DH = Dear Husband
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
DD3 = Dear Third Daughter
CF1 & CF2 = Two Church Friends
My poor record with discretionary $
I must be a magnet to debt. In my last post, I explained that DH and I had decided a year ago October to allot ourselves the amount of $600 per month for discretionary spending. I quickly got into debt in my discretionary fund, and from February of this year, I have been diligent in working my way out. I said that this month, I had managed to “claw my way” up to zero in my discretionary fund. But I haven’t. I’m still $200 in the hole. I remember at the beginning of August thinking, “I’m going to be operating on the positive side of zero all month. Finally!” I obviously felt my triumph too soon. And I think that in allowing myself to feel it, I relaxed my resolve and sabotaged my chances.
Ramsey challenges us to identify our weaknesses in spending. What is it that you find it very hard to resist buying? For him, it was cars. For me, it’s food. Food prepared by someone else. I have spent more on treats and meals out in the last week than I did during the two previous months combined – maybe even the three or four previous months. I find myself reluctant to calculate an actual sum, but I’ll face it:
– three ice cream treats with DD3: one after a bike ride; one after a long walk with extended famiy; one after a soccer tournament $35
– dinner at the market downtown with CF1 and CF2 $25
– breakfast and lunch with DD3 during a road trip $35
– snacks and lunch with DD3 during her soccer tournament $20
– lunch at the market downtown with DD2 and DD3 $40
That comes to a grand total of $150 for treats and meals out over the period of a week. This after months of stoically denying myself! I was truly miserable when I realized I would be ending yet another month in discretionary debt. I’m waxing more philosophical now.
There is nothing wrong with any single one of these expenditures. Even the grand total wouldn’t be a problem if I’d been operating in the black. It’s the fact that I indulged in so many in such a short period of time when I was so close to getting out of my own mini-debt that’s the problem. I don’t think that the answer lies in micro-management. I could have prepared snacks and lunch for DD3’s tournament – but her team was ranked 14th out of 16, and we thought our day would be over by noon. We had no idea her team would make it to the finals and that we wouldn’t be home until 3:00. I could have spent less on each outing, but I don’t want to go that route. Something in me rises up against the idea of economizing a treat. Avoid expensive restaurants, but get what you really want when you dine or snack out. No, the thought of micro-management just irritates me. I need an answer to the broader question: “What was going on?”
Addiction and Recovery.org
I’ve been very interested in addictions for a number of years now, and I believe that truths about physical addictions have a very real application to broader behavioural habits. An internet search of “relapse” soon brought me to Addictions and Recovery.org: Addiction and Recovery Information for Individuals, Families and Health Professionals. I found some good information on this site. There are actually two stages of withdrawal from an addiction, as I learned. The first stage, the acute stage, lasts for a few weeks. The second one, the post-acute stage, is less intense in its physical symptoms than the first one, but more intense in its emotional and psychological symptoms. It’s a stage that occurs because brain chemistry is reaching a new normal, and resulting chemical fluctuations bring on the symptoms. They include mood swings, anxiety, variable concentration, and disturbed sleep.
“Post-acute withdrawal can be a trigger for relapse. You’ll go for weeks without any withdrawal symptoms, and then one day you’ll wake up and your withdrawal will hit you like a ton of bricks. You’ll have slept badly. You’ll be in a bad mood. Your energy will be low. And if you’re not prepared for it . . . then you’ll get caught off guard . . . (“Post-Acute Withdrawal [PAWS]”). I would have to say that the “bad sleep and bad mood” thing has been happening. If I step back, I should not be surprised. The end of August is typically a twitchy time for students and teachers alike. Furthermore, it looks like we aren’t going to get our refund from DH’s emergency trip to the hospital in the U.S. before the end of this month (see post “A+ For July: Soured By Emergency”), so we won’t be able to put anything against our debt for August. And another furthermore: the $2,500 deposit he had to pay represents less than half of the total bill. If we don’t get reimbursed, we’ll owe another $3,700. Ramsey says that most Americans who file for bankruptcy do so because of medical emergencies. I can see why!
With such big numbers menacing over my head, it’s no wonder that my vigilance with smaller numbers, like $25 for a dinner or $35 for ice cream treats, slipped. And with school starting so soon, it’s no wonder that I wanted to soak in the last of summer in the way that makes me feel the best: by eating delicious food prepared by someone else.
Addictions and Recovery.org offers advice for people facing PAWS: recognize that this stage of withdrawal usually lasts for two years; be patient and take it one day at a time; accept the uncomfortable feelings that come with PAWS and know that they will pass; practice self-care and don’t overbook yourself. Typically, the addict feels shame and guilt after a relapse. I felt shame and guilt when I realized how poorly I’d done this month – especially last week – in my efforts to get back to the positive side of zero in my discretionary fund. I felt a sense of defeat. “I will always be hopeless with money. I will always be debt-ridden.”
Now I’m choosing a different response. I’m stepping back and recognizing why I slipped. I’m learning that I’ll be facing symptoms of withdrawal for a long time. I’ll expect PAWS, and I’ll be good to myself when they scratch.