July 8, 2008
I was answering a comment from fivecentnickel here, and it got me thinking. I noted that until I saw what needed to be done in terms of making better choices, rather than making sacrifices, I was overwhelmed and paralyzed.
Thing is, I had climbed out of debt twice before, when I was coming from what I call punishment thinking. By that, I mean that the steps out of debt were my punishment for being stupid enough to have gotten in there in the first place. So instead of the changes becoming permanent, sooner or later I felt my punishment was over and reverted to my old ways, only i managed to dig a slightly deeper hole each time around.
This time, when I got the wakeup call two years ago, I figured it was my last opportunity, and I was gonna do it right this time. So I did something different. While I was dealing with the collection agencies, I started reading (what the heck – I had no money to go out with…). I read books and blogs on getting out of debt. I read books and blogs on personal development. I started putting together an idea of how to reframe things to the positive. My dear fiance, Dee and I had long discussions about the financial decisions we had made (both jointly and separately), and about where we wanted to go (again both as a couple and separately).
Somewhere along the way, I ran into the one piece of advice that had kind of stuck with me from when i did est back in the day. One of Werner Erhard used to say was, “It lives in your language.” Both as a word lover and as someone familiar with the concepts of Rational-Emotive Therapy, this was a concept that rang true for me. It put the control and power over my life squarely into my own little hands.
Dee and I made conscious attempts to reframe our thinking (an ongoing process, which we are still very much in the middle of), and found that it made a big difference. We stopped blaming ourselves for the mess we were in. This gave us time and space to look at where we wanted to go, and how we could get there. We made lists of our goals and values (again, both jointly and separately). We made lists of what we blamed ourselves and each other for. Then we had one huge blow-out discussion about the past, after which we have done our best to let it go. We made a conscious decision that the past was just that, and that holding on to it would just keep us mired in it.
We are not perfect, by any means. Each of us has a complicated life (and I bet you do, too), with our own baggage. However, we are facing forward finally, and it’s all good, even the rough patches.
You hear all over that those who don’t learn from their mistakes repeat them. This is true as far as it goes. What is less known is that, having learned from them, you must let them go, instead of clinging to them like Linus van Pelt to his blankie.
July 5, 2008
Seems like a reasonable subject for this blog, too, so let’s see what I can reason out.
For one thing, I am not poor. Pete from Bible Money Matters recently posted a link to Global Rich List. I put my annual salary into their calculator and found that I am, if this is correct, the 674,568,733rd richest person in the world. Now that may not seem like a lot, but that puts me into the top 11.24% of earners in the world. (The site notes that if you make over $47,000/ann., you are in the top 1%.) Yeah, I know, that and $2.00 will get me on the bus, at least until the MTA raises the fare again. Still, it’s kind of humbling to realize how well-off I am in comparison to much of the world.
To me, financial independence would be to not be in debt to anyone. Not to Marc, not to a credit card company, not to my Landlord, not to Nelnet (my student loans). It means that the money I earn would go into supporting me both on a daily basis and for the long haul, and constantly and consistently making choices that support those goals. It means not having to feel I can’t afford to pursue something important to me. It means having the money to not have to use a dental clinic provided by my union where I am poorly treated because what I need is more than what the clinic’s practitioners who are mostly just out of dental school, are capable of handling. It means being able to follow the career paths I want to (writing and other creative pursuits) rather than having to take a low-level job that is exceedingly stressful. It means not having to put up with a roommate who has no desire to manage her finances.
The steps I am taking toward financial independence are not sacrifices. I’ve noted elsewhere that I don’t believe I am making sacrifices, but choices that will give me opportunities to make a wider variety of choices in the future.
In short, while financial independence is a goal, it is primarily a stepping stone to achieving other goals, and to me that is the thing to keep in mind along this road.
What does financial independence mean to you?
June 30, 2008
While this is geared toward musicians, which many of my friends are, it can also be applied to pretty much any interest you are not professional level at!
With that in mind, enjoy!
June 29, 2008
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been reading NoCreditNeeded‘s series on “33 Days and 33 Ways to Save Money and Reduce Debt”.
I was thinking about what she said, and to some point I disagree.
For example, she notes that: “When I was a young teenage mother and cash was tight, I had to make sacrifices to create a better life for my child. I didn’t have a choice. It was something I had to do. Some nights I ate cereal for dinner in order to afford diapers. Some days, I had to miss work resulting in less pay because I had to stay home with a sick child. Some months I didn’t pay the electric bill because I needed money for transportation to work/school. They were sacrifices. I didn’t have a choice.” Without casting aspersion on her actions, since there are far too many days I eat mac and cheese to afford paying bills, these are still conscious choices that she is making. Granted they are the choices that consensus reality tells us are the “right” things to do in that situation, but they are still choices and she still had the option of choosing not to do so, even if the results would not have been to her liking.
Further along she notes that: “My point is, the difference between a sacrifice and a choice is your ability to maintain no matter which path you take. Sacrifices are painful and necessary. Choices are willful and selective decisions.” Well, yes, choices are willful and selective decisions. But choosing to do something “painful and necessary” rather than to not do anything is still making a choice, no matter how you slice it.
For the record, though: Whether we do without as a conscious choice, or because we “can’t afford” to do otherwise, we choose all the time. Remember, even doing nothing is still a choice.
Do you make sacrifices or choices, and why? How does how you frame the action affect your reaction to having to do it?
The marvelous NCN of No Credit Needed did a series of posts a little under a year ago called “33 Days And 33 Ways To Save Money And Reduce Debt.” The anchor post for the series is here. I highly recommend taking the time to read the original posts, the comments, and the posts that were written by others with this series as inspiration.
I was cleaning out my mailboxes this morning, and came across this entry from Mary Hunt’s Debt-Proof Living:
“Myth: Buying things on sale is a great way to save money. Truth: Buying things on sale is a way to spend less money, but it has absolutely nothing to do with saving money unless you actually stop by the bank and deposit the amount you did not spend into your savings account!”
Yeah, she’s right.
What other things are so simple we forget them on our road to financial recovery?
June 20, 2008
“There are gardens and there are gutters. The one you put your attention on is the one you will end up in.” — Vanessa Talma-Lord
I am currently part of a merged household. My roommate and I do practically nothing the same way (other than both being night people by nature). As you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of interesting situations. We pretty much differ on everything from how often to clean, how to manage money, and even how to wash dishes.
“Dishwashing with a sponge, a dishcloth, or a brush provides pretty much equally good results. The quality depends way more on the attention of the washer than on the tool used.” — Rika Koerte
Last week, my roommate received a notice from her bank, letting her know when her paycheck would clear (she is one of those folks who has managed to — by her less than stellar banking behavior — become an exception to the rules re check clearing, and her bank now applies the longest holds they can get away with). Despite this, she noted to me on Tuesday that she had gone to the bank, but had not been able to get any money out. I asked her when the notice said the funds would be clear, and she looked at me blankly. Turns out she had thrown the notice away without noting what would be clear when. Further, she couldn’t check her account from home for two reasons: 1) She had never bothered to set up online banking, and 2) Her internet has not been functioning for over a month (mine is, and since we share an account, this means the problem is not in the router, but in her physical connection somewhere). This is just one symptom of her ongoing financial mess, where she never knows what she has, what she owes, or what she agreed to with her creditors.
I, on the other hand, check my accounts online almost every day, so that if there is a discrepancy I can hunt it down and fix it. I also have a program in my Palm Pilot to track all my bank accounts, and I use a paper check register to further keep my checking account records. All of this tracking takes me maybe ten minutes a day, unless there is a problem, and I always have a pretty good idea of where I stand financially, which saves me a ton of grief in the long run
The 51% Rule: “Wherever you put 51% of your attention, that is what you will draw into your life.”
Because we manage our finances so differently, we have very different results. My roommate never knows where she stands, and no matter how many times someone bails her out and she starts fresh, she ends up back in the hole, only each new hole is deeper than the last one.
“Madness is doing the same things, but expecting different results.”
Now, I’m not belittling her for this…I did the same thing for decades. However, the last time this happened, I took it as a wake-up call, and decided to clean up my act. I have learned how to do things differently, even though there is still room for improvement. I learned a bit about how banks handle my money, and I learned that I need to watch my accounts like a hawk watching her young.
The effort each of us puts in to managing her account is, in our case the major differentiating factor. Neither of us are supporting a lover, going off on expensive vacations, splurging on clothes or jewellery, etc. We both work, come home, and stay home most nights. If we do go out, it tends to be to something free or very cheap.
For me, financial attentiveness has meant learning what I am willing to give up to get what I really want. A latte? A hardcover book? A closet full of the latest fashion? All nice, but not what fills my particular soul up. Being debt-free? Fixing my health issues? Being able to move in tow years? Being able to quit my day job in five years? Yep, those are the things I am working toward. They have the real meaning for me, and I find myself willing to give up a lot of non-essentials to get them.
What it boils down to is this: By putting my attention on cleaning up my present, I am paving the way for my future, and so far it looks like I have picked the right future for me.
What are your dreams and goals — the real ones, not the ones you were “supposed to have”? What can yo do to shift you attention to take steps toward them? Can you find three small things to do differently now that will start to shift your focus?
June 16, 2008
Several of my friends are going through major life changes. This post is largely inspired by them, and dedicated to them. It’s also dedicated to the kids at the high school I work at: May all your bright dreams come true, and may you leave school with the preparation to follow them!
In America (I can’t speak for anywhere else), kids are often told that with hard work, they can be anything they dream of being. Then as they grow older, those dreams get stripped away by the limitations of their abilities and circumstances. If they are lucky, and very stubborn, they can continue to follow those dreams, but at a price: setting themselves apart from those who could be their biggest support systems — their families.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Not just any writer, but a successful one. Thanks to my Mom, I fell in love with words early. She believed in phonetics, so I learned to read well before I went to school. Writing took a bit longer, but I’m told that as soon as I could string words into sentences I tried to tell stories.
As I grew up, however, I learned that lower-middle-class girls from Queens, New York didn’t become writers. They became teachers, or secretaries, or nurses, but that was about the extent of the options open to them (this was the mid-1950s), If we could have afforded college, or if my grades had been good enough to get a grant or scholarship, it might have been different, but not very likely. To add to the issues, I was an oddity in another way: a Jewish battered kid. Not only was I physically battered, but my dad spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that I was substandard intellectually.
So, damned by gender and what I was taught, I dutifully shelved those dreams, and became a secretary. From 1975 until the beginning of 2003 I worked for a variety of companies, in a variety of industries, and was considered a very good secretary. I liked the work, but in most of the jobs it wasn’t particularly challenging, and it never “filled” me.
In 1987, however, that began to change a bit. A friend paid for me to take an IQ test, and I showed up high enough to qualify for both Mensa and Intertel. I joined them both briefly, but they were not my cup of chai. The best thing that came out of that was that in 1988 I had a letter published in The Mensa Bulletin, commenting on an article about language and mindset. I received a lovely postcard from the article’s author, and my appetite for writing was whetted.
I began writing again — vignettes, short stories, poetry — but I kept it to myself. After all, given the things I had learned along the way, I couldn’t possibly be any good, could I?
Flash forward a bit to 1992: I was online, and a part of a science fiction chat, the SFRT (Science Fiction Round Table), which was then hosted on GEnie. There I met Mike Resnick, Jim MacDonald (aka Yog Sysop), Esther Friesner, and a host of other wonderful SF/Fantasy writers. After one very surreal conversation about writing, Mike invited me to contribute a short story to an anthology he was editing with Martin H. Greenberg. This ended up with me selling five short stories in the sf/fantasy field. Okay, I could write, but this was not where my heart was. I even tried turning one of the stories into a novel, but wrote myself into a corner I still haven’t figured a way out of. So, again, I put the writing aside, and concentrated on being a secretary. (I also explored some of my other dream, jewellery making, but that’s another story and another column). I also ran some writing and journal-keeping workshops on the World Wide Web, but had no idea how to take them to the next level, even though they were well-received.
In 2003, my world collapsed. I lost my corporate job, which was where most of my identity and pride was tied up. I spent a year on unemployment, then became a school aide. Meanwhile, I read various online journals and blogs, thought “I could do that,” but I never did. I knew I could write — Hell, I’d been writing all my life. I had no idea if I had something to say that anyone would want to hear, though, so I just kept reading.
As I did so, my dream refined itself. I knew that I was never gonna write the Great American Novel; wasn’t even interested in doing so. I discovered a love for essayists. My offline reading expanded to include reading columnists for various newspapers. I asked my friends for books from essayists such as H.L. Mencken, Cecil Adams, Dave Barry, and Molly Ivins.
Becoming an essayist has meant learning how to write differently. In a novel you have space to expand things. In essays, poetry, or short stories you need to make every word count because your space is severely constricted. It has also meant keeping abreast of what is going on in the corner of the world I was interested in writing about.
So, I kept reading. It kept me going, even while my world and finances were collapsing. Then an online acquaintance, Annie Walker, started a blog, The In-Debt Net, about her recovery from financial issues and her efforts to switch to a more frugal and sustainable life. Reading Annie’s work was not only inspiring, but her articles were, in some cases, highly relevant to where I was in my life.
Never one to resist synergy for long, I finally took the hint and started this blog. And it not only feels right but, because it *is* right, I have been able to figure out the next steps. Yeah, there is work involved — anything worth having is worth putting in some effort to achieve — but the prize is sweet: the clarification and achievement of a dream I have had since I was maybe five years old.
What dreams did you have as a kid that you never thought you’d be able to accomplish? Do any of them still resonate for you? Are you willing to put in some effort (and possibly fall flat on your face a few times along the way)? Are you willing to have the dream show up in a different way than you originally thought it would? Then go for it!
June 15, 2008
One of the things I found out when I started this is that, while journal-keeping is essentially a solo activity, blogging is essential a social one. And bloggers love to share.
With that in mind, here are five posts I read this week that I thought should have a wider audience:
If there is one skill that most of us in this process need to develop, it is critical thinking. If there is one skill that only a few people get to learn, and often far too late, it is critical thinking.
Without critical thinking we are sunk. We cannot choose a car, decide to save rather than spend, evaluate the merits of job offers, manage projects, achieve goals, choose a direction for further educational or career development, pursue our dreams, or manage our money. We can’t even function successfully in relationships without some degree of this ability.
Yet this ability is not taught until college, and then often not until your junior or senior year.
Why does this happen, and how can we, then prepare ourselves and our kids to think critically?
Let’s face it. The elementary and secondary American education systems were not created to raise folks to live up to their potential. Their real goal was to take a very diverse set of human beings, many of whom barely spoke English, and turn out a work force that was relatively homogeneous in outlook and relatively unquestioning of authority. Thinking critically was not something that this system would support or highly prize, since critical thinking leads to questioning, and may further lead to unwillingness to follow instructions or orders.
That said, there are places you can learn about it, but often in a very narrow context, with a very specific focus. One of those places is in business management programs. Nice enough, and — in fact — where I learned it, but far too little, and far too late. And I want to acknowledge my wonderful professors at University of Phoenix, Steven Young and Richard Eacott; also the authors of Critical Thinking, Gary R. Kirby, Jeffery R. Goodpaster, and Marvin Levine, as well as Steve Allen (yes, the comedian) for his wonderful book Dumbth, and 81 Ways to Make Americans Smarter. Thanks to their patience and communication skills, I have learned the skill that has, ultimately allowed me to change my life.
It is my considered opinion, however, that these skills are not taught until way too late in the growing up process. Yes, I know that little kids are not going to grasp these concepts. But I honestly think that by the time kids enter high school they should have been taught a few basic principles, For instance, there is no reason that a twelve-year-old cannot be taught that input (listening, observing, and reading) plus thinking about what is listened to, observed, or read, leads to outputs such as speaking, acting, or writing. There is no reason that he or she should not be aware of the concept of choosing their battles wisely. They should, by that time, be aware that their actions have consequences, and that those consequences can usually be predicted.
So, again, how can we remedy this? Well, for one thing, we can teach it to ourselves. Had critical thinking been one of our stronger skills, we might have made better financial decisions. How do we learn it, no matter where we are on the spectrum? Well, reading is a good start. Get hold of the two books I noted above. The Steve Allen book especially is accessible to the average reader. If you don’t like either of those, head to your library (or Amazon.com). They have plenty of books on the subject. If the book you choose has exercises, try them.
As you start to get insights on things, write them down, if only to reflection on when you have the time.
If you don’t watch news programs, make a habit of watching at least one a week. Start observing how others think about things. (Oh, and occasionally choose something with a different point of view from yours, just for the ability to stretch your thinking.)
Like any other part of any process, you can acquire the skill in small steps. Don’t try to do it all at once. One of my favourite writers, Natalie Goldberg says (in Writing Down the Bones), “Be kind to yourself.” In learning critical thinking, as in learning any new skill, this is one of the cardinal rules.
Did you learn about critical thinking in school? At what level? If not, is it something you can see the value in learning? Has it had an effect on your life? What changes has it helped you to make? What traps has it helped you avoid?