First Lesson: Personal Finance Sucks.
It isn’t because I can’t buy what I want, when I want it.
It isn’t that I’m aware with EVERY PURCHASE how it affects my bank account, credit score, or long-term saving goals.
It isn’t that I never have enough money and sometimes feel guilty for buying groceries.
No, finances suck because they take so long.
I have a schedule in excel that tells me what to pay with every paycheck. Each payday (and usually every other day), I consult the schedule and dutifully pay the amount listed, unless something has come up that needs to alter the amounts (but I don’t let this happen too often). I don’t have a problem with paying the amount—it’s that I have to wait two weeks in between paychecks each time before I can see that “Debt Sum Total” shrink—which can feel like an eternity at times. And even then I only calculate that column once a month, so it doesn’t become more of the proverbial watched pot. And THEN, it takes a few days to process through each separate website. So mint.com doesn’t get the memo from everyone at the same time so it’s actually almost a WEEK before all those payments go through and I can see the accomplishment of another month closer to debt freedom. SO. MUCH. WAITING.
Part of watching my money like a hawk is not buying what I want, right that very second when I want it. I’ve been shopping at Goodwill/thrift stores almost exclusively for a few years, but I realized the other day it’s because I was too cheap to pay full price for anything anymore. I go to places like Anthropologie, West Elm, or Pottery Barn just for inspiration, the whole time thinking: I can make that/get that/fake that from Goodwill. (And then I usually don’t end up following through with it). I don’t think that necessarily a bad thing—I hate supporting big box stores, and I hate consumerism, and I hate (forgive the unintentional pun) buying into the idea that more is more and s/he with the most wins. But the problem with shopping thrift-stores only is that when I need something particular, this frugal/cheap side of me absolutely refuses to pay full-price for it at a retail shop. So I have to wait (there’s that awful word again) until I see it in a Goodwill or on Craigslist (another useful tool for the frugal). However, I always score. Whenever I need something, eventually it comes to me. (For example: I’ve been wanting a brass/iron queen bed for ages but couldn’t find one decently priced. Last week, a beautiful four-poster brass bed, complete with mattress, came home with me for the astounding price of $35. Cannot beat that, no matter who you are)
An unexpected side effect is that I’m afraid to overpay for ANYTHING. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shopping around and looking for the best deal. And I think you SHOULD take time to evaluate if a) you love it and can’t live without it, b) if you’ll really use it c) if you have a need for it and d) a place to keep it. If the answer to these questions yields a “no”, I put it back on the shelf. (450 square feet doesn’t leave much room) But then the issue is that I’m hesitant to part with my money in order to support people who do deserve it—local farmers, food artisans, and artists. Quality should cost more. We live in a society that finds shortcuts that are often detrimental to our health, both physical and mental. I’ve had to shift my reality to one that acknowledged that if I was going to commit myself to eating real food, that meant paying more, and contributing to my local food economy. So I’ve began purchasing through my local, organic farmers, paying just a touch more for the real stuff. Which segues nicely into my Third Lesson: Giving up convenient foods mostly means giving up convenience, or, Real Food Means Waiting.
I’ve been making a really big effort to abandon the grocery store. So far this year, I’ve only had to stock up on essentials like toilet paper, toothpaste, flour, and beans. I buy my eggs and vegetables through my favorite farm’s CSA, my (raw!) milk & cheese through another local dairy/farm, and when I don’t make my own, bread from the bakery down the street. I don’t regret ANY of it—raw milk is absolutely stinking delicious, the carrots are sweet and crunchy, and the bread is filling and nutritional with no preservatives to pickle my organs. But I pick up my CSA and milk every two weeks—time spent waiting. If I make my bread, it takes around 2 1/2 hours to rise and bake—more time waiting. There is no hurrying growth—its very nature demands time.
I’m making a real effort to make or grow all my own food, too. Growing a garden is obviously a lesson of patience, but at the time of posting I’ve also got 2 types of vinegar souring in the top cupboard, a crock of sauerkraut on the counter, a cure of sourdough yeast rising, and last night I made my own vegetable stock from the scraps of the last two weeks. All that rising and curing and souring requires—you guessed it—waiting. I plan on mustard-making next month, and starting my spring seedlings this weekend. (which I’ve never done—my garden was all starters this season—i.e. MORE WAITING)
All of this is just learning though. I haven’t gotten a chance to can/ferment anything out of my own garden yet—it’s still too young. I use the herbs on a nightly basis (yum, cilantro!) but the winter farmer’s market is mostly greens, no berries or fruits or summer veggies, which are great for canning. So there’s waiting for the right season. If the king wants pickled okra, this month he buys it from the HEB and we get mixed results. More waiting for the okra to pickle. And the process of canning itself takes a while—several hours, in fact. While it would be more convenient to pick up cans of crushed tomatoes or black beans from the store, it would not be as real. (Maybe I should clarify my definition of real: food I feel a connection to, food I can understand and relate to as an organic being.)
So for the girl whose grown up in a society of almost-instant gratification (although nothing like what today’s generation experiences), this slowing down of life has done a lot for me. Sure, I can’t get the instant meal I would from a microwaveable dinner and it would be easier to put off debt reduction. But, I do get home from work faster when I ride my bike (NO waiting in traffic!) and I know I won’t have to worry about how to pay for a mortgage AND my credit card bills when the time comes for me to purchase my own home. I can appreciate my bread, my pickled beets, my vegetable soup, and my 5/6 credit cards paid off a little more than if I’d purchased it all at the store. I get ridiculously excited about the cabbage head forming in my garden, the mother forming in all three vinegar jars, and the fact that I finally have a broccoli on the stalk!
I have to credit my slower food for helping my perspective shift with regards to my body image and what “being healthy” actually means to me. I don’t hate my body anymore. It isn’t imperative I make every workout class scheduled, because I know that the things I’m putting into my body aren’t laden with preservatives or chemicals, saturated with unnatural fats, or sugared up (when I can find the strength to put that cake back). I’m putting good foods into my body, and using those energy calories to power my two-wheeled machine down and up again to work. Which isn’t to say I can just coast, can get away with lazing away on the couch. I go to Turbokick because I LIKE the feeling of sweating, of pushing myself to the brink, of feeling my strengthening muscles get sore. Which brings me, finally, to my Fourth Lesson: Fat Doesn’t Literally Melt Away. Which feels like it should actually labeled under “lessons in futility”.
Every workout, while it isn’t tortuous, is often a clock-watching venture. At the end of the hour, (which always takes forever) I feel like I’ve survived something. And I feel great about myself for the rest of the day. But the next morning I’ll wake up and try to pull on “that dress” or “those pants” and all those good feelings evaporate. And denying myself on a daily basis doesn’t ever help me feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I think, “If I just eat this one cookie, it’s not actually going to affect my dress size”. Add that up over the month, and I’ve affected my dress size. Or, I think that since I’m going to work out later that day, it doesn’t actually count. It isn’t until I’m in the dressing room A FEW MONTHS later and those size 8’s actually DO go up around my rounded bottom that I begin to consider that maybe, MAYBE, those extra workouts and skipping that bagel and those cookies have actually made a difference. Suddenly, abstaining from a bakery muffin is worth it. It’s the build-up that kills me, it’s the WAITING. But it’s like my mom says, “Once on the lips, forever on the hips”, which is a bit pessimistic really, but I think she’s trying to say it takes longer to take it off than it was to put it on.
I’m not saying patience is my favorite lesson. I hate it—I’ve always hated it. Ironically, I always wish I could hurry up and learn it already! But it definitely pays off in the end—I can pronounce every ingredient in my food, I see a line of zeroes down the debt column, and my 30 minutes of bike-riding every day keeps me walking, not waddling. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to hurry my life away. I’m learning that our lives are in the living, every day. Our daily choices, our growth over time, our ability to look back and see a difference from where we were then to where we are now, that’s what life is. We are our little moments. Our life should not be hurried through, because one day, we’ll be desperate for those lost days, lost hours, lost minutes. These opportunities we hurry through will one day be our laments, if we aren’t careful. So I guess I’d like to learn patience as long as it takes.