money money money

When life and all of its infinite questions, conundrums, challenges, confusions and general uncertainties start to get me down, my subconscious likes to avoid thinking about those important life challenges and decisions I should be thinking about and focus on some kind of quantifiable worry instead.

Like my bank account!

I’m having some problems spending and saving money.

Problem #1: I never feel like I have enough

We live in the 8th Most Expensive City in America. Our rent for a 400 square foot one bedroom apartment is about three times what our friends back home in Michigan pay on their new mortgages. For Lance to drive to work and back, we pay 260 dollars for car insurance, 220 dollars in gas, and 80 dollars in tolls. Every month.

But we are getting by. Our bills are getting paid. We have cable, internet, and cell phones. We find 50 to 150 dollars in personal spending money in the budget every month or so. We have enough savings for most emergencies, and some investments.

However, I feel like we are on the brink of financial ruin every day.

We are living comfortably, but our savings is not enough to absorb substantial unexpected expenses. Like when the vet quotes you 600 dollars to get the cat spayed. Or if the car needs a major repair. Or if one of us loses our job.

We have an almost unbelievable amount of student loans.

Any spending we do is still extravagant in my mind. Any savings we do is insubstantial.

~

Problem #2: Lance’s car is 10 years old, has over 200,000 miles on it, and its body cannot sustain another traffic accident.

Lance tells me the thing will run forever.

I just can’t believe it. The car is not worth sinking too much money into at this point, and if we get into another car accident, even if we get rear-ended at a red light, the car will most likely be totaled.

We came to Boston with a crappy car because we knew we had another crappy car sitting at home in my parent’s driveway in Michigan, waiting for us when we needed it. However, a month ago my mother informed me that they took the car in for a weird noise and came home with a $2,700 estimate for repairs.

Right now, we’d have to liquidate investments to buy a cheap used car (under 5k, if those cars even exist), and with Lance working full time out of the city, we wouldn’t have much time to be choosy.

We are both unwilling to take on a car payment, but if anything happens at the wrong time, we might not have a choice.

This makes me panic on a near-daily basis, and makes me pick fights with Lance because he doesn’t seem to be as panicked as I am.

~

Problem #3: I spend too much money on things that give me little return on the investment

Lance and I run our budget from a joint checking account (any jaws dropping? that seems to be the common reaction when I mention this to anyone). Every paycheck, we subtract out whatever checks will need to go through on that pay period – groceries, electric, rent, internet, et cetera – and then we split what’s left between our savings, our Scottrade account, and our personal checking.

On a good month, we each get 150 dollars. On a bad month, we get 50, or nothing.

This is working fine. Sometimes I feel like 150 is too much, especially given all my anxieties about savings, but the 150 is not just Starbucks money. We buy our own clothing, our own non-grocery food, haircuts, shoes, plane tickets or gas money for trips home, sometimes textbooks for me, gifts for family and friends, home furnishings, and anything else that doesn’t fall under the strict guideline of We Must Pay For This Or Default On Our Bill, really.

But again, 150 is really fine. Except that we’ve just moved to a new climate, a new environment, started new jobs and moved to our own place. Our needs for things like dishes and wall-decorations and new sheets is higher than the average person (okay, MY needs for all these things, not Lance’s), our need for professional clothing for all weather, new sneakers for walking 4 miles a day to work and back.

Some months I resist the urge to buy much of anything. My money piles up. This makes me happy. I spend some money on something I need, the floodgates open: I go out for drinks with friends, I make poor decisions and buy clothes that don’t fit me, I start splurging on daily coffee, buying lunch at school, and ordering things online that fancy me. And then I’m back down to a low bank account, and realize that I don’t have enough money for a haircut and I haven’t had one since December, realize I don’t have enough money to go home and visit my family on my week off, realize that I have now got myself hooked on morning caffeine and feel miserable unless I drop 4 dollars on a damn iced mocha.

My hair needs cut. My jeans don’t fit. I said no to drinks with friends last night but spent over 5 dollars this morning at Starbucks. I’m wearing sneakers purchased in 2005. If my laptop bites it (it is almost three years old now), I will be computer-less because it would take me over a year of saving 100% of my spending money to buy a new one.

It all feels very out of my control.

Problem #4: We are still doing without in many areas

Things we do not budget for/do not have:

– a spayed cat

– a Massachusetts license plate

– a bedframe

– apartment furnishings (things for the walls, kitchen things, furniture, et cetera)

– a mop

– vitamins

– doctor’s visits

– car repairs/maitenance

– enough clothes hangers for all our clothing

– an iron

– school supplies, for both of us

– gym access for Lance

These are not all necessary things. In fact, we’ve done without for almost a year and emerged no worse for the wear. And this list was longer when we first moved.

But there’s something unsettling about not knowing when and if I will have these things. If coming up with an extra 50 bucks at the end of the month is still something worth celebrating, then you’re not working toward a “Finish Line,” at which point you will magically have money and irons and clothes hangers fall from the sky and into your hands.

Problem #5: Lance and I are not married

This is not a direct problem for our relationship or our finances at this time. And I’m sure many of the problems we have communicating about money would continue on if we were to get hitched.

However, for me, it just makes things that much more confusing.

Our money goes to the same place. Lance brings home a lot more money than I do. So when he decides to take more time out of his schedule and teach lessons after school and he keeps that money for his own spending, I get that.

But when Lance gets his hair cut, it costs 15 dollars. When I get my hair cut (and colored because I have enough gray hairs to make most 25-year-old women cry), my bill is at least 100. Or gifts – he has one brother and one mom. I have one mom, one dad, and three sisters. They all have birthdays and Christmas. He gets more spending money, I have more “personal expenses.”

This is fine, as well, but when it comes down to those things listed in Problem #4, I’m the one who can’t stand living without a sharp knife or a TV stand or a GPS, the one who bites the bullet and sacrifices her own spending money.

And what happens if something happens?

I’m just not enough of a modern woman to be truly comfortable with this financial division.

Although I’m aware that this problem could easily be renamed “My Boyfriend/Financial Partner Is Not The Same Person/Mind I Am And That Freaks Me Out”

I get it.

Problem #6: I don’t know whether to prioritize money or something else

Take an unpaid internship that might open career doors and look good on a resume? Or take a part-time job?

And what about a full-time job? Work full-time AND take classes? Or keep the part-time job and have more time for things like internships at Horn Book, writing academically, writing fiction?

Run ANOTHER budget, play with Mint.com, read personal finance blogs, write a Really-Really-Really long blog entry about money… or write this paper that’s due on Tuesday?

I need help. And if anyone mentions the name Dave Ramsey, I’ll kick you clear to next Tuesday.

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4 Comments to “money money money”

  1. Love that last bit about the D word (I will not say it. . .).

    I know just what you mean; even though Bart is very frugal, I am WAY the more frugal and worried about money of the two of us, which can be draining.

    Also, I have decided to stay at home next year and that is stressful too because the financial dynamics in our family will change so much with Bart as the main breadwinner and the loss of my income. Eek.

    • Oh, see there’s yet ANOTHER reason why my savings should be padded: I would love to stay home for a year once I’m ready to have kids. And with Lance being the Big Wage Earner on a teacher’s salary? Well, savings will be required. Money is so complicated! But I’m glad you get a chance to stay home, even if it means financial sacrifice for your family. My mom worked through 4 kids, but managed to stay home for 6 months to a year with each of us.

  2. Yeah, I don’t know. My debt gives me something to focus on, but when I think about what to do with my money once I’m out, I get kind of freaked out. I’ll still have school debt, I don’t know if I can keep up working this much forever, I want to spend money but I think I’ll just feel guilty about it, I want things like a pet but I don’t know about the unexpected costs involved, I’ll need to replace my car, and and and I don’t know. The one thing He Who Shall Not Be Named does for me, aside from his very basic advice, is tell me, “Stop whining!” which no one else ever says to me. I just feel this overwhelming pressure to figure it all out now, so that I don’t end up with a lifetime of money problems.

    • I am constantly amazed by how much you can work!! I might be able to have a full-time job next semester and it’s freaking me out big time, but then I think about you with your fulltime job + parttime job + fulltime student and you seem busy, but fine… tell me this, though… do either of your jobs allow the doing of homework on the clock? this has to be your secret weapon, right? otherwise, you must be superhuman!

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