Admission

I’m terrible with money.

I’ve been relatively poor and I’ve been well off in my life, and I infinitely prefer doing well.  But I have a problem–when I’m doing well, it’s much harder for me to control spending.

I’m fine with the big things.  I know not to buy a new computer or a new Kindle, for example, until I have saved the money (or had a windfall).  I contribute more than the minimum amount into my retirement.  But the little things?  Those get me.  Oh, I forgot to make a lunch.  Oh well, I’ll go across the street to Subway.  Sure, I can afford an $8 book.  I’m thirsty, I’ll just stop and get a drink.  

To combat that, we instituted an allowance system.  We get so much cash each month we can use on whatever.  It’s not an insignificant amount: $160 for each of us.  But it is difficult for me to stay within that.  Part of the problem is that many of the things I’m likely to use allowance for–the occasional graphic novel, a lunch here and there, video games–aren’t cheap.  But most of it is that I have a problem with seeing the future.

I think “Hey, we have plenty in our accounts, this isn’t going to be a problem.”  But I don’t think about the fact that I ought to be putting more money away for my daughter’s future.  I want to be able to send her to college, assuming that’s her path, or give her a nest egg to start life with if she goes another way, but I’m not going to be able to do that if I don’t make it happen now, and spending $100 to $150 a month over my allowance isn’t a way to make that happen–and it’s easy to spend like that if you’re me.

Another problem in my thinking is our budget itself.  I know that we have budgets for eating out, or for entertainment, so I don’t worry about it.  Since we rarely use the entirety of the Entertainment budget, it’s easy to tell myself “Ok, I can count this as part of that.”  But that’s not responsible.  I need to, in the words of the Bob Newhart skit, “Stop it. Just STOP.”

Now, all this would be fine–if I was single, childless, and lived alone.  I’m good at paying my bills, and having the money for necessary repairs and the like.  But I’m not single.  And I have to stop spending like I am.  Perhaps getting married in my 30s means I cemented some of these habits too well, but that’s not an excuse, and I need to quit.  Because it will hurt the long term, even if in the short term we’re fine.

If I’m being honest, this is also contributing to my not losing weight quickly enough.  So I really need to lay off.  To that end, I stocked my classroom cabinets with easy to make, tasty and healthy stuff I can eat if I forget to make a lunch at home.

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a third grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-three years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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