It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day as I type this on 18-Jan-2016. My dream is that we won’t wait to treat each other better. Do the small acts of kindness Mother Theresa spoke of. Be compassionate to all, always. The familiar things we all learn early and then somehow, stop doing along the way. Instead of resenting the 1% and desiring their wealth, do the little daily things that slowly keep your own momentum toward financial peace moving. Ow! Getting hit with a thrown copy of Dave Ramsey’s, “Financial Peace” kinda hurts. Now she has the TV remote buried somewhere inside her blanket and hoodie-footie.
My first thought this morning is one that has been cocooning on my couch since yesterday. She’s wrapped in a big fleece blanket, has the space heaters in there on full blast, and is steadfastly zipped toe to chin. Her face is wrapped in a scarf covering her nose. The only way I can tell it’s her and not Ray(bert(a)) is the little bit of her eyes visible. She has brilliant blue eyes and short, dirty blond hair dyed purple at the edges. It’s rather Burqa like. Yah Yah. You’ll never find a burqa like this, with a pink background and a print of Minnie Mouse repeated all over it. The blanket is this big illustration of Cinderella seated while the Prince slips on her glass shoe.
The thought, now that I’ve made you wait two whole paragraphs: a difference in operating principle between some po’ folk and some not so poor folk: money is perishable. The not so poor folk take any extra money and save it. Idiots like me take any extra money and spend it. We know that there is a cushion of well meaning people and their money that fall for the pity speech and get their warm & fuzzies helping us who just blew the rent money on this year’s Home Theater receiver. We know how to work the hard working civil service employees at the Social Services department so we get TANF and SNAP well past 2 years. We have a thing working and so far, we think it works for us so we keep it up.
We know, we know. If we changed our method for handling money we could get off the dole and build some savings and stop being such a festering sore on society. Some of us do. I’m wavering. I grew up with a father who experienced hardship and swore he’d never be broke like that. He’s worked that same pension buyout he got almost 40 years ago so it has taken care of him and my Mom. He still has it. I have history with being smart about money.
The thought bundled up on my couch just burst forth with a string of curses and threw her iPad at my chair. It seems that a search of Google Images for the keyword, “spendthrift” turns up a lot of pictures of women loaded down with full shopping bags. The stereotype seems to lay the blame for financial stress at the feet of women who spend too much. I started to comfort her and had to duck a half-eaten 8-grain bagel with hummus as it flew at me and banged against the hallway wall.
I also have my granddad Wells, who spent his money on a string of get-rich-quick schemes, wild inventions, whiskey and women, dying broke. The nameless thought on my couch is that if I joined the crowd who saves any extra money instead of spending it I could change thedes and slowly dig my way to financial peace regardless of how pitiful my income is.
Stop laughing. I don’t care that this is dead obvious to you. The bunch of you that worked shitty jobs from age 15, saved, worked hard, and now own land and are debt free, good on you. I believed a lie growing up. I believed that I could leap into the social safety net on a whim and not worry about essentials. I have friends that live in places with a bad reputation who invested in their ability to work hard in the black and grey markets and now have enough cash and investments that they don’t have to sweat over a paycheck. They are not rich. You’ll never hear about them on the news. But they did the right thing with their money at a young age and can enjoy the benefits of their early labor. These friends get annoyed with me every time I show up at church with a hand out.
This is the crowd that hustled through countless small, temporary jobs, barters and sales of items until they could grow the business into a solid living, build financial peace that became wealth and soon enough, start planning early retirement in Belize. They worked hard and it paid off. Me, who benefited from my Dad’s financial discipline, and my constant attitude toward money as a perishable item needing to be spent, pisses them off.
That nameless thought bundled up on my couch with a death grip on the TV remote, is there sulking. She feels ignored. I don’t dare go in the living room because if I do and she catches my eye, I’ll see the streaking mascara, smudged eyeshadow, and runny, ruby nose. It’s not a good look. She’s pissed. Back in September of 2015 I had accumulated almost $1800 in savings. Today, I have $8.00 in available cash (I predicted this last August). In September she was my best girl, I loved her. I was going to change my ways and build on that $1800, fix my car, buy furniture, I was giddy with plans. Today? I’m happy I have enough quarters to do laundry. She’s not feeling my love so much.
Us hot messes are great at promises to change, to do better next time, next time will be different. Next time isn’t different until it is. What she says is right. It’s not that I’ll do better once I get a job, once the job pays what I want, once I’ve saved enough money, once some future event has befallen me and I can finally keep the numerous heartfelt promises I’ve made. It’s success by a thousand Band-Aids. It’s a shift in the dominant paradigm from treating money as perishable to a commitment to save consistently, even if it is a dime on a dollar earned.
She’s heard my sermonizing. A lot. I have a ways to go to rebuild credibility with her. You know, I know what usually comes here at this point in a post. I rehash the warehouse full of words on how to save first instead of spend-thrift. I’m trying to find a smarter thing to say than all the tropes about how you turn your financial life around, how you become less po’ so you can afford the ‘or. The hard moment isn’t this one when I feel the ache of my bad habits, feel the heat of her eyes behind that zipped up hoodie-footie. It is in two weeks, in a month, a year, five years and on out, as the measure of the words in this post become known.
She unwrapped a bit. I thought maybe she’d calmed down. Nope. She unfurled enough to release an arm and flip me off before rewrapping and changing the channel to Jerry Springer reruns. She says she wants me to warm up her Bugs Bunny coffee mug. So much for being heard.