The first blogger I ever fell in love with was the hilarious Laurie of Crazy Aunt Purl. I was originally pulled into her archives by her humor, but quickly became hooked by the way she hung out her dirty laundry for the entire world to see; read at your own risk. Her blog started as a way to cope with her painful divorce, and as she took stock in her life she realized she had been dealing with an unhappy marriage by racking up a nice pile of debt. Scary, bone crushing, swallow you whole, DEBT.
She publicly proclaimed that to dig herself out of this mountain of debt she would be taking a stand against meaningless shopping. If it wasn’t a necessity she would no longer be buying. Desires be dammed. I read these words via her archive in the early portion of 2008. The very same year where each paycheck of mine seemed to barely stretch through that first weekend. The same year where I was living a life way beyond my means simply because this is what I thought being a college graduate was supposed to look like.
Simple concept right? If you don’t NEED it, DON’T buy it. Yet people flooded her inbox with proclamations of disgust. “HOW COULD YOU????” they raged. Not buying yourself something because you want it? How un-American.
Personally, I thought she was a GENIUS. Then and there I decided to join Laurie on her spending freeze. Together we would rule the world, and our finances.
I had a goal. Eliminate ALL credit card dept, open a savings account, and if I wanted something I would need to wait until the money was there. Money would be direct deposited from each paycheck in increments of $50 to my savings account, and if something I wanted was $100, I would need to wait until I had $150, take out the $100 and leave $50. My rule was to always leave my savings account $50 heavier than when I started, thereby ensuring that I could eventually purchase what I wanted, while also slowly building a safety net.
I felt so damn empowered. Strong, determined. And honestly, sometimes like a poor sack of shit. Yet sacrifices had to be made and I was learning to deal with that sometimes cold reality. Honestly, from the looks of my current designer jean collection you’d have no clue I was a poor sonofabitch. Thinking like that HAD to change. I no longer allowed myself to run out and drop $600 on my credit card to shop for clothes, because although I loved them, wanted them, and knew I would cherish and appreciate each item, I DIDN’T HAVE THE MONEY. Ashley, welcome to living within your means. Pain is money.
Eventually one card was completely paid off. I felt like a fucking super hero. Living by the savings account was hard, but working! It might have taken me two months to save for that new vacuum I needed, but when I paid for it in cash I had saved instead of putting it on my credit card, I loved that damn vacuum as if I birthed it myself. Before I knew it I could see the end of the finish line with my second card. Only $220 to go before I was free of huge credit card payments and ready to dedicate more precious funding into my savings account where it belonged.
Then on December 5th, 2008 I lost my job.
All my plans, all my hard work, and all that sacrifice was lost. Savings wiped out. Debt climbing with each week. The sticker, “DO NOT USE ME! I AM EVIL!” that once graced the front of my last credit card was subsequently removed and the spending just to remain above water began. I would try to assure myself that this was all temporary. Once I found a job I could return to my plan with vigor, I could again work tirelessly and finish what I was once so close to accomplishing. I kept telling myself that once I had a job I would be ok.
So what happens when you finally find that job, and you’re so thankful to be able to simply pay your bills again, so thankful to be able to see any income, but truly living within your means is still physically impossible? I want so badly to return to the land of debt reduction, to a place where each sacrifice I make also gives me joy in knowing that I’m accomplishing something bigger, but I honestly can’t yet live my life even in the barest sense without that piece of shinny plastic.
Adam and I try to remind each other to ‘live within our means’ so often I am sure I mumble it in my sleep. But how do you live within your means when your means aren’t even enough to get you through? If the money is gone three days after payday, do I just stop buying groceries? If I run out of gas do I simply stop driving? If Oly runs out of dog food do I revert to feeding her scraps? When we discovered that the support beam on our porch was rotted out and hosting an ant farm, were we supposed to just shrug and look the other way? I know what sacrifice feels like, but we also have to have some limits.
I still smile, and laugh, and spend time with friends. I still make vows to stop being such a scrooge always chanting, ‘next time’, and instead allow myself to spend for the right reasons. I still take pictures, and snuggle up to watch good movies. I still look forward to making new memories, and think of ways to brighten the lives of people close to me. I still find myself amazed by the beauty in nature. But in those same moments I’m also really scared. Because this time I can’t see the end. I can’t manage to work towards a goal right now because no matter how hard I try I can’t even manage to wrap my mind around what needs to be done to fix this. This inability to line out a game plan scares me more than I want to admit because it makes me feel helpless. And more than anything, most days I’m petrified that I’ve lost control.
How many of us live under the shadow of bone crushing debt and say nothing? How many of us feel pressure to live above our means, only to come home and quake at the site of our bank statements? Why does no one talk about this?