Friday, January 4, 2013

Diagnosis: Affluenza

Today's the first post of my now regular "Diagnosis: Affluenza" posts, where I take a look at my personal spending in the last week in an attempt to acquire less stuff, learn to need less stuff, and learn to be more respectful and grateful of what I have. You'll see them on Saturdays, so I can still do Friday Fashion Fallout. But because I'm crazy on brand-new ED meds, I'll do Saturday on Friday this week and Friday on Saturday!

I want to first thank I Should Be A Minimalist for introducing me to something called You Need a Budget, more commonly known as YNAB. Oddly enough it wasn't the budgeting and putting-things-into-categories information that was the most helpful. I do lousy with budget categories. It reminds me too much of the dieting I did during the worst times of my eating disorder. No, it was the YNAB book that was the awesome eye-opener for me.

YNAB is effectively a really fancy spreadsheet. But you can download a free copy of the principles behind the YNAB-budget lifestyle. (He also sells the same thing on Amazon, but I don't know why anyone who cares about their money would do that instead of just printing out the obviously free PDF. Anyways.) The YNAB creator, Jesse, said that one of the best and worst parts of a budget is the moment when it shows you a time when you know you are not going to be able to make ends meet or achieve a particular goal.

Sounds pretty lousy, right? Not for us. Why? Because it let us know that our goals were way too lofty.

I'm thrilled that I'm no longer living paycheck to paycheck as I did after college and in grad school. I am blessed to be well off. Except that my spending has risen to the level of my professional paycheck. I've always spent just about every penny I make that doesn't get sent to a retirement fund before it leaves my paycheck. My husband doesn't have this problem. Why? Because I have affluenza and he doesn't. I have a need for stuff. Let's take a look at my "needs" for the next 2 years:

1. Make three changes to our kitchen. $27,000 (within 18 months, the max allowed by our condo association.)  It doesn't have to be done all at once though.
  • Remove the wall in our galley kitchen so there's room for both of us. Cost: $7,000
  • Add in an island so that we have more than one counter to prepare food on. $8,000
  • Replace the countertops, backsplash, the damaged ceramic sink, and fix the couple water-damaged cabinets. $12,000
2. Go to Glacier National Park: $4,500 (already planned for June 2013, $2,500 of it is already paid for)

3. Go to Australia: $12,000 (Dec 2013?)

4. Have a baby: $12,000 for start-up costs, hehe
  • Temporarily ignoring the $250,000 it will take to raise this kid from diapers to diplomas, I'll have to take three months off of work with no pay. We'll need to save about $9,000 to make up for that. Plus the cost of pre-natal care, meds, delivery, and diapers etc. in the first year, I figure $12,000 would be a good number to aim for.
5. Build up an emergency fund of $25,000  (in the next two years) and then continue to fund it with $1000 a month every year after.

6. Go to Spain. $4,000 (within 18 months)

7. Replace our 20-year-old TV: $1500 (within a year)

8. Sell my old guitar and get a 15/16 size instrument that fits my tiny hands so I can play without pain (by my 30th birthday in April.) Net cost: $300.

Total: $86,300 of activities. 
That is frakking insane. 
I do not need nearly $100K of activities to keep me happy in the next year.

Gram would be really, really ashamed of me and that thought makes me sad. No, it's time to get my priorities straight.

So here's what we figured out. The emergency fund comes first. Baby comes...whenever I can get off my lovely new eating disorder medications that are apparently, well, really dumb to be on while pregnant (I know there are some that are safe to take...I'm just apparently still too sick for those to be enough for me). And everything else comes as the money shows up. I get to let go of my goals a bit and stop stressing. I can't do everything. Problem with affluenza is, I think I can do and purchase everything.

We will be paying attention to our finances but we've discovered that locking ourselves into budgets (eg. $300 on food a month) just makes us both insane. Over the last few months we've tracked all of our  spending as a couple on things like gas, food, eating out, and day-to-day fun. The numbers are pretty consistent. It's a level we're content with. My husband's spending on stuff he wants is quite low and very fine. The point is just to pay more attention. If we don't have money for something, then we don't do it. I may have to give up or trim down Australia or Spain, or put off the kitchen as long as the condo association will let us. When we have $7000, we'll take the kitchen wall down. When we build back up and have $12,000 again, we'll get tickets and hotel reservations for the Land Down Under. Then Spain. Then the kitchen. And a little bundle of joy whenever that gets to happen. It's like debt snowballing without the debt.

But as we know, my spending on stuff is just stupid. I'm really the only one who needs to change. My erratic, impulsive spending is making it hard to plan what we can do when (this is a bit of a problem when you're trying to buy plane tickets to somewhere halfway around the world!) To help us know when we can afford to do one of the items on our two-year list, we've set up four accounts:

1. checking account, with enough to pay the bills in it
2. an emergency fund
3. a future expenses fund
4. a checking account just for me. It gets an allowance of $500 twice each month. Of this, $30 a week goes into a brokerage account so I can learn to invest (literally) in my future.

I can hear almost every one of you saying -- how is $220/week not enough for me?  All it takes is one $140 visit to my psychiatrist, one monthly $50 copay for the antidepressant that keeps me from injuring myself, and two $35 physical therapy appointments for me to blow $260 in two days. That's what last week looked like. It was a good thing I cancelled my guitar lesson last week because that would've brought me up to a total of $295 of expenses for that week and I only would've considered the guitar lesson optional. Healthcare in my town is boutique-style. Most providers around here don't take insurance. The ones who do are either hours away, are lousy providers, or have 3-month waiting lists for new patients (as is the case with every psychiatrist in a 10-mile radius who takes BlueCross health insurance. Bloody hell.)

But we know I like to spend for fun even beyond that. So the Chief Engineer helped me figure out the first of many changes that we'll have to make to keep me from spending and slowly teach me to stop wanting to spend.

The first step we took together was removing my online access to our joint checking account.  We've also taken away my credit card. In the event of an emergency I can call the bank and get access or visit the branch around the corner. I'm not brash enough to take money from the emergency or future expenses funds for myself. There is one exception, though -- my Renfrew eating disorder treatments go on our joint credit card. It's on file with Renfrew so I was actually able to destroy my plastic card so I can't use it. Ultimately, if the money is not my checking account I can't spend it. I don't have a credit limit on my debit card.

A cute money journal, just like in grad school

Something else we did came from an idea the Chief Engineer had. When I lived on $100 a week after paying my rent in grad school I kept a log of every single little thing I bought. The Chief Engineer thought we might gain some insight from those logs but it turned out that I'd trashed them in one of the five moves I've made since grad school. Silly me. But instead we started a new one. It worked in grad school.

It seems to be working now. We started this experiment two weeks ago and at the end of two weeks I had a little over $100 left in the bank. I just got my paycheck today and now have a little over $550 to get me through the next two weeks. Oh, and I have four physical therapy visits alone in there. Let's hope I can keep from running over to Guitar Center for this baby in the next month or two. I need to build up savings in case I, say, need another $800 crown like I did three years back.

So how do I build those savings and resist the long-practiced temptation of spending everything I have? What did I do in grad school that let me live on $100 a week and still buy the occasional expensive piece of jewelry? Patience, it turns out. It's something I've lost. When I wanted a $200 piece of jewelry in grad school, I stuck pennies, dimes, quarters and single dollars into an old coffee tin for six months before I finally bought the ring (and I still have it, love it, and wear it often.)

Say hello to the guitar fund! It's no longer a coffee can but it'll do. What can I say, I like fruit, even when it's plastic. I thought about pitching $20 bills into the sound hole of the guitar I have now, but somehow I think that might make my playing sound *so* bad that I would immediately rush out and buy a new instrument.

I've now told myself that I can have the guitar. I just can't have it now. That's a feeling I haven't felt in a while. But it's a good feeling. I will be able to have the guitar, I will eventually have enough saved to know that I can pay for a personal emergency if I need to, and I am learning to deal with the long-term ups and downs of stock market investing. It feels like a good year. I just need to be patient and relax. It's going to happen this time, because I've done it before.

Spend slowly. Save slowly. Think slowly. Change slowly. 

And stop buying cute Jordi LaBanda notebooks. 
(I must have 15 of these things. It's just glorified hoarding.)


  1. Wait... so you condo association is requiring you to make upgrades to the kitchen? Yikes! I fear my poor little house hasn't been updated since sometime in the 1970's. But you know what, I really think that in the broad scheme of things the avocado green shag doesn't detract from my happiness.

    Over the years I've sort of come to a place of either laziness or contentedness... not sure which. It just seems that as nice as certain aspects of "luxuries" would be - like a new kitchen or an expensive vacation, the realities of getting from point A to B are so stressful that they outweigh any enjoyment that the luxury itself might provide.

    And at this point it really doesn't have anything to do with money, it's more the time and upheaval that would be required to have remodeling done or to deal with finding someone to take care of my cats, and dealing with the stress of travel etc.

    Part of me thinks this is evidence of a growing fuddy-duddy factor, but part of me thinks it's just that I've realized that it's the little day to day realities that really have an impact on my mental state, and while vacations and remodeling might make the picture prettier, they will take a HUGE toll in the day to day department.

    1. ah, no! we don't have to make upgrades, we just have to finish anything we start within an 18 month time period. Oh I have fond memories of avocado green shag from my the days when we could still see the floor at my parents place!

      But I think you've got a point with the "laziness" factor. It took us six months of (fortunately free) legal haggling with our condo board to be allowed just to take down a wall. I'm starting to think about just taking down the wall and skipping the rest because I'm too darn lazy to have to keep dealing with the board! I don't think it's a fuddy-duddy factor at all. Like you's realism. Something I have yet to acquire!

  2. My first priority would be to have a significant emergency fund and extra padding in the retirement fund just in case someone loses their job or cannot work. I work in a non profit setting and my husband is out of work so I live this. Except for the guitar and tv, I would love to do everything on your list. I just have to rethink what I want to do and what I can do.

    If you own your condo, improving the kitchen makes great sense for resale value, as for the daily cooking conundrum of space. I have a small kitchen too. Go to Glacier since it's already planned. It sounds lovely. And save for the baby... you'll want every day of that time off; I have friends who went back early since their work didn't cover their leave through short term disability and wished they would have been able to take the full 3, or even 4 months off. If no baby comes this year, take a small amount of that money and go to Spain next year, then resave that money for baby in the next year.

    It's a lot of stress to put on yourself with finances, stuff, ED treatment, trying for a baby...etc. Hopefully you will be able to have fun on your trips!

    1. I appreciate your wisdom :o) it's been so long since I lived on a small income I've stopped respecting mine. And you make a very good point about trying to do too much, not even in the financial sense. The point is to have fun. And one fun trip is better than three that I had to stress out to make happen!

  3. Sadly I don't think that I can take credit for the YNAB book...(although have just downloaded it to read..) but, as the daughter of a bookkeeper (mum has complicated budget software on her home computer because she loves keeping track of finances so much!) 'make a budget' does seem like something I'd say :)

    The 'having patience' thing is something I've been rediscovering too- I've been so use to just buying what I want/need, rather than saving up, or waiting and asking for it as a birthday present etc. One of my aims this year is to build up some savings- at the moment I pretty much spend what I earn. Sounds like you've found a system that works for you- yey!

    1. oops, you're right, it was another blogger! but you did give me many good suggestions about finances in that earlier post. So thank you!

  4. Good for you! Maybe I read too quickly, but if there is a psychiatrist on your BCBS plan, can you get on the waiting list now and then switch over when you can get in, thus saving money down the road? And another couple of thoughts for you: For kitchen reno: you might be able to source some materials on CraigsList at a discount. We are renovating two bathrooms and our kitchen right now to get the house ready to sell. We're sourcing materials on CraigsList and saving quite a bit of cash that way. Also, is there any way you can use your skills and life experience to parlay that into some extra income on the side? Perhaps a magazine or website targeting those with eating disorders that you can write for with personal knowledge and experience? Just brainstorming here, but you may be able to earn some extra money this way.

    1. Hm, that's an interesting idea. We're tossing around the idea of skipping new cabinets and finding a really nice butcher block instead...which we could get off craigslist definitely. I've definitely thought of second job opportunities, and actually do a little contract work as is. I feel like I'm starting to work too much and need to downshift a bit. But that's where things like craigslist come in -- saving money so I can work less.

      How do you accomplish it all -- you're a lawyer, you must be so busy!

  5. I like this: Spend slowly. Save slowly. Think slowly. Change slowly.
    It makes a better impression this way.

    I am a paper crafter and on another blog someone asked the masses what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy (about the crafting). SOooooooo many people had complaints about all the new stuff out all the time and the push to spend, spend, spend. I admit to being shocked by that. I do know there is a lot of new stuff out all the time, but I never felt pushed into buying it. I really stop and think about if I would actually use the stuff and how often and most times I decide I don't need. Are most my fellow crafters missing that filter? And here I thought I was the one with the clutter problem? very interesting

    Another noteworthy note, we visited the hoarder MIL over the holidays and she had cleaned house! Well, not like a normal person does but you can tell there is much less in her living room (we ventured no further). She even told us how she felt it was time to downsize some. It was impressive. Also, impressive was how she rearranged the furniture and knick knacks yet everything still had an inch of dust on it. I guess once it gets that thick it doesn't disturb when you move it.

    1. I need to develop the filter. I do get tired of hearing people say things to me like, "how is it you can still have a CRT TV?"

      My hoarder parents just did the same "cleanout" (ha). I know what you mean about the dust though. My mom took half the stuff out of her music room (yes, she has a music room yet I'm the only musician in the family!) and yet in spite of moving the electric keyboard, trumpet, and clarinet, they're all still filthy! Hopefully your MIL won't ask you to help her pack!

  6. Well done! I really believe that with the steps you're taking you will achieve your savings goals. Keeping track of your spending will keep you aware of what you can and can't afford and no longer keeping your credit card handy will keep your spending under control. I took similar steps and it really helps. For instance, by keeping financial records of my spending I realised I can't really afford to buy contact lenses so I don't any more.

    1. Glad that someone else has had luck ditching the credit card. Everyone I know uses one and part of me still says, "but the airline miles I can rack up!" So far I haven't seen any regular expenses stand out like your contact lenses, but I'm sure they will. Hope you're enjoying a very cute pair of glasses though!

  7. Hi! - Well, to start, you don't need a $1,500 TV. Especially if you want to travel the world so much, when are you going to watch TV anyway? :)

    I am currently trying to budget as well. But mine is for my general expenses- I am terrible with my food budget. I buy groceries throughout the month instead of making larger trips, and that's what is going to change because I know I will spend less.

    Good luck with your goals :)

    1. this is why I blog -- buying a $1500 TV does sound stupid when I hear someone else say it! Let me know how the grocery adventures go. Hope you're well and have had a good new year so far.

  8. you are so brave for sharing. consumerism and all the stuff i want makes me insane too. it's liberating to relate. we are not alone in having to deal with wanting, buying, housing and properly disposing of all our stuff. :) with detraditionalization, very few of us know how to live independently. we have to deal with the money system and its specialized markets all the frakkin time and it's not a rational experience. We have emotional ties to money, objects and since our parents hoarded for security (or whatever), we already have a irrational relationship to stuff. In any case, your consciousness-raising is inspiring to me/us.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I try :o) I am always amused when I drive around here though, because someone spray painted a bunch of stop signs in my neighborhood to read "STOP affluenza" !

  9. It is fascinating to see someone else's budget. I can't believe you have to pay out of pocket to see your psychiatrist. Of course it's essential, but that's taking so much money. Can you drive a little farther to someone who will take your insurance? I think therapists and psychiatrists should do Skype appointments at times, but that's just my opinion.

    1. I only just switched to a plan with mental health coverage, so we'll see how it goes. We didn't have a lot of great options at work for mental health coverage with my previous plan. I would've had far less trouble buying a gun than I would've had finding a psychiatrist around here who was accepting new patients and took my insurance! Three months for most waiting lists. Argh. Thank you for the suggestion though.


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