Friday, December 17, 2010
As we head into this fabulous holiday shopping season I have a confession to make. Before marriage, my checkbook balance was, shall we say thin. Ok, Ok, I admit, hopefully to free up others, that I was often overdrawn. I cannot even blame low income because I had a good job that paid well. I owned my own home and sure wasn’t overextending myself taking care of it. I didn’t have a lot of debt either, just a few credit cards and car and house payments. So what was the problem? The problem was Want and the Devil of Immediate Gratification. I wanted things, stuff, newness.
I would shop for what I considered to be inexpensive things and come out of a place with an expensive amount of inexpensive things. I figured that since I was buying little things that I would actually use and enjoy I wasn’t a shopaholic or anything. My credit cards were low limit and usually maxed out so it wasn’t like I was buying stuff on credit.
And yet there was never enough money. Ever. And it was a vicious cycle of WHOOO! Payday! Let’s treat ourselves a bit at Target-these shoes are only twenty bucks! Let’s get a latte at Starbucks and throw in a scone too! Oh wow that is on sale now...lucky me!
I could blame sensational media, skilled marketing or vicious advertisers but I won’t. The problem was with me. I wonder if you will relate. I just WANT. I see the possibilities of a thing, an event, a food and I want. I buy it and enjoy it but then want more. It seems an endless cycle and I wasn’t aware of it being the main problem with my checking account balance until I got married. Don’t you just love the blessing of marriage in that your joys are doubled and your flaws are quadrupled?
My husband John isn’t much of a spender. When we were getting married we began to talk about finances. I was floored by the balance of his savings account and started to feel more than a little embarrassed over mine. We had some hard conversations and we began to work out a budget. They say most big fights happen over money and they are right! And that was just the beginning.
When we started planning for and having our kidlets, we decided to be more radical about how we handle our money. We read some books by Dave Ramsey about debt free living and felt he was really on the right track. We began budgeting more specifically which left little room for buying extras at my favorite places. We started saving for things in advance even though we truly could afford to pay for them now. We started paying off his car, our credit card and my student loan with a fervor. It felt great at the end of the month when we sent all of our old payment amounts to one place in this case my student loan, in really large chunks. It is hard during the month when I really want this or that, but I am much more aware of my desire, my WANT, and I look to fill it in other healthier places like friendships, quiet time or the library.
Then our washing machine broke. And I don’t mean a tiny break, I mean pouring water on the floor. John spent several weekends working on it and I spent several weeks at the laundromat. I was so proud of his creative and valiant attempts to resuscitate the machine, but at last he threw in the towel and began to research an new washer. I really had no preferences other than it wasn’t the cheapest or really expensive. He opted for an energy efficient and environmentally friendly front loader. When that baby got installed I felt like I was reading for a college course to operate it. But it was sexy! It was sleek and new and did all sorts of cool things. I literally sat in front of it like a dweeb and watched the first load spin.
Then my eyes wandered to our old dryer. Our very, very old dryer. Our rust spot covered, simple as they come worked perfectly fine the day before but now isn’t it just about hideous dryer. I wondered about getting a new dryer to match the new washer and caught myself. THIS is how the unrest starts! When we hold the new up against the old, the old pales in comparison. This is why shopping is so appealing; the unfettered unsullied newness of a thing makes us want it even when we have sixty-four of them at home still in good shape. I was pleased and troubled to wander through my thoughts as I sat in the laundry room pondering wants vs. needs. I decided that the old dryer and new washer could be a weekly reminder of the positive changes I was making with money and Want. I told the Red Horned Gentleman of Immediate Gratification to get lost, that I had laundry, and more life to do.