Try, Try Again

I’m still stumbling around in the area of personal finance, totally unsure of what I should be doing. It seems supremely fucked up that at 35 I have no idea what my financial goals should look like. Is that something people are just inherently aware of?

I read blogs by people who have instituted year long shopping bans, and then EXTENDED them for another year because buying nothing has totally opened their eyes and changed their life. I think, as a complete personal finance fuck up, not buying anything for a significant amount of time would be a perfect way to start; it would help me figure out what prompts me to buy things and what feelings I’m trying to avoid when I buy things, and what I really, actually need and it will be AMAZING and LIFE CHANGING, just like it is for the people I read.

But then it’s never quite as easy for me to execute it as it seems to be for them, and there are all these other people whose lives are intricately woven into my own, and whose needs I am responsible for meeting, and then there are peripheral people who also have expectations that I can’t blatantly disregard, no matter how hard I try. And people mean well, but they also enable, and in the end my best intentions are always laid to waste. And no one seems to care, or be disappointed but me. And I wonder what I’m doing wrong, and why I have to take this journey alone.

Why is it so easy for the people whose blogs I read, and so hard for me? Is it because my husband is not on board, and I have kids who go to school with specific uniform requirements and clothes get lost and stained to the point of not being wearable and I need to replace those things right? Right!? And then I create rules but suddenly there are too many and I’m not even sure what “need” means anymore and I feel like I’m swimming against a powerful current and I there is nothing to grab hold of. Meanwhile the bloggers I read seem to be floating on a serene lake, with nothing but the open sky above them to contemplate.

And then I come here to process how hard it is and people say they can’t understand why it’s so hard, you just DON’T BUY THINGS and honestly, they buy less in a regular month than I buy in a month when I’m specifically trying not to spend, and then I feel like a complete and utter failure, like something is inherently wrong with me, and I will fail at this forever.

I don’t know how many times I have to fail at the shopping ban thing before I decide it’s just not right for me, at least not yet. I think I cling to it because it’s the easiest route, at least in terms of what I’m SUPPOSED to do. It’s much harder for me to decide what I should buy and what I shouldn’t, and what is worth spending money on and what’s a waste, than to just say, NOPE. NO BUYING. NADA. 

In the end, what it comes down to is, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing yet when it comes to money and a budget and it’s going to take some time to learn and I NEED TO BE OKAY WITH IT TAKING SOME TIME TO LEARN. I need to give myself (and my husband) a grace period.
Money is complicated. It is tangled up in all sorts of complicated shit like feelings of self-worth, habits and patterns adopted in childhood, coping mechanisms, societal norms and expectations… Talking about how you save it or spend it is totally taboo. It’s understandable that I don’t have any idea what I’m doing when it comes to money. The truth is, a lot of people don’t.

It can be hard to remember that when you read a lot of personal finance blogs, especially since most of them are written by people who do know what they are doing, and absolutely think you should be doing the same thing too.

This is hard for me. It may be easy for a lot of people but it’s hard for me. And that’s okay. A lot of people struggle with overspending and a lot of people aren’t making every purchase based on an overarching financial goal or even with some implicit or explicit priorities in mind. And it’s okay if I keep trying and failing, as long as I keep learning when I fail, and I keep trying again despite my missteps.

I just wish my husband and I could be on the same page, so that I don’t have to be the wet blanket when he wants to get burritos or try out the new Chinese place for take out, and I don’t have to be the person who vetos the suggested shopping trip with my daughter now that she FINALLY wants to wear real clothes after school and on the weekends, instead of nightgowns with pajamas under them.

Because I want burritos and Chinese food too! And I want to take my daughter shopping to get some glittery shirt with a mermaid AND a unicorn on it (oh the ecstasy!) But I’m TRYING NOT TO BUY SHIT GODDAMNIT AND IT’S REALLY FUCKING HARD WITHOUT YOU PUSHING FOR THIS SHIT TOO.

Fuck.

Self-compassion is helping. I swear it is. I couldn’t come here and write this post and even consider poking a little fun at myself for my foibles if it weren’t. But it’s still hard and I’m still so fucking impatient to just know what I’m doing already, and to know how to do it.

I noticed the mileage on our car hit 120K last week, and I mentioned to my husband that we need to start saving for a replacement vehicle. We (I, really) put 100K on it in 6 years, which means we have another 6-7 years before we’ll probably need to replace it (I’m assuming our Honda Accord will last to 250K miles, especially since it’s mostly highway driving). If we get something in $20K range again (we buy our cars slightly used), we need to save $3.5K a year to be ready to replace it. That is one very specific goal we can start saving for now.

As far as the rest of it, I’m still not sure how much we should be saving, let alone what we value enough to spend our money on. I’m starting to take note of how much we spend in a given category every year, especially the things that are obvious but overlooked when planning a monthly budget, like presents at Christmas or tickets to see my family in St. Louis every other year. We probably should be saving $500 a month for that kind of stuff, because when we need that money it’s a LOT of money. I also keep reminding myself that we have some built in savings happening with our annual tax refund and specifically waiting to be reimbursed from our medical and childcare flex spending accounts. Even if we can’t squirrel away much each month, we can budget those lump sums in productive ways.

My plan is to keep data collecting, and to be more mindful as I do it. I’m hoping that once I have actual numbers to present to my husband we can have an honest discussion about where our money is going and where we want it to go. With black and white numbers in front of him, he can’t deny what our habits are costing us. I think if he were walking this path with me, I’d be able to stick to it more consistently. It’s hard to make this journey alone.

Thank you all for cheering me on as I travel this crooked path to responsible personal finance.

Do you feel like you know what your doing when it comes to personal finance?

35 Comments

  1. Do you have a monthly budget set up yet? Using something like mint.com or Quicken is really easy and they do a lot of the work for you- especially in naming categories. We use mint and set budgets every year. We don’t always stick to the budget (for instance our food budget was high last month because we were in Hawaii and not cooking at home), but do have categories like “vacation”, “home improvement”, and “clothing.” We don’t always spend money in those categories but they are built into the budget so that if we do spend the money then it doesn’t screw with our ability to pay monthly bills. As far as saving for a new car, I think that the company is still around (got bought out), but there was an online banking company where you could set up a monthly payment if you were saving towards something. Maybe you could set up a monthly withdrawal from your checking account to a savings account for the car?

    1. I have the beginnings of a monthly budget. I’m doing 3-4 months of data collecting, tracking how much I spend in each category, so that I can bring the numbers to my husband and we can reconcile what we’re spending with what we want to be spending and create a budget. Right now I’m just trying to be SUPER mindful about what I spend, keeping in mind that we will be scrutinizing these numbers as we move forward. But I’m not at the place where I don’t buy something because we’ve already spend all the allotted budget in that category.

  2. Please stop beating yourself up over this and comparing yourself to those bloggers. You are doing the best you can right now, and guess what, it is working. You are putting towards your pension, you are not using credit cards to get by each month, and you have a roof over your head that you can afford. You still are dealing with big expenses (child care and after school care) and those will fade over time.
    Don’t worry what those bloggers are doing. Good for them if they never go out to eat or buy a new piece of clothing. They might be saving for later in life, but are they really even living? Maybe not spending a dime really is what makes them happy, but honestly, seeing my girls faces light up with a new glittering mermaid shirt is very important to me. So to each their own.
    We have a couple of accounts that money goes to for each paycheck. Checking #1 for daily expenses, checking #2 that all of the bills come out of and then a savings that we never touch. If by the end of the week I am out of money in #1, then I just have to wait until next week for whatever I want. The key is #3 where money goes in, but we don’t take it out. Emergency fund, extra retirement savings, or new house down payment–anything really big comes from there.

    I don’t think the answer is swinging from your old extreme of non thinking shopping to a new extreme of no spending at all. Neither are healthy for you (I have a similar mind–I tend to go all or nothing and it never works in the long run) and neither are sustainable. You are working to find your happy medium and it really seems like you are getting there and have come a very long way within the last year.

    I am not saying that instant gratification is more important than the long haul, but its life and you can’t deny yourself everything and still want to keep improving yourself. Finances are a lot like diet programs–

    1. I like the ideas of different accounts. We just opened joint accounts but I left my person accounts open so I could use those to siphon money away from the general accounts and into other accounts. I especially like the idea of siphoning the bigger yearly expenses into one account–things like home owners insurance and car insurance and travel money and Christmas money. That would probably help me immensely. We do have a credit union savings account that we plan to use as our BIG THINGS savings account. I think I can actually do a good job of using accounts in this way without having to even set up new ones. Thanks for the tip!

      And thanks for reminding me that I don’t need to be like the extreme bloggers to find a successful balance. I need to hear that from time to time.

  3. These things are harder for some people. Frugalwoods has a post today about not treating yourself and I’m not even going to bother to read it because treating myself actually does make me feel better. I want to have a big ice cream cone when I’m sad and it absolutely lifts my spirits. If I want to escape and think about something else, I want to pay to watch a movie or buy a book right away instead of waiting for the library. Some people are just wired differently.

    Questions about burritos, mermaid shirts, etc would be easier if you had an actual budget. That way you can decide whether to buy something based on your rules rather than some arbitrary notion of the value of frugality.

    1. thanks for the warning. I occasionally get sucked back into FW and no I don’t need to read this right now, when little treats are the only thing keeping me going. agree with advice re: budget. make sure you do budget for burritos & mermaid shirts once a month, for example.

      1. Ugh, I just went over to FW for laughs having never read it. The post I clicked on was how fresh out of college she saved 2K out if 10K while on food stamps. Um, tacky? I’m all for public safety nets for those who need them (lefty liberal here). But clearly she didn’t need them if she could save 2K…leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Meanwhile she smugly brags about it…

        1. I think she actually only made $10K per year and was able to save because she was on food stamps. Her rent was $500 per month, she lived on tuna fish and beans through her food stamps, and she spent only another $160 or so per month on utilities, transportation, furniture, clothes, etc. I have no idea how she did that, especially since she said she continued to have an occasional beer. Maybe her parents bought her some clothes? I’m truly puzzled by this.

          She once had a post about a day trip they took to Salem, where they to a museum for free because her friend worked there. That actually bothered me — the museum depends on admission fees to stay open. I thought they should have made a contribution. It seems kind of like free riding.

          1. Yeah that’s my point she was able to save because she was on food stamps. Um, food stamps are for people that have nothing to eat not people trying to build their savings. And yeah that museum thing is irritating too.

            1. I think there is an asset limit to food stamps eligibility so if she continued saving, she probably wouldn’t have qualified for food stamps after a few more months anyway.

              I don’t have a problem with her saving while on food stamps — she qualified under the rules.

    2. Ha! I don’t read a lot of her posts based on the titles too! She is definitely cut from a different cloth than I. And I wonder if she even feels she could write a post about wanting to treat herself…it would go against her whole IMAGE! And I know image is REALLY important for bloggers like that. I try to remember that: these bloggers are not trying to portray themselves honestly (not that I necessarily think they are being dishonest, but authenticity is not their number one concern), they are trying to build a brand. And that means they need to stay on message. I am thankful I don’t have to stay on message like that. And you’re right that questions about burritos and mermaids would be easier with a budget, which I’m working toward creating. I think these first months of data collection are important, especially for getting my husband on board. I just need to be patient.

  4. Saving and being on a budget and doing ALL of this when you’re living pay check to paycheck is hard (not saying that you are). Believe me, I’m going through this as we speak. And to make matters worse, you shouldn’t HAVE to be the only one in your relationship thinking/handling all this money talk…The Hubs should be on board as well. He should understand this is important.
    But yes, giving yourself a grace period, time to see what works, what doesn’t, would help. Give yourself some credit too. You are at least taking the necessary steps to achieve your goal where some people are age aren’t even there yet.
    And yeah, I’m 36 and I still can’t quite figure out my budget…but I’m going go crazy trying. Hang in there. You’re doing a good job.

    1. Ha! We can go crazy trying together! And you’re right that I shouldn’t be alone in this. And that a lot of people our age aren’t even trying this stuff yet. It’s important to remember all of that. Thanks!

  5. First of all, you are comparing yourself to a VERY biased group. People launch PF blogs because they DO know what they are doing AND they enjoy it. Who would launch a blog called “frugalwoods” unless being frugal made them ecstatically happy? It is EASY for them. For every PF blogger that is on an 8 year shopping ban there are millions of people like you & me, struggling through, occasionally blowing $8 on a burrito but mostly doing OK and millions more that are in massive massive debt and not even thinking or caring about changing it. From what you write about your spending, and also how much you are thinking about this, you are probably in the top quartile of people in this country in terms of responsibility with money. Not the 0.1% like FW and the like, but doing better than a lot.
    “Money is complicated…tangled up…” HELL YES. Every time I THINK i have it figured out and have gotten rid of my desire to shop, for example, I go through a tough time & realize I just really really really really really want to buy something (and I can’t help myself). HOnestly, some people HATE eating out. They don’t WANT the burrito. Its no big sacrifice to forgo the burrito when you prefer to eat hummus & lettuce leaves for dinner (or whatevs). you cannot compare yourself to them.

  6. I totally agree that you need to stop beating yourself up about this! You really do have the basics in place – youre paying the bills, youre saving for retirement , you don’t have major debt. I’m not sure so many people have a better handle on this than you think they do.

  7. You aren’t alone. I read one PF blog that mentioned that they “only” spend $54k a year, which is what the average US household makes, so they understand. Except that money didn’t include taxes or retirement or saving or any child-things (they’re child-free), so it’s not realistic at all for those of us who make an average/slightly above average living (figures obviously based on a normal COL area, not yours).

    I agree with Ana, budget for sparkly shirts and burritos and just keep making little steps. I think you’re doing great and it will just keep improving.

    I highly recommend YNAB (I think you save $ if you use my link http://ynab.refr.cc/P84CF7X but otherwise just ynab.com). I find it much easier to budget than mint, which I had used for a few years prior to recently switching. I’ve never tried Quicken.

  8. WOW! You are collecting data on what you spend and what you know about joint spending. Terrific. I think you might consider from here on out adding a funny category called “things I wanted but did not get” where you put the glittering mermaids or forgone burrito or what ever name of item and dollars. Because that needs to be data collected too.
    I think it takes a year of data to begin to really see the patterns. I always forgot quite what the car or property insurance bill was really going to be. And the routine fact that every year something would happen at the house and on average over years that sort of maintenance of the unexpected would always run me XK.
    Among other things your facts will change from year to year as your children grow and change and as your life changes and as the world changes. For me budgets are not absolute laws of you spent all the 10dollars allocated for food so now go hungry oil the next allocation. They are a way of knowing where you are and reminding what will be coming up (so you do not promise to go to the movies on the day your mom has a planned heart surgery sort of thing about money). A way of remembering your birthday is in two weeks and that XYZ you just saw would be a nice gift to you from someone who loves you so you mention it and where and etc.
    ONE size DOES NOT fit all!!!!!
    Proud of what you are doing and learning about YOU and appreciate your sharing so I know I am not odd because I have differences too. Differences are what make us individual gifts to the universe.

  9. I think that maybe trying to “make do” when you would usually buy something is a good place to start. Like with food, if I find i am missing an ingredient…a trip to the grocery store means I “pick up” more than just that ingredient and probably don’t really need. So, I try to make do until my next shopping trip. It is hard, but you aren’t failing the way you think you are.

    1. I agree that “making do” is a great place to start. And just curious (I may have missed it), what did you end up doing about buying/not buying something for your son to sleep on for your weekend trip last month?

  10. I’m currently on a clothes/handbag/shoes shopping ban for myself (not kids, husband). I am tempted a lot (thanks Pinterest!) but I made it sort of a game for myself.

    Some PF bloggers are new to finances and want to track their journey. Others have a handle on spending and want to preach a non-consumerist life. I think there are finance blogs for all walks of life, but yes, PF bloggers find finance-related stuff very interesting so they’re probably an exception rather than the rule.

  11. Ha, I do not feel like I have it figured out at all. I just kind of blindly try to save as much as possible for retirement and college for my kids. Like others have pointed out you are probably way ahead of the pack because you actually have tried to collect data etc.

    Personally, even though I think I’m pretty frugal (but not I am sure according to the standards of the people blog about being frugal) I don’t think a shopping ban is very realistic and therefore is just guaranteed to end in failure. I mean, our family essentially has a going out to eat ban with rare exceptions (and my husband and I are on the same page so that makes it easier) but I think that’s a lot easier to keep up with versus a shopping ban because with kids there’s always something….Plus clothes get worn-out shoes get worn out cars get worn out etc. etc. Appliances breakdown, you name it…

  12. ugh, left a long comment but it didn’t make it. To sum up, I do not feel like I have it figured out. We just blindly save as much for retirement as possible and also college. I personally consider myself frugal, but I think it something like a shopping ban is just unrealistic and therefore basically guaranteeing failure.

    1. Sorry, the vowels were in there I swear, there’s some kind of glitch here…first I got an error message so I commented again and then my original comment is on there…

    2. This is what we do too. We save as much as we can for college, 401k, and stock option and then go from there. My husband gets a quarterly bonus and then a big one at the end of the fiscal year, and he has a lower base, so we pile up savings when he gets the big bonus each year and then borrow from that here and there throughout the year. Our savings account never goes below a certain amount, but it never goes above a certain amount either. We do manage to pay off a big debt every year from it though, so that’s the win I hang onto because we stay in those parameters when doing that. At this point, the only debt we have is our house and that’s not going away, so I expect to see savings start to grow now that the other debts are all gone, but that won’t happen without a plan. We need a better plan, or better said, we need a PLAN. Ugh.

  13. I have some ideas of where I want to go, but no, we aren’t there yet and I don’t know quite why. Our bank lets us set auto transfers into other accounts so we have used that to save by setting the transfer out for pay day. Then you never saw the money so it’s harder to miss. We are doing gift certificates each month for budgeted spending online and trying to track other spending to stay within the budget but so far, we fail. I think we may go to just cash in envelopes soon. Personal finance bloggers don’t really appeal to me because they’ve got it figured out and I don’t need the shaming, honestly.

  14. Apparently your blog is budgeting vowels. There’s a good “buy a vowel” joke in here somewhere!

    1. For the record, the “i”s — that’s to say (on the off chance there’s no vowel between those quote marks), the letter that comes after h but before j — were part of my comment above. So now this commenter knows the vowel she needs to buy (default to 3rd person to evade that vowel!). But she has not budgeted for vowels!

  15. SO GLAD EVERYONE’s missing ‘eyes’ in their posts. When I saw mine posted I worried my mind had gone. I can spell and type. Cheers and laughter.

  16. I think someone else has said that the bloggers you are reading are blogging for a reason – because they’re good at budgeting and want to write about it and tell everyone how great they are at it. It’s like a new jogger comparing themselves to an Olympic athlete. You will never win. Use them to get ideas that you can adapt to your situation and lifestyle. And don’t ever take their posts as a judgement on you.

    I think your approach is admirable. It’s tough. It’s like being on a diet. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip, just get back on the wagon. Now, if only I could take my own advice …

  17. I’m fairly good about controlling my spending and saving a decent amount, but I also enjoy the *occasional* treat like going out to eat, getting a pedicure, or buying a new piece of clothing. (But I also make do a lot: for example, I work from home so regularly wear free running T-shirts that are ~10 years old – and have mended holes in them – and my current pair of sneakers I bought used for $3 and have worn them to the state where I really need to get a new pair since they are pretty beat up now to wear in public.)

    I had to roll my eyes at the latest Frugalwoods post about the evils of treating yourself – she’s very black and white in her thinking and seems to think that if, for example, you ever have an occasional restaurant meal you’ll shortly be eating out multiple times a week and doesn’t seem to realize that there ARE people who can enjoy treats in moderation and in a responsible way.

  18. Why would anyone just offer up that you need to stop spending money? That’s not even advice! That’s like telling someone not to worry. Good god.

    I have the same struggle, as you know. There are just days when I feel the need to buy SOMETHING. I have noticed that if I hem and haw over it, obsess over what I’d do with it if I had it, that the need then to buy it leaves. It’s almost like if I go through the motions, that satisfies me. That works for things for me – I rarely buy things for myself unless I really need it (like smaller clothes) but for the kids…. I am out of control. I sell it all though later, making about half back, so I just go with it.

    I think knowing what you’re doing is more UNCOMMON than you think.

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