Kipling didn’t write his poem “If” for debtors, but he could have.
DH = Dear Husband
Lesson #1: No “auto pilot” in $ management
One of the big lessons I’ve learned so far in our journey out of debt is that you can’t go into auto-pilot with your money management. I was talking about this yesterday with MT, a math teacher at my high school who is trying to get out of debt too. The financial variations that happen from month to month are highly irritating to people like us. Our long-established modus operendi has been auto-pilot – cruising along with no intentional focus on money logistics – and we’re still drawn to it. There’s a relentless consciousness that’s required. People long-accustomed to going with the flow, taking it as it comes, because “it will all come out in the wash” find this constant need to be on top of things wearing. Eventually, I’m hoping it will become second nature. But it hasn’t yet.
People like MT and his wife have a regular income to work with. DH and I don’t. His home business varies a lot, with the fall and early winter months being the highest, and the spring months being the lowest. Even within those trends, there are unexpected twists. Last November, for instance, was surprisingly low. And March was surprisingly high. At the end of March, DH and I were so happy to put down a big payment against our business debt. It brought the beast, which had sat at $80,800 in December of 2012, down to 4-figures – to $9,500.
Lesson #2: Keep finances measured and buffered
I reported in my post “March Triumph” that as we maxed out on our debt payment to reach this milestone, I asked DH, “’Do you think we should wait to see how April pans out?’ He thought for a whole second. ‘No,’ was the answer.” There’s another lesson I’ve learned: It’s good to maintain a measured, buffered state in your personal finances – even if it seems to fly in the face of admirable efforts like paying off a big chunk of debt. But again, that measured discipline is SO hard. For people who used to be comfortable making extreme purchases and going into extreme debt, it’s easier to make extreme debt repayments when the going is good than it is to be moderate.
Lesson #3: Don’t set your heart on a promising outcome
In our excitement about approaching the end of our business debt, DH and I started to plan renovations to accommodate the greater space he needs for his home business. In my post on the topic a few weeks ago, I wrote “Soon – almost certainly by the end of July – we won’t have a business debt to pay down anymore.” There’s a third lesson I’ve learned: Don’t set your heart on a promising financial outcome. Even more importantly don’t start planning and acting as if it’s definite. There are no guarantees. I tend to be as swayed by hope as I am by disappointment.
In his poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling urges his reader not to be swayed by events: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same . . .” Kipling wrote the poem for his only son John, and the message at the end of it is that “if” he can manage to adopt all of the wisdom imparted, “you’ll be a Man my son!” (With capital M and exclamation mark included.) Well, I will never be a Man, but “if” I can manage to adopt these three lessons so that they become second nature to me, perhaps I will be Financially Wise. !
So March was a “Triumph” (Kipling liked his capital letters) – but as it turns out, my cautionary question was one we should have paid more attention to. I just looked back at that post again: “In my ongoing efforts not to give way to emotion or impulse in money matters, I asked, ‘Do you think we should wait to see how April pans out?'” But even as I asked the question, I knew we’d go for the big payment. I was just giving lip service to what I knew was wisdom.
Possible strike action for me
We’ve always looked upon the “variable” part of our income as DH’s, but now, it’s my income that’s rocking the boat. It’s no secret that there are strikes in a growing number of boards of education in our part of the world. And it’s no secret that there is a strong chance that the same will happen locally. I’m not allowed to engage in political banter online, and that’s not what I’m doing. I’m saying there’s a good chance our finances are going to take a hit soon. I’ve know that a strike was a possibility for a while now, but I hoped it would be avoided. There’s still a chance that it will be, but every day unresolved is another day closer to . . . “Disaster”.
We’re trying to get Zen about it. It’s beyond our control; we just have to do what we can to be prepared. April was a fairly typical slow spring month for DH, so any debt-repayment we would have made would have been small. But we’re not paying off anything. We’re on hold. To lower expenses, we’re thinking of things like super-frugal groceries, less driving, and cutting discretionary funds. May already looks very promising in terms of DH’s business, but that just makes our delayed renovations more frustrating. He could really use the work space now.
Do you find it hard to stay steady with the ups and downs of personal finance? Your comments are welcome.