how diligent you are, life finds a way to muck things up. It might be that you indulged in one too many takeout meals, that your car broke down or that a bill got buried, causing a late payment. Mistakes and surprises happen.
And when you’re trying so damn hard… Well, the variances are like to drive you crazy. It begins to feel pointless. Why bother planning when life laughs in your face? Why even pretend you know how money will go for the month?
The mindset is understandable. Frankly, it’s probably the only sane response. But it’s not one you can afford to live with.
Instead, you have to figure out how to forgive yourself for your mistakes and general inability to predict life’s nasty sense of humor. Failure to do so will result in burn out.
And once burnout sets in, things only get harder.
You’ve retreated from the source of stress and probably gotten a little financially lax as a result. You start to wonder whether you can ever go back. After all, if things were that tough when you were actually trying, how bad will it be now that neglect has set in?
And so you wind up unable to act, afraid any move will be horribly insufficient — and probably yet another mistake.
I once had a professor who said that the “There are no stupid questions” statement was ridiculous. There are, he said, plenty of stupid questions. But if you have one, chances are someone else in the class will too, perhaps someone too shy to voice the question himself.
So, he asserted, the only thing for it was to ask the damned question. You’ll have your answer, and you’ll probably have helped at least one other person out.
A similar principle applies here.
You’re afraid you’re going to make mistakes? Well, stop worrying. Because you will. Absolutely. Definitely. Probably at least one really bad one. But staying paralyzed to avoid a misstep is untenable.
So ask the question, jump back into the personal finance fray, do whatever it is that you’re afraid to do. Preferably while also bracing for a humiliating reminder of your own stupidity.
Look at it this way: If things work out, it’ll be a nice surprise. If they don’t, you’re better positioned to shrug it off. And regardless of the outcome, know that there will be plenty of us online who will happily commiserate with or learn from your experience.
Break it down (way, way down)
Start small. Start teeny.
Almost everything in life is a path rather than a concrete destination. So the size of the steps you take doesn’t matter — only that you’re moving forward. (Admittedly, slower than most, but just think of it as taking more time to enjoy the scenery.)
A long list of financial tasks and obligations is intimidating, if not downright dizzying. One task at a time, while still unpleasant, should seem far more manageable.
I recommend starting with the smallest, simplest tasks. Getting it done gives you a sense of accomplishment that can spur you on in the face of harder items on the to-do list.
I do this with any chores or errands I have — financial or otherwise. It’s served me well, especially when depression or fatigue flares up.
My 1st step
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to start with a simple task because I needed to wrangle the monthly budget. Instead, I just had to break it down as best I could.
On Saturday I sat down at the computer and opened up the “September finances” Excel document. All the categories were the same, and most of the numbers, which saved me some time and effort. That meant I only had to worry about the bank balance and credit card payment.
I subtracted the payments already made this month from the credit card amount due, thereby giving me the amount we needed to pay this month.
I put that number and the new bank balance into the spreadsheet. Excel’s handy-dandy formulas did their thing, giving me the amount left over for the month. Now I knew how much to transfer into savings.
I scheduled the credit card payment for the following day and logged off.
On Sunday I logged into Capital One 360 and did all the monthly transfers.
I would absolutely advise most people to automate transfers. Automate everything, really. But that’s for healthy people with set-in-stone pay dates.
My check arrives between the 9th and 13th. Then one of us has to go deposit it. Then wait for it to clear. Then I write out a paycheck for myself (as an employee of my S-corp) and deposit it, waiting for that to clear. Then there’s enough money in the account for everything each month.
Arguably, I could just set up the transfers for later in the month, but as recent posts have proved, I get stressed out by having a bunch of unallotted money in our account too. So it’d be an issue of deciding how early is too early and how late is too late.
But for folks with normal jobs/brains… Automate!
Anyway, the transfers were done in less than 10 minutes. They’re very simple, really, since only the amount going to savings ever changes. It’s pretty mindless, meaning I stuck to the goal of taking small steps.
I was going to wait until Monday to set up the mortgage payment, but I finished with the transfers and still felt okay. (Like I said, conquering even small tasks gives you an empowering sense of accomplishment.)
So I logged into Bank of America and scheduled the payment for Monday.
Other than day-to-day spending, that took care of the major financial actions for the month.
The tough part: Know your spending (sorta)
Personal finance gurus and plenty of other bloggers have expounded on this point plenty, so I won’t belabor it. I’ll simply remind you that you can’t really be up on your PF game if you don’t have some idea of where your funds are going.
Unfortunately, that’s hard to do when you feel burned out on the entire subject of money. You probably won’t want to deal with the envelope system or saving receipts.
So when you’re trying to get back on the PF horse, you once again have to look for small steps toward it.
Most people seem to find software helpful. It doesn’t work for me. Our spending varies too much (and in too many categories) to really make accurate projections. But if your life is a bit more predictable, go shake virtual hands with Mint or You Need a Budget.
If you need something a bit more generic, maybe take a page from my (currently slightly neglected) playbook: weekly lump sums. We transfer in a certain amount each week. Those funds have to last seven days.
Rather than worry about budget categories, all you have to do is check your bank balance. If it’s still early in the week and the bank balance is low, you’ll rein yourself in (hopefully). Otherwise, you know things are generally okay.
And hey, you can work your way up (or back up) to the more detail-oriented stuff. Re-entry into personal finance is all about keeping things simple.
Have you experienced personal finance or frugal burnout? How did you deal with it?