Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living Within My Means

For those of you who haven't talked to me in a while (and it would have to be a long while since this particular issue has been rather prominently on my mind for quite some time) I have completely stopped using my credit cards. They are tucked safely away in an envelope in Soul Twin's desk where, barring espionage, they can only be obtained with the explanation of some very logical reason why I would need them. Hence, I have embarked on a rather interesting adventure called, "Living Within My Means."

I feel as though I must first explain to you a bit about my financial history. My parents can never make enough money. Meaning that no matter how much they make they never seem to have enough. My father is compulsive in his spending habits, a behavior which vexes my mom, but often complains about having to go on trips to various family members' birthday parties and weddings. My brother makes almost no money but also has no bills. He still wears the same shorts my mom bought him from the good will probably 10 years ago, and when his jeans become too worn he makes them into jean shorts. He owns less and spends less than any human being I've ever met in my whole life. Well, any human being who isn't homeless. 

I got my first credit card in college. I thought, "HEY! Almost Free money!" I would put small purchases on the card; I would pay them back. Then I wanted bigger and bigger things. So I would charge them. Then I couldn't pay them back. So I accrued thousands of dollars in debt. At the end of my senior year of college my dad lent me the money to pay it off, and I paid him back by selling my car before moving to Boston. Then I went to grad school. I lived in dorm housing and then an apartment in the Back Bay. I took out extra loans so I could have more financial "security" (a.k.a. live beyond my means with money that wasn't from a credit card), and yet, even then, I used my credit cards. I graduated from grad school, got my first full-time job, and the first 6 months I couldn't BELIEVE how much money I made. And then I started the loan payments, which I couldn't pay and buy food. So I deferred half of them for 5 years. And then I maxed out my credit cards. Since then I have vacillated between paying them off in huge chunks, and then using the available balance to buy more shit. When I ran out of "real" money it was all right, because I could always afford to take myself out to a nice dinner or buy myself a new purse to ease the pain of my financial stupidity. Then I went on a 6 month spending spree, bought myself a new wardrobe. Then I remembered that in March of 2012 I HAVE to start paying the other half of my student loans. And then it was a month ago. And I now have a whole bunch of clothes, and a renewed sense of my own debt.  So I put myself on a payment plan, gave my credit cards to Soul Twin, all the while thinking, "How hard can this be?"

I would never have said I was addicted to spending money. But now that I must do it in this calculated way, I find that I, in fact, was. The buying of new things, of clothes, of food, it distracted me from my life. A brief feeling of exhilaration, of newness. A feeling that (as I mentioned in my blog about the coat) I would finally be able to be the person I always wanted. Because the person I always wanted to be could have everything she wanted all the time (as though any person really has that luxury).

What I'm saying is, it's so hard to let that go. Because it means I will never get to be that person.

Up until 6 months ago, I dreamed of what it would be like to be thin. I would be able to buy clothes I liked, men would want to date me, I would find the perfect job, I would be able to do a handstand in Yoga class, I would know what I wanted from my life, my dad wouldn't have any guilt, my mom would be happy. It seems so silly to say these things, but I honestly thought if I could be thin, my entire world would be at rights. 

So when I decided I wasn't going to actively try to be thin anymore, and when I decided I was going to instead try to love my body just as it was and is, I was agreeing to accept that all those ideals I had for myself and my life were as impossible as the thinness. 

The bottom line is that no matter how much our consumerist culture wants us to believe otherwise, no one thing will make the business of being a human being in the world any easier. No amount of thinness, or Chipotle burritos, or coats, or skirts can change the fact that there is struggle and that some experiences are pain beyond comprehension. I'm not saying there isn't joy, or even that we shouldn't take joy from having things. But where joy is the truest has nothing to do with physicality, at least not in the way of ownership.

And there is also joy in this surrender. As I let go of the unattainable ideals, I am able to actually sit with myself, to take stock of what I want, what I can do, to take the limitation that is my life and my past, and take my little broken pieces and make them into something I can love right now.
As I relinquish the ideals I have held so long in terms of how my life looks, I start to realize the beauty of things that are unseen and the value of that which costs nothing. 

That sounds so lame and so cliche, but I feel at a loss to express what it is to be faced with my actual life, to express what it feels like to find relief from the burden of impossible desires. It sounds like I've found God or something, but I promise I haven't. These burdens have not been taken away. I have just found relief from the struggle in the struggle. If that makes any sense at all.


  1. TELL ME HOW. Seriously. Do you make pie charts or keep records on graph paper of your finances? Because that shit's HARD.

  2. Being fiscally responsible is really, really hard. Keep up the good work :)

  3. I love how honest and raw you are about this. Material things really CAN'T make us happy - so true. Good luck on this journey. It's totally worth it. It's also hard as hell to do alone, so make sure several people have your "back" :-)

  4. I've had the same strugles that you have mentioned. I am a compulsive buyer and a compulsive overeater. I think I'm compulsive for everything, even with the ones I love, I'm a compulsive lover. Ask Paula, I'm really intense.
    I also thought that by being thinner everything was going to be perfect; biggest lie ever!
    I'm doing the same you are. I'm sober now, my credit cards are clean and hidden, and I'm trying to eat healthy. That doesn't mean that I have everything under control, but I don't suffer anymore. I love myself as I am,and try to follow the right track. I understand you perfectly, and I'm happy to know that you have accepted yourself as you are,and
    being happy with your new choices. Congrats!