What Happens When You Don’t Know How To Live Your Own Life: Five Areas That Need Our Attention; 1 Budgeting

I have been thinking about mending things with my caregivers recently and in an attempt to understand the scope of what was troubling me with our relationship while I was growing up and beyond, I went over the areas in my life that I feel have been neglected by; first my caregivers, and then by me. It was this realization, that I had been carrying the legacy of neglect on for far too long, that brought me to the point of wanting to reconcile. I was floored.

The amount of neglect I endured is somewhat staggering. As I tried to organize the areas of my life that were either neglected or I just didn’t know needed attention, I felt a sense of taking charge of my life. There are many places that need tending to, to be sure, but organizing these areas feels somehow like a foothold in what seems like a mass of an insurmountable pile of, for lack of a better term, a life that needs to be lived. And what makes me even more optimistic, is that I’ve already begun the work. A lot of which has been written in the pages of this blog.

In the next few posts, I’ll be going over the areas of focus I’ve been attending to in my life as a form of reparenting what was never taught to me, or what I was too angry or disconnected to want to learn. The areas I’ll be going over will be; budgeting and finance, nutrition and health/exercise, school and career focus, healthy relationships romantic and friendships, and self-care. I’ll be covering each topic in a separate post, and how they are integral to helping us move past the wrongs done to us in our pasts. By being better versions of ourselves, we can learn to forgive and heal from the wrongs done to us so we can move on with our lives. Let’s start with budgeting and finance.

I’ve spoke about Dave Ramsey before on this blog. He’s a financier who made a bunch of money buying property and then went bankrupt when the housing market crashed in the late 2000’s. He helps people get out of debt, and that was definitely something I had found myself in. I had taken out a bunch of credit cards in my early twenties, just to have credit! I didn’t have a plan for the money I was borrowing, I just kept on borrowing until I maxed out all my cards. It was not a healthy place to be.

It took me almost a decade to pay back the debt I ran up. I don’t even like to think about the amount of interest I paid on what I owed. But what was most concerning about what I was doing was, I was borrowing money because it’s what was modeled for me. I watched my caregivers shop endlessly for stuff they didn’t need, so I did what they did. And ran up a sizable bill doing so. I just didn’t know any better. This is the sad truth.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I took out student loans at the height of the student loan lending frenzy! Not to mention I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree once I got it. I was just getting it to get it. So by the time I was in my early thirties, I was close to a hundred k in debt and with nothing to show for it. This was sobering.

Here was the point where I made the decision to dig myself out of the hole I had dug. It was not easy. This also was the place where I found Dave Ramsey and began my debt free journey.

I began with a written budget. This was kind of a shock. Mostly because I had no idea where my money was going. I think the biggest surprise was finding out that I was regularly spending upwards to six hundred dollars a month on food! And that was just for one person! Things definitely needed to change and they needed changing fast.

I started with all the sectors of my personal spending. Areas such as rent, food and phone were no brainers. But other areas too such as; self care, gifts and donations, food and friends, areas that have gone neglected in my life for far too long. I was finally shedding some light on these places that so needed my love and attention. This is how I found out how much I was spending and on what and where. I realized I needed to set more structured boundaries around my financial life.

While I was setting my budget, I also realized I had watched one of my caregivers faithfully going over the spending for the household, sitting at the kitchen table. This was a ritual they did often, though sadly, one they never passed on to me. I realized that these were some of the missed teachable moments that I just never received. These were the lessons that my caregivers should have been pulling me aside to teach me while they were doing them. And I realized this is how we pass on the knowledge of what we know to those who are in our care.

And I was sad. This was no easy realization. I had spent so much of my time seeking approval from just about anywhere, but mostly my caregivers, by doing irresponsible things, that when I stopped to realize what I was missing out on, in short, the basic skills I would need to run my life, I realized I had missed out on the building blocks of what it means to be family. I was missing the most fundamental experiences of being part of something loving and functional.

So it wasn’t only the life skill I was missing out on, but the parts of what it means to be a family. What it means to take care of one another. The difference between caretaking and caregiving. The first being a way to do for someone, instead of showing someone how to do for themselves. I would later find out that none of my caregivers had racked up debt in the same way I had. They had been very disciplined in regards to their spending habits.

This made my journey sting a little bit more. Had I known what my caregivers had known, I would have been in a far better financial situation. But lessons learned the hard way tend to stick better. I’ve learned how to manage and pay down large sums of debt. How to build an emergency fund for unforseen circumstances. But also, and most importantly, how to be consistent in my spending and saving habits. By keeping track of what I’ve spent, and setting a specific amount for each monthly cycle. This allows me to set financial goals, such as paying off my credit card debt, and achieve them in a time frame I’ve set for myself.

There were some setbacks for me along the way, but I was still able to achieve my goal over the course of the time I planned for myself. This gave me the feeling of agency over my financial situation. Knowing I could make a plan and follow through felt strange but satisfying. Strange in that this was something that was so foreign to me because, well because no one ever followed through with anything they ever showed me.

I was left to my own devices by the time I was nine years old. Direction, goal setting and being shown how to be persistent were not values and skills I was taught how to pursue. But by the same set of circumstances, it made me being able to set these goals for myself, the learning how to pay down a large sum of debt and following through to completion, on my own, so much more gratifying. It feels as though I really earned what I had taught myself, lending even more to my sense of accomplishment.

The way I got there was fairly straightforward. As I said above, I followed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to help me pay down my debt. I’m currently still paying off student loan debt, but am on track to finish with my loans just inside of two years. For a link to Dave Ramsey’s site, head on over to my Community Page.

The plan was to pay off my credit cards one at a time, starting with the card that had the lowest balance first, then working my way up to the largest. I could then take the minimum payments from the cards I had paid off, and apply them to the next card. The result being a snowball effect, due to with each card paid off, I would then have the minimum payment from the previous card to put towards my debt. It was satisfying to not only watch my debt reduce, but at the same time, watch the amount of money I was freeing up to pay off my debt, increase dramatically.

By the time I paid of my credit cards and was on to my student loans, I was putting a sizeable amount of money towards it each pay period. And this was heartening, because this was the amount of money that I will be later saving and putting towards other financial goals. Instead of paying off a creditor that has already leveraged an unreasonable amount of interest from my financial unknowing.

After my debt is paid down, the next step is to create an emergency fund of at least six month’s expenses. Dave suggests between three and six months expenses, but I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for far too long. There were many a time where I was uncertain if I was going to make rent. I’ve been very lucky in that regard, and I don’t want to tempt fate by being underprepared. I have a friend who is going a full year’s worth of expenses. When it comes to being financially stable, go with what feels right.

This will look a little different for everybody. For me it’s six months, my friend twelve. The most important aspect of setting an emergency fund is how comfortable are you with the number you’ve decided on. Don’t do it just because someone else told you you should, or because someone told you this was the best way to go about it. Do it because it makes you feel comfortable with your financial situation.

And if you’re with a partner trying to hash out a number, make sure you both agree at the end of the talk, which number feels right for the both of you. This is how we begin to open those lines of communication and start to feel more connected with one another. This is precisely where a younger me would have wanted to jump into the conversation about finding the place that makes you feel safest in your financial situation. To know how to best care for and attune to this need.

When I was married, there was not a lot of communication, and especially around money. I think we were both coming from inexperienced places. I know I was. I came from the understanding that no one ever talked about money, ever. This was unhealthy and one of the reasons I had no idea what to do when it came time for me to take the reigns of my own financial life. My ex was, I think in the same boat as I was, only I don’t know because we never talked about it. This should have been a warning sign to me. But I was in a place of numb and muted emotions, trying just to survive the day to day. Any ideas of planning for the future seemed so far off it may well have been in another life’s time. But the lessons I’ve learned from this situation was, talk early on, and talk often.

And once you’re finished setting up your emergency fund, it’s time to start saving for your future. This comes in the form of some type of retirement fund. Conventional wisdom suggests to open a Roth IRA. This is an individual retirement account, where the money you put in gets taxed when you put it into the account. So when you are ready to make withdrawals, the money you take out is tax free. There is a cap you can put into a Roth IRA, and that’s 6,000$ a year and up to 7,000$ a year after you’re 50th birthday.

Of course, each individual’s situation is going to be different. So it’s best to find an advisor that can guide you through the process of planning for your retirement. This is definitely not the time and place to wing it! This brings up another lesson that was not taught to me when I was younger, which has gotten me in trouble time and time again. If you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

This seems like such a no brainer, but the amount of time I’ve spent making poor decisions because I thought I’d look either weak or stupid if I asked for help makes me a little uneasy to think about now. So incase you haven’t heard it before, or was in the same boat I was, let me tell you, it’s okay not to know. Find the people who do know, and make them a part of your support network. And don’t be afraid to ask around either. I have a friend who works in the financial industry, and they were able to steer me in the direction of someone who could explain to me what it would take, and look like to take hold of my financial future. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would have found someone, but I feel more connected and sure about the choice I made knowing that I’ve been aided in my search by a trusted friend.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, after you hammer out all the basics of how you are going to survive, paying off the debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, then you can actually enjoy your money in the here and now. It’s sometimes strange for me to think about. A time after my debt, because I’ve been in debt for so long. But the entire reason we’re working to pay off our debt and plan for the future is because we want a future worth planning for.

For me, I’ve been living as barebones as possible while I’m paying off my debt. I don’t buy too many things just for myself unless I need them. For example, I think the things I’ve bought for myself most recently have been iced teas in the mornings where I need an extra boost of energy and a pair of running shoes I desperately needed. Asides from those things, I’ve been funneling all available funds to my debt.

I’ve been living like this for so long that it seems just the norm to not splurge on anything other than a coffee here and there or a new pair of shoes. And this can get a little depressing, I won’t lie to you. But I have started a list of things I want when I no longer have debt. This list, in and of itself is something of a motivator for me. Looking at all the things I’ll be able to indulge in when I’m financially stable enough not to worry is something I’m looking forward to considerably.

For example, on my list are a variety of teas I enjoy from a seller who has an exceptional variety. Knowing I’ll be looking forward to my morning cup of jasmine green tea will be so much sweeter when it’s brewed from a tea I know I love.

I also plan on buying spices from an organic spice company I have used in the past and love their product. Their quality is excellent and knowing that I’ll have a freshly rotated stock of all the spices I use brings me a sense of joy. Knowing my meals will be that much more flavorful is another motivator to help me achieve my financial goals.

I’m also planning a trip to celebrate my debt free journey, to take some much needed rest after my marathon race to finish my goals. And I will feel so much more at ease knowing I’m not living on borrowed money. Knowing I’ve taken the time to take care of my financial needs and will be able to enjoy the benefits that come with a well planned for financial future.

So if you’ve left the financial sector of your life neglected for far too long, maybe it’s time to take another look at where you are, and where you’re headed. Creating some much needed boundaries around spending can be an eye opening and fruitful experience. If this is your first thought on the subject, I definitely suggest talking with someone who can guide you on a successful path towards your financial future.

And if you, like me, have found yourself in the depths of what seems like an unfathomable amount of debt, it is never too late to start digging yourself out. As I’ve said above, head over to my Community Page and take a look at the work Dave Ramsey is doing with helping to get people out of debt. Also Mint, another site on the Community Page, is a powerful tool in helping to get control over your spending and finances. Check out community sites such as Reddit, personal finance. There are loads of people with questions that are crowdsourcing answers from people who have been there before. And remember, you’re not alone. It is difficult and scary at times, looking at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. But it is totally possible and doable to get ourselves out. Good luck, and peace, thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “I’m So Confused!” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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