I read a couple of months ago (in what I think was a NYT article I’m too lazy to search for) that people who recognize the more immediate benefits of exercise are way more likely to work out than people whose only motivations are long term goals. In other words, the person who counts on that runner’s high is more likely to pound the pavement than the person who is logging miles to lose weight.
This makes perfect sense to me. I’m work out for my mental well-being more than for the physical health benefits. When I’m tired, and pretty sure I’m getting sick, and the last thing I want to do is get on the elliptical (like, tonight, for example), I haul my sorry ass on and get moving because I KNOW I will feel better immediately if I do. I have faith that I will feel better because I have thousands of personal experiences to assure me it’s true, despite my body trying to persuade me that it’s not. And usually I only have to start working out for about five minutes to recognize that I do, in fact, feel better.
I was realizing that this might be part of why I struggle so hard to stay on a budget. The goals are all situated in the future, and there are no immediate rewards (at least not that I have identified) to help me make the hard choice in the present. When there is no immediate reward to tempt me away from the instant gratification of spending, it’s hard to conjure the willpower to do it.
My son started day care two weeks ago, so we’re officially in our tightest longterm financial situation to date. Between the increases at my son’s day care (from what we were paying when my daughter attended) and the monthly fees for my daughter’s after care program, our child care expenses are almost $600 a month more than what we were previously spending. The good news is that I will be getting a 9% raise over three years. The bad news is that CalSTRS increased our required contributions by 2%, so the final raise will only be 7% and I won’t start seeing it until the coming school year. I think my husband is due for another step increase around the time as well.
So there is a little light at the end of this tunnel, but for the time being it’s a narrow and restrictive tunnel and we have to spend wisely if we want to get through it. Basically, I need to get a hold of my spending like yesterday.
And yet I still struggle with making unnecessary purchases.
Part of me want to put some very heavy restrictions in place because it’s the holidays and I know I could go fucking hog wild if I let myself. But part of me knows how good I am at explaining why a certain purchase is still allowed despite the restrictions. I also know how hard it would be for me to make myself a reasonable budget and stick with it. I haven’t ever managed to do that in my entire life.
BUT I NEED TO. We won’t have enough money if I don’t. This isn’t about a far-off financial goal, this is about having enough money to cover child care and buy groceries.
When I was first developing a savings strategy, I calculated how much money I’d have left after I paid for child care, groceries and bills and determined what I could budget in my weekly/monthly “wants” category. This included a pretty generous amount allotted for groceries and accounted for all the other long term bills I’m responsible for. I like the idea of having a set amount for “wants” and not splitting that category up into smaller subcategories like “eating out” or “clothes for the kids.” The reality is that almost everything I buy is really a “want,” and that is a shift in my thinking I desperately need to make. I got so caught up in why I should be able to get something despite my shopping ban this summer, but after reading All Your Worth, I realized that ultimately, all those purchases are “wants,”” not matter how well I can argue otherwise.
I also recognize that I need a way to break my habit of compulsive spending, so I’m setting one “restriction” for myself, and that is that I can’t buy anything in the want category until Sunday, because Sunday is the end of my “fiscal week” and at that point I’ll know how much is left in my “wants” budget to spend. (The one exception would be eating out.)
So I have a tentative budget and a tentative restriction and I hope I can actually stick to it. I just wish I could identify a source of immediate gratification from not buying stuff, so that I could dangle it when my compulsive inner voice is so skillfully leading me astray.
I thought a lot about resuming my practice of posting what I spend here, to wildly mixed conclusions. On the one hand, I KNOW it increases my accountability–I am way more inclined stay honest with you all than I am to stay honest with myself. On the other hand, this compulsive buying thing is a genuine problem for me, the kind of problem I would be working on with a professional if I had the resources to do so. Putting myself out there creates an incredible amount of stress for me, and I’m just not sure that the positives of accountability outweigh the negatives of the stress. So for right now I don’t have any definitive plans to post what I spend, though I’m toying with the idea of posting a rough outline of my budget spending in each of the three categories (Needs, Wants, Savings), or at the very least sharing how much I went over, or stayed under, my “wants” budget (and maybe also groceries, because that is a spending category that can balloon quickly).
Tomorrow is Monday. I love starting things on Monday. Let’s see how I do.