I have had something gnawing away at me for years that this year made incredibly apparent as much as I wished it had not. I am a hypocrite. As much as I read personal finance blogs and nod along with the tenants of budgeting, frugality, and eschewing lifestyle inflation (hell, we don't own any e-readers, tablets, and you should see how heavy and deep our 12 year old TV is), I just really suck at money management.
When we first combined our finances I thought I was the bee's knees to what B was bringing to the table. When we met his credit card bills were going straight to his parents to pay for G-d's sake! What I hadn't noticed was the fact that those bills were for like maybe $50 tops. Mine, which I smugly noted, came right to me because I had been financially independent since I graduated college, I struggled to keep reasonable and might never have been less than $200.
Over the years I have worked on differing budgeting techniques and after our own personal recession, wherein we both lost our jobs right around the time our daughter was born, I really thought I had learned some pivotal lessons and worst of all, felt like I acted on them. Here are some things we have done since both becoming employed full time:
- Maxed out our 401ks
- Automatically put $50/month into each child's 529 accounts
- Created 2 SmartyPig accounts - one in which we are trying to save $75k in 3-4 years for a house down payment and the other for $4k by April for summer camp costs for the kids.
- Invested in a Fidelity account
Sounds awesome right? Swimming in money!
Until you see the $7k in credit card debt we amassed in 2012 alone.
Where is it from? We take out books from the library, we hardly ever eat out and when we do, it is someplace like Chipotle, we watch movies and shows on Streaming Netflix, he new clothes I bought this year came to less than $300, we get our hair cuts at Super Cuts! I dye my own constantly graying hair for chrissake! I pack all our lunches for the week!
To be honest, I don't know. There were some car expenses, yes but that accounts for maybe $1k of it. We did take the trip to CA which was $4k for one week (3/4 of that was plane tix and car rental costs).
Needless to say, most of this is me. I make these budgets and I control the finances. B and I both get an "allowance" every 2 weeks and mine is usually gone in less than a week whereas B is sitting pretty.
I am clearly the spender in our family.
Occasionally my dad, when we see him, will force $100 in crisp twenties on me and I protest but he insists and it flows through my fingers like water. Sushi lunch with the co-workers? Starbucks coffee break? Why not? I have CASH! It is such a novelty that I can't seem to get over the fact that I don't have to think about if I can afford something frivolous or not.
I can't carry a credit card on me. As much as I know I shouldn't use it, I oftentimes convince myself that this thing, usually not even something tangible but more like tickets to a family event, is something that needs to happen. Cartoon festival in Boston? We HAVE to go!
I work with a single childfree stylish 40 year old woman who is a super shopaholic. Packages arrive at the workplace for her almost every day and she jokes about her habits. She has a Nook, an iphone, an iPad, and just got the iPad mini. She buys a new coat and bag every season. She always is very impressed with my frugalness and I wish I had the guts to tell her that yes, there is some frugalness going on (she was horrified about my going to Super Cuts) but that I actually do have a problem, even if is not exactly the same as hers.
I oftentimes wonder where are the %$#@! money goes. Just rent and childcare alone is $3600/month. That is living and functioning in the Greater Boston area for you! This increases in the summer months when childcare moves from $2k/month to $3.5k/mo thanks to day camp (the summer fun version of childcare).
I look at all the postings of friends on FB and wonder how they can eat out so often and how are they affording all those trips? Seriously, please tell me! Some of them are single income families - with kids! (Also, please stop posting pictures of you and your kids are different restaurants every week, it's weird)
I know the smart thing would be to move somewhere cheaper. I have heard tell of places where the cost of housing AND childcare would be half of what we pay but here's the thing that a year of therapy in the Motherless Moms group has taught me - we need community.
B and I don't come with back up. There is no family we can depend on. If we need help, even someone to pick up or watch the kids, we have to arrange and pay for it. Over the past couple of years we have developed some friendships that begin to resemble community. We are very close with 2 families now to the point where we are past the occasional play date and into sharing holidays and childcare and helping each other when needed modes. B has a close knit group of board game buddies.
We have been here in MA going on 5 years now and it took until this year to really solidify this "community" and as we are in our 40s, trying to grow this sort of thing again if we move would push us towards 50. Who wants to start again?
The only other place we had community was the Bay Area, a place even more financially painful than this place.
It is true, I long for the type of community that certain churches/religions have. I wish I could join one and not have the fact that I don't believe in Jesus or G-d keep me from the warmth, love, and community that I assume these places exude. I have tried a few and found that the relationship has not worked - it isn't them, it's me.
So instead I just have to fess up and take action. NO MORE CREDIT CARDS. Chop, chop, chop. Ok, well maybe freezing in a block of ice in case there is an emergency. Or, I give them all to B since he is definitely the more responsible one. Hear that B? I am finally admitting that you are the MORE RESPONSIBLE ONE. Enjoy it now because you know I will totally jump on something remotely stupid you do in the future with my two big feet.
So I created an auto-pay account in my online banking that will send $350/pay check to the credit card and plan to be credit card free, if all goes well, this time next year.
Until then I have to budget better, spend less, and just say no.
Plus admit that I am a hypocrite.