DH = Dear Husband
DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
The itch to buy
Seven months ago, DH and I started to feel the itch to buy, buy, buy. It was a familiar sensation – one we had historically resolved by discussion, argument, doubt, buying on credit, worry, stress, and resentment. If you read my post “Mickey Mouse and His Broom: Debt Illustrated in Fantasia”, you can see the list of items and services that tempted us, at that time, to reach for our credit cards: “I’m noticing stains on our carpet. The piano is out of tune, and its bench is cracked. The furniture in our family room is visibly worn. DH keeps talking about getting a sectional sofa and a flat screen TV. My wardrobe is in dire need of sprucing up. Today DD2 said to me, quite sweetly, as we got ready to walk the dog ‘I want to sign you up for What Not to Wear.’”
DH and I knew we could not respond to these wants as we had in the past. We had read The Total Money Makeover, and we were committed to our journey out of debt. Dave Ramsey establishes a humbling truth near the beginning of his book: To find the cause of your failures with money, look in the mirror. “You are the problem with your money . . . The Total Money Makeover plan . . . works because it gets to the heart of your money problems: you” (Ramsey, 4). So what did DH and I see when we looked at the couple in the mirror?
The couple in the mirror
The woman had never developed any financial maturity. Dismissive of the laws of addition and subtraction, she had only a vague notion of how much she earned, but kept no track of it. She kept no track of what she spent either. Aware that something was amiss with her financial management, she would sometimes go on a spending fast and buy remarkably little – but that only lasted until she binged and bought when and what she wanted. With no measured discipline, she fluctuated between fasting and binging. The baby of the family in which she’d been raised, she had learned in adolescence that raising a fuss brought results when it came to money matters. She was stuck in financial adolescence.
The man seemed to be so much more mature. His eyebrows were dark and heavy as he managed the money. He knew pay schedules, and he kept track of expenditures. He could specify where the accounts stood. And he worried. The baby of his family, he had grown up with a dad who was always worried about household finances. That’s what dads did. So while he kept track, he did his part to ensure the maintenance of our anxiety. Every once in a while he’d suggest a big expenditure to his wife, much to her surprise, given his general complaint about household finances. A week-end get-away perhaps, or a piece of furniture. He would offer a compelling rationalization that should have raised red flags in her mind. But money talk went over her head, and she had a strong aversion to mucking about in the details of finances anyway. She, who was not inclined to deny herself anything, was not inclined to deny her husband either. So with her blessing, he’d carefully purchase what they couldn’t afford, and successfully maintain the state of worry necessary to the position of dad.
Our plan of action
With a steady eye on the couple in the mirror, we have made decisions about each item on our wish list over the past seven months:
– We paid to have the carpets professionally cleaned in October, with money budgeted to household expenses.
– I bought $200 worth of clothing in October, with money from my discretionary fund (see post “Shopping While Getting out of Debt”).
– We had the piano tuned in November, with money budgeted to household expenses.
– I have talked with the wood work teacher at my school, and he has agreed to look at our cracked piano bench to see if it would be suitable as a project for a student.
– In October, we started to put aside the money we were no longer spending on cleaners. Every two weeks, $100 has been going into a mutual discretionary fund for items that are “wants” as opposed to “needs”.
– On Friday of this past week, we bought a flat-screen TV with money from that fund.
– $200 remains in the fund, and it is going to go towards new flooring in the family room – in several months.
– The sectional sofa will have to wait.
We’ve enjoyed the flat-screen TV this week-end. Four episodes of Mad Men, season five, with a sharpness of colour and clarity that is, for now, amazing. But I think I’m even more pleased with the fact that we did it: We wanted. We planned. We saved. We waited. We purchased – without going into more debt. We are starting to see something different in the mirror. This man and this woman, who have been at the heart of our financial problems, have shown concrete evidence of improvement. “Are you ready to take on the guy or gal in your mirror?” Ramsey asks. “If you are, you are ready to win” (Ramsey, 3). I feel something of the shyness I typically feel upon meeting new people. I don’t quite dare to believe what I see in the mirror.