Monday, January 03, 2011

Money Monday: January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! Yes, that's right, girls and boys – it's time to start writing '2011' on those checks…which naturally, I personally will forget to do until roughly March

As we enter this most sobering time of year, when the bills for all our joyous celebrations start rolling in, it's an excellent time to take a step back and put the old daily finances under a microscope, identify where we might be going wrong and take appropriate action; to ask ourselves where we are, and how that compares to where we want to be, and start firing off instructions to the engine room. Five degrees starboard! Engines at half! Steady as she goes! ICEBURG!!!!!!!!

But first, we've got to break the romance we probably have going with our failures.

We humans really like to hold onto our failures. We like to pick them apart, analyze them, get some therapy about them, talk them out, confront and embrace them, own them, write bad poetry about them, and acknowledge them…over, and over, and over yet again. We like to assign, and then reassign, and then reassess and reassign, the blame for every aspect of our lives deem to be less than perfect, bouncing it back and forth from ourselves to our parents to our gummints to ourselves again.

Don't get me wrong: it's important to do that. If you refuse to take ownership of your own shortcomings, won't acknowledge what motivates you to act that way and then take responsibility for the change you want, well, dude.

Nothing can change. The behavior, and the inevitable consequences, owns you, if you won't own it.

BUT. At the same time, there comes a point where you have to

Mistakes and failures are just…well. They're raw material. A building block for life, and hard-won ones at that. They're also natural, perfectly normal, something all of us experience, something that would be completely bizarre to be lacking, come right down to it.

Failure can become anything. It can become your ladder to the stars, or it can turn into a fence to keep you in. You can make it part of your toolkit, the way to NOT do this or that, or you can build a wall around yourself and then sit in your compound moaning about how you can't possibly succeed because just look at all this failure!

There comes a point, then, at which all that owning and acknowledging and analyzing needs to be released; where forgiving has to begin to bleed gently into forgetting - not the deed itself, but the need for continued blame and examination.

Keep the lessons. Drop the beloved guilt that gives that delicious sting of self-loathing…which in turn allows us to feel that the lack of control over ourselves is all we deserve or can hope for, that success is beyond us anyway since we're such losers and all, sooooooo we might as well wallow in this self-destructive but delightfully easy mess we've made for ourselves.

So! With that out of the way…in the coming week and month, I want to do a couple things.

This week, I want to carefully examine our spending over the last year. I want to get a feel for where we might have overspent, and where I'm probably going to have some deferred spending that will catch up with me soon. I want to make sure that I'm saving appropriately for the "big spend" items I know are coming this year – property taxes, annual insurance payments, the next junior livestock auction and like that. With that in hand, I can begin working on next year's budget…hopefully at the same time wrestling it down so that it all fits neatly within the confines of just one paycheck without sacrificing retirement savings.

At the same time, I want to take a moment to take a look at our regular monthly bill payments and make some adjustments. Last January, I locked down our payments at the then-minimum monthly amounts; there's nothing wrong with that and if I had a regular full-time employee paycheck I was pretty sure was going to be continuing ad infinitum I wouldn't mess with it…but I don't. It's entirely likely that I only have three and a half more paychecks coming on this particular contract, and a big old question mark around What's Next.

It's time for me to enter Dragon Mode and hoard-hoard-hoard these last few paychecks.

The last thing I want to do by the end of this week is think through the garden plans for next year; I want to go through what-all I canned up last season, what we're eating and what we're not eating, list out the things I ended up rushing off to the supermarket to buy all the time (onions, which I have had positively abysmal luck with thus far), and which things tended to end up going right into the compost because we didn't get around to eating them before they became science experiments (people? I can grow the beets…I am practically a magician when it comes to beet-production).

Meanwhile, in a more casual-but-don't-blow-it-off way, I need to think long and hard about What's Next. I have an awful lot of possibilities to choose from, really; things that pay ludicrously well like this contract, but which have the same (well, actually, even worse) Crazy attached to them; things that pay a lot less but which would provide much better work/life balance; things that pay next to nothing but which let me work around the rhythms of the household; things that are big gambles, things that are sure bets.

It's rather a paralyzing mountain of possibilities, actually…which is a double-edged sword of blessing and curse. None of the options suck, really; none of them are 100% awesome, either.

I'm about to give myself a mental whiplash, I've been ping-ponging back and forth so much in my mind. I want to do this, no, that, no, this, no, that, NO WAIT, THIS IS AWFULLY COOL…hang on, it's kinda scary, maybe I want…noooooo, that's too crazy…but!, well, is it any more crazy than this? Or that? Or…?

So I really need to clear my mind, set some things down on paper, do a good old fashioned listing out of the pros and cons of each possibility, and make some decisions.

And then probably some phone calls.

2010 was a psychotic year. I've seldom been so tired for so long; even for me, it was a year of sustained work that…kind of staggers me, when I actually stop and think about what-all went down through it.

The end results were good…more than good. We kicked butt and took names, y'all. In one year, we undid about two year's worth of bad decisions and worse economy.

I'm not sure I can repeat that kind of performance in 2011…but I'm sure going to give it my best try.

What about you guys? Got some high hopes for this year's finances? Jump on in…the new year is feelin' pretty warm from here, and ready for us to start swimming…


Elizabeth L in Apex, NC said...

I just love your special blend of reality and optimism! Our finances are a little... floaty. We're fine, but I'm hoping we can make some positive changes this year. (I have this dream that we can retire while we are young enough to enjoy it.) And of course, we start braces with our older son this month - yippee!

So thanks, once again, for the nudge to review and plan, and the built-in forgiveness for not being perfect about the follow-through. May 2011 bring you and yours more fun times, and a little less crazitude, than ever before!

Bonnie said...

Love your blog and check it everyday. I miss your list of your favorite blogs that used to be on the side. I visited alot of them also. I thought maybe I could click on the laundry comment, but that didn't work. Oh well, I will continue to enjoy your blog and not worry about the others. Bonnie in Iowa

Mother of Chaos said...

Well, crud! Hadn't noticed my blog-call was gone!! It used to be provided by Bloglines, which was recently decommissioned. Feh.

Add to list: Figure out how to fix that...

Kim said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and it's been inspiring me to work harder at living below my means. We've paid off most of our debt this past year, and 2011 looks like it'll be even better. (I especially appreciate when you post about what you're cooking - that's always helpful to me).

Steph Bolinger said...

Right on the money, as usual (sorry, that wasn't meant to be punny, but...well!). We're looking at some pretty big changes around here too, so I can really relate to the game of mental ping-pong you've got going. Sometimes I'm just overwhelmed with possibilities, you know? Anyhow, hope you get everything lined up for another successful year at the Den.