June 20, 2008

Gardens or Gutters — Where is Your Attention?

Posted in Finances, Inspiration, life tagged , , at 12:05 am by otherdeb

“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?



  1. SusanO said,

    Hi there – just came over here from JD’s blog. I love this quote from your post: “All nice, but not what fills my particular soul up” – my *particular* soul. I like that. It helps point out that we are all different, and we value different things, and that being frugal doesn’t automatically mean, for example, being unfashionable. If wardrobe is what fills one’s soul, then that is a legitimate expense, and worthy of frugality in other areas. For me, I can’t live without broadband. Period. So I bring lunch to work and buy decent stuff at Goodwill and consignment stores.

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog!

    PS – does your roomie read this?!

  2. otherdeb said,

    @SusanO: Exactly. When we know what fills us, we can prioritize and adjust our spending accordingly…at least we can if we have determined to do what is right for us, rather than for our friends or neighbors.

    Oh, and to answer your question, my roommate chooses to not read this blog, since she does not want me to feel constrained to speak honestly. I do, however generally run things that refer to her by her, to make sure I am reporting fairly.

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