Sunday, September 28

The worst part of frugality: patience

I've always been an impatient lass.

If I think of something, I want to do it now. And I'm not exactly good with waiting for other people to find their own methods, either.

The latter trait is from being a precocious little overachiever in school. I'm always (annoyingly) convinced that my way is the best way and that no other way will arrive at satisfactory results. When Tim tries to do a web search on his own, he ends up turning to look over his shoulder -- where I'm hovering and offering advice -- and asking if I want to do it myself. That usually shuts me up and sends me back to the couch.

But the impatience, that one's a head-scratcher. It's not like I got everything I wanted when I wanted it. My parents taught me to save up for things. A standing deal was that any big ticket item (ie, $20 or more) would only be purchased if I saved up half.

So I'm not sure why I have so much trouble waiting. I suppose it's tied back to the utter obsession with doing things a certain way. That is to say, my way.

And so you can imagine how difficult it is for me to deal with the necessary wait of debt reduction.

It's necessary, of course. None of us got into our debt overnight. We certainly won't get rid of it that way. (At least, until the lottery this week. Then this will be a very different blog, believe you me!)

Still, it's times like these that make the wait particularly unbearable. The future in uncertain, for Tim's career and for the country's economy. And we have no idea what kind of schooling he will need, how long it will take or how it will affect our ability to pay off debt. So much is up in the air. And I can't do a single thing to make the answers come any faster.

I'm also beginning to suspect that I definitely need to up my medication, but that's a post for another day. Suffice to say, it's not helping the general anxiety and restlessness.

But I'd have those anyway. Once my brain latches on to a subject, it's tenacious. And hard to shut off. I end up trying to guess every conceivable outcome, which is, of course, impossible. But as a rigid, controlling personality (as I often am) I need to know. So mere impossibility doesn't deter my brain.

Somehow this also morphs into a belief that I'm not doing enough to get us out of debt. (I blame osmosis, since so many blogs advocate second jobs. Frankly, I'd be happy with a first job.)

This leads to me trying to do a bunch of little things, as though 20 hours of little chores is somehow less tiring than 20 hours of one big chore, which I know better than to attempt. In fact, it often takes more energy -- much like the difference between one full-time job and two part-time jobs.

I may have been an honors student, but sometimes I wonder about my actual intelligence.

Perhaps the single biggest problem with waiting is that you know it won't be time spent twiddling your thumbs. Murphy's Law is tried and true.

You can't predict what it is that will go wrong, but you can be pretty certain that something will. All you know is that you have very little control, and you have to maintain a long-term frame of mind -- all while dealing with crises in the short term.

So maybe that's the reality of thrifty living: not just saving money, but keeping it up in the face of everyday life.

The day-to-day world inevitably intervenes in all of our budgets: cars break down, kids outgrow clothes or get sick, insurance bills go up...

Whatever happens, it interferes with the long-term plan. You have to pay down a little less on the card, so that you can continue to get to work. It seems paychecks go a long way in the debt-reduction biz.

So waiting is awful because you know at some point, you will be faced with something you didn't plan for. It's one of those unwritten laws of the universe: You can't plan for everything, and the more you try, the more you'll be blindsided when it happens.

Because of this, people like me have a hard time making a good budget. Some people still don't have a problem and can account for the last dollar. Not me.

It might just be my temperament, or perhaps it's the unpredictable expenses of chronic conditions. Whatever the cause, the result is the same. I can't create a comprehensive budget, allocating funds for every aspect of life.

What I can do is focus on small areas of change. This month, it was Blockbuster Online. After comparing plans and usage, I found that we were really not getting the deal we thought we were. Now, we'll see how the limited-exchanges plan goes. If it succeeds, we'll save $15 per month ($180 a year). If not, we'll try the one- or two-at-a-time, unlimited rentals plan and save $5-13 each month.

In October, I would like to really try to focus on groceries. I would like to make sure we're staying in the realm of $200 in groceries each month. I suspect we're well above that. I'm not exactly looking forward to being proven right.

In this way, I have small spheres of control, which soothes the control freak in me. At the same time, I'm learning to survive the broader uncertainty of life.

Mostly, I try to remind myself that part of the fun in life is not knowing. After all, Christmas morning would be pretty dull if I knew what was in each box.

At least, that's what lets me sleep at night. And that's about as true as it needs to be.


Be sure to check out the new giveaway that's (finally) been posted! It's a must for any and all who've survived this past week with their sanity even slightly intact.

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Blogger Shevy said...

Obviously, something like changing your movie plan stays constant from the one time you change it to the next, even if you don't pay attention to it in the meantime. But I have a hard time focusing on, say, transportation costs one month and food the next. Once I'm looking at food, the gas could be going back up through the roof. Do you find that too?

September 28, 2008 at 10:33 AM

Blogger Abby said...


Yeah, that can definitely be a problem.

I'm assuming you've tried financial tracking software like Quicken? It lets you categorize your expenses to track them as grocery/gas/etc.

Otherwise, I think the only thing to do is to try and set basic parameters in place that will help you stay on track. So maybe instead of tracking gas for just a month, then food, track gas for a few months and concentrate on making a routine that keeps spending in check?

I think it's easier to do this with things like groceries than gas, obviously, because food lends itself to patterns: coupons, shopping sales, planning on meals on at least a weekly basis, etc.

Anyone ele have any suggestions for Shevy?

Also, Shevy, it seems like you have some familiarity with ADD, have you ever read anything by Thom Hartmann? My therapist recommended a book of his, which I ordered through Amazon nice and cheap. But I'd be interested if you've checked him out.

September 28, 2008 at 1:18 PM

Blogger blueviolet said...

You're right; the only way to make it work is through consistency over the long haul. It's hard but it does become a way of life I'm finding.

September 28, 2008 at 2:10 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

I do tracking in Excel (and used to do it on paper years ago) but I have a hard time entering everything because it means getting my hubby's passbook and then figuring it out. (Is this gas station charge for gas, cigarettes or candy? What was the cash spent on?)

As for Thom Hartmann, I've never read anything he's written. I see he's a liberal political radio show host who talks about the Constitution and ADD!?

There are 2 books on ADD that I can recommend. The first is "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! A Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder" by Kate Kelly & Peggy Ramundo. I have the original but I recently noticed that it's been revised.

The other book is "Time Management for Unmanageable People: The Guilt-Free Way to Organize, Energize and Maximize Your Life" by Ann McGee-Cooper. It's in a box and I haven't read it in a long time but I remember it had very cute drawings.

September 29, 2008 at 12:06 AM

Blogger J. Money said...

OMG you are too funny - i love it! it was a bit hard for me to read the entire thing (ADD and all), but i love your writing style :) nice and refreshing.

Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog! and i'll promise to read the entire posts too. haha..

September 30, 2008 at 5:46 PM


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