DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter
Most people who are trying to reduce their debt realize that they have to build into their budgets some room for manoeuver – some kind of discretionary money that allows them to go out to a movie the odd time or to buy a great gift for someone on impulse. It’s like a little sphere within the regimented world of debt-reduction where you can operate outside of the regimen. A little oasis. I think that people’s management of discretionary money is an indicator of how they’ll manage finances when they’re debt-free. And that’s a problem for me.
Even before we began our journey out of debt eighteen months ago, DH and I decided to set up his and her discretionary accounts. It was DH’s idea, and I was in full agreement. His motivation was to set some boundaries around our – and perhaps more specifically, my – spending on certain essentials (like clothing and soap) and non-essentials (like restaurant meals). My motivation was to gain more spending freedom. If this experiment has proven anything, it’s that DH is so much better at managing his discretionary account than I am at managing mine. Humbling fact – I really do need boundaries around my spending.
A Sad History
Here is a brief history of my poor discretionary account:
- The very first month, in the fall of 2011, I plunged into debt.
- That debt deepened and became entrenched over the next few months.
- At the six-month point, we started our journey out of debt, and I made a deal with DH. We had decided to stop hiring house cleaners, and I said I would do all of the cleaning if I could put the money saved in that department against my discretionary debt. DH agreed.
- By the one year mark, I had worked my way back up to zero. We shared housework again (more or less), and our savings went to a mutual discretionary fund (for things like furniture).
- My big goal for year two, starting in the fall of 2012, was to put aside enough discretionary money to go on a trip to visit DD1 in August 2013.
- I managed to stay above zero all year, but I didn’t manage to save. I went on my trip to visit DD1 thanks to the generosity of DH and two friends.
- I have been dipping back down into debt in my discretionary account this fall.
A Sense of Powerlessness
Last night I spoke with a friend who is struggling with weight loss. “I’ve tried so many times,” she said, “but every time I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained back more. I know I should try again, but I’m afraid I’ll just disappoint myself.” She was so evidently discouraged by a sense of powerlessness. I believe it’s the same sense of powerlessness that discourages people facing a whole range of issues – from overeating to gambling; from porn addiction to drug abuse; from smoking to chronic debt. I feel it too, in relation to my discretionary account, and I’m baffled by it. Why can’t I get this under control? Like my friend, I know I should try again, but like her, I’m afraid it would just lead to disappointment.
It’s so much easier to advise other people than it is to take that advice yourself. I encouraged my friend last night not to give up. I advised her to take a different approach – to partner up with people in exercise and diet – to reap the benefits of the accountability and motivation than come with team work. She said she needed time to process it all, and apparently I’ve been processing it too.
Trying Again: A Goal and A Strategy
So I’m going to try again. My goal is to have a balance of $1,000 in my discretionary account by the end of the summer of 2014. (Why? I’ll explain when the time comes.) I will do something different this time. At the end of each month, I’ll tell three of my close friends how I’ve managed, and I’ll post my progress on this blog. I’ll start with the belief that there will be an accountability and motivation this time that wasn’t there last time. And maybe that will make the difference. Maybe there will be a turning point in the sad story of my discretionary fund. I want to be able to see in it an indicator of growing financial competence. I want to gain from it the confidence that our larger journey out of debt is a one-way proposition. So with some trepidation, once again, here I go.