DH = Dear Husband
IC = Italian Colleague
My “mangiacake” deficiencies
I work closely with an Italian colleague (I’ll call her IC) who likes to tease me for being a mangiacake. A mangiacake is someone who is white and not Italian. Our principal sin is that we only know how to bake cakes. Inherent in this deficiency are a string of other failings such as the inability to cook proper pasta meals and the practice of hosting pot-lucks. I wear the mangiacake label with pride as a friendly rebuttal. For instance, I brought Christmas baking into work and made sure to inform IC of the pot-luck gatherings that I hosted over the holidays.
IC on housework
Last year, she was appalled at the fact that we hired cleaners every two weeks to the tune of $100. “How can you let strangers into your house?” “You have three daughters. Why not get them to help you clean?” (Note: No mention of getting my husband to help.) “Think of the money you’d save!” The cleaners quit just about the time DH and I began our journey out of debt, and we decided not to hire anyone else. IC was pleased with this decision, and eagerly impressed upon me the virtues of bleach as I prepared our family for the task ahead. When I returned to work one Monday, after spending hours cleaning house over the week-end, I proudly told IC of my accomplishment. Eyebrows raised in sarcasm, neck moving with attitude from side to side, she said, “So, you cleaned your own house. Good for you.” You’d think at least she’d give me a high-five!
When I talk to people about what I have done to reduce our debt, if anything impresses them, it’s the fact that I taught summer school last July or that I didn’t travel to the U.S. with DH for his annual convention. But I know that for me personally, these have not been the most heroic of my efforts. It’s the house cleaning that makes me a debt-reducing superhero. I hate cleaning. Most people don’t like cleaning, but what I’m talking about goes way beyond the general dislike. It’s a uniquely fierce loathing. I’m able to discern it in others when they have it, and I feel an automatic bond with them. But most people don’t understand. They have a “suck it up, Princess” attitude to any whining, so I pick my audience carefully when the need to vent arises.
Heroism is in the eye of the beholder
The other aspect of our debt reduction that is particularly heroic is the discipline we are exercising in setting aside that $100 that we are not spending on house cleaners every two weeks. For the first several months of our journey out of debt, this money went to remedy the abysmal state of my discretionary fund (see former post “Discretionary Money: His and Hers”). In the last few months, we have been putting it aside for a sectional sofa and flat-screen TV. It used to be that if we wanted to make a big purchase, I would say, “Let’s get it,” with the perfectly comfortable understanding that it would go on our credit card. DH would put off the purchase, worry about it, and then buy it. With the credit card. Our measured, intentional saving is new to us. And even in terms of debt repayment, it signals the fact we’ve reached a new level. With our goal of debt reduction, I was at first inclined to use every spare cent against debt. But I realized that we’d burn out and give up if we never devoted any income to wants. Do we need a new sofa? No. Do we need a flat-screen TV? No. So on the one hand, we’re allowing ourselves to want them, and on the other hand, we’ve set up a system which requires us to wait and which denies us the use of our VISA to make the purchase. Such fine tuning, for us, is nothing short of heroic.
A well-earned high-5!
I’m sure that most people who are trying to get out of debt have their stumbling blocks that others don’t appreciate. Some hate to pack a lunch. Others can’t stand the idea of tracking where their money is spent. For some, giving up that daily coffee and muffin is a heart-breaking loss. Others feel terribly constrained when denying themselves spontaneous purchases on credit. Everyone who is reducing debt has to make cuts that we don’t want to make and to devote energy to budgetary details that we’d rather ignore. And I bet that for most of us, a particular cut-back or a particular aspect of budgeting is extremely difficult. But who is there to cheer you on when you do it anyway? I am. I understand that seemingly small efforts can be huge. I hereby give you a high-five and dub you Debt-Reducing Superhero!