From our archives April 2016
To kick off my new column, I asked readers to submit some of their burning money questions. Right away, I received this gem:
“Wow, I sure do need your help. I’ve never been able to plan out a budget. I never reconcile my check register. Actually, I never enter anything other than checks in it so never know how much I have at any given time in the bank. My earning capacity has drastically decreased and I’m not sure how much I need to at least be able to meet my expenses. I’m an undisciplined spender. I have no idea how to save. Frankly, I’m a financial mess, and it is embarrassing.” Signed, Messy Eater in Pie Town, TX
Dear Messy: Well, I hope that just saying all that made you feel a little better. As I thought about your situation I took a walk into the kitchen to grab a snack and was confronted by the sour smell of rotting food. Where was it coming from? I checked the garbage, the compost bin, and finally opened the fridge. I was blasted with the stench of last week’s forgotten leftovers hiding in the back. Not wanting to embark upon the archeological exercise of finding out where the offending smell was coming from, I closed the refrigerator and walked out again. To be honest, it could wait; I’d rather talk to you.
Sound familiar? How many times have you opened your checkbook and gotten a hit of smelly rotting money issues? Then quickly put it away and found something better to do?
First, let me say, I sincerely sympathize with your dilemma, and you’ve already taken the first step to fixing the problem which was to say out loud that you need help. Using your voice, you courageously named the problem. Go ahead, say it out loud again. Now, take a deep breath.
The next step is to look closely at the words you are using to describe yourself and your situation. I counted four “nevers” and that was only in the first few sentences. As a writer, I cherish every word I write and find actually scribbling something down has a magical effect on me. I use to-do lists and still love the old fashioned hand-written thank you note.
What I’d like you to do is pick up a thesaurus, find a fancy piece of paper and a few markers, sit down someplace beautiful, and rewrite your original statement, only this time, substitute all the negatives, the nevers, the nots, and most importantly, that ugly word “mess.” What you will find is a treatise, a love letter, a chocolate-covered challenge. Take what you’ve written and tape it somewhere where you will see it often. Every time you look at it, read it aloud to yourself as many times as you want. Don’t do anything else right now, just listen to the words and pay attention to what happens in your body when you say them. If you can muster the courage, say them to a trusted friend, or your dog or cat.
Next, let’s open up that refrigerator and tackle the smelly old leftovers. To begin with, we need to address the question of how much money you need. On a piece of paper, make a list of your monthly expenses. Start with the big ones: your rent or mortgage, any car payments and insurance, the basics. Then, take a look at that checkbook register where you enter your checks. What other bills do you pay each month? While you’re at it, pull out any credit card statements. What other things do you buy? List them all and the amounts. Once you’ve done that, set your pen down and pat yourself on the back. Believe it or not, you’re halfway there!
As with any mess, the first task is to organize the bits into piles. We can’t conquer this predicament all in one sitting and breaking it up into small pieces makes it more manageable. Stay tuned for my next column when will tackle the sticky subject of a budget.
If you have a money question that’s gnawing at you, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org