This may not be your story but is is authentically, 100% my story. It has taken me more than 25 years to learn how to live by a budget. I know! It sounds ridiculous and trifling as hell right? Well guess what, that has been my story for most of my young adult life. From shopping, to eating out, to entertainment including night clubs and more, everything else was more important than saving and quite frankly paying bills. Allow me just air all my dirty laundry (because I know I’m not alone). To be honest, I only paid the bills that i felt would affect my well being. So if it were rent, it got paid, utilities and food got taken care of. The rest I could have cared less about. Oh yes! I would get a serious attitude when people wanted the payment for either credit that I had used or services that were rendered. As you may have already guessed, I had very bad credit. I found myself becoming mentally taxed, even nursing a serious anxiety problem as a result of the daily threatening phone calls and creditors that badgered me around the clock. They would promise everything but bodily harm, even using really demeaning language, all because they wanted their damn money. Rightfully So!
Here’s the bad part. I had the money. To begin with, I made very good money. Unfortunately, my mentality was wrapped up in wearing the latest designer handbags, eating out at swanky restaurants a couple times a week with my girlfriends and nightclubs on weekends. At the time though, my mindset was completely focused on what I could buy to make myself happy. Without realizing it, I had begun to equate happiness with buying things. I would also watch and observe people that I assumed lived a certain lifestyle. While at swanky restaurants, I felt as if I’d arrived, even if I could only afford an appetizer. By the time my mother grew ill and bedridden, I was completely delusional, not to mention also, completely in control of her money as well. The sicker she got the more, I used her money like a band aid. After weekly visits didn’t look promising for her recovery, I went on long shopping sprees just to take my mind off of what I mentally and consciously couldn’t handle. I’d completely become a consumer.
America’s entire economy is driven by consumers like the one I used to be. The most ridiculous story that I’d ever heard from a girlfriend was that she wanted to impress the folks that she met at a local night spot so much that she purchased everyone sitting at the bar, drinks. She ran a tab upwards of $800. She later admitted that she had realized the next day that she spent her rent money. What kind of mentality drives one to spend their rent money? Though I hadn’t done anything that outrageous, I’d had my fair share of crazy stuff with a complete disregard for money.
The truth is my mother bailed me out every time. She would complain about how I needed to be better with my money. Regardless though, and without a doubt, the checkbook came out and the money, sometimes a loan, sometimes not, always flowed. In retrospect I often think about how if she had only told me not to ever spend all my money in one place, then maybe just maybe, when payday came again, I probably wouldn’t be broke, busted and destitute from one paycheck to the next. But hey, I was always rocking the trendiest boots, I even dug into my 401K account for $10,000 to purchase a Land Rover SUV. By that time, I felt untouchable. Untouchable and broke as hell.
Several things had to happen for me to change that crazy cycle of monetary dependency on material things and upon my mother from constantly rescuing me. If you guessed what I’m going to say, then you are correct. She died. My wonderful, generous mama passed away. What she left behind was two children completely dependent on her finances to make ends meet and unequipped to even deal with the generous amount of money that she left us. Remember, I was a serious party addict that loved to live what I felt was the glamorous life, took trips to South Beach Miami and other places on a whim and even sprung for the hotel rooms of some of my equally busted and broke girlfriends. When the $60,000 that mama left us finally began to dry up, less than two years later I had used NONE of it to clean up my credit, I had NOT, stashed any away for a rainy day. What I had left over was a broken heart and an even worse relationship with my poor sibling. But that’s another blog. She picked up the pieces of her life and relocated over 700 miles away.
Finally after 5 years of living without my mother’s safety net of money, I realized some basic things that helped me to keep money in my pocket and stop living paycheck to paycheck.
- BUDGET – Currently I MUST live life on a very strict budget. I still have the same girlfriends that love to shop and eat out for lunch and dinner, however I have learned to respectfully decline. Instead I make dinner three nights a week and take my lunch to work every day.
- RELIEF FUND – I opened a second account at the bank that held my primary checking account and began having an extra $50+ directly deposited from my paycheck. Check with your job’s accounting department. They usually allow for more than one distribution to whatever account that you give them. The reason I opened a new account is so that I could stash a little money away, and if I don’t touch it, then it will grow. Only withdraw money if you ABSOLUTELY have to. Thus if you have completely run out of money, THEN you can dip into the RELIEF FUND. Remember, if you don’t touch that money, it will start to grow and could make for a nice Vacation fund or Holiday fund at the end of the year.
- SAVINGS WEALTH ACCOUNT: Lastly, I opened a savings account at an entirely separate bank than the one that held my primary accounts. Trying to keep a savings account at the same bank that my primary checking account existed in was a complete JOKE. Kudos to the folks that can keep them all together at the same institution but I cannot. The urge to dip into the secondary money that I had directly deposited into my Savings Account proved to be impossible for me to resist. The only way that I have been able to keep any money in my Savings account is because they now exist miles away from one another. Additionally, I have made a commitment to myself to allow my Savings Account to grow. Everyone’s perception of what a savings account is used for is different. My reason for having at least six months of expenses or about $5,000 is because “shit happens”. From unforeseen events, to funeral expenses, to helping my kid out the way my mother helped me out, are just a few of the reasons that I attempt to keep my Savings account growing.
- BECOMING CONSCIOUS. The most important change that I made was to change the way that I processed happiness. In the past, I lived for the experience of what I considered a lavish and luxurious lifestyle. I would spend money frivolously, without rhyme or reason. From the purchase of expensive handbags, to upscale restaurants or even the upkeep of the overpriced, old ass foreign truck that I drove, ultimately I realized it was all a smoke screen. The sad part is that the death of my mother didn’t change much until her money was GONE. I mean, I was very hurt that mama was no longer present, however, this did little to curb my need to look as if I lived the high life. When I finally realized that most of what I did, my obvious shopping addiction and my need to be considered the most stylish chick in my office all stemmed from a need to be accepted and for the validation of others, I was dead broke and my mother’s money was a distant memory. Now that’s a damn shame. It has taken years for me to forgive myself. When I finally did, everything began to fall in place.
Today, I can easily admit how plugged in that I was. I was very affected by societal standards as well as a serious identity complex. (More on this in my upcoming “BLACK IN CORPORATE AMERICA” blog) I guess you could say that my values have changed. I’m also very different in the way that I process happiness now. These days a great weekend for me is one where I rarely leave my couch. Also, I’ve learned some serious gratitude. I understand that life could be so much worse, that so many folks do not have the things that I have. For that and much more, I’ve learned to be very grateful. I also value good times, home cooked meals, Netflix and believe it or not Planet Fitness is my new go to weekend club.