Thursday, January 8, 2009

Duck, Here Comes Another Year!

With all due reverence to the best of all poets, Ogden Nash.

I spent the last month of 2008 recuperating from surgery. I spent the first week of 2009 recovering from a nasty cold. Alas, there is symmetry (Babylon 5, if you geeks thought that sounded familiar.) Yes, I suppose things could be much worse, but can we pace things a little better from now on?

I've also been playing the current favorite game -- that is, trying to figure out just how far down this financial rabbit hole goes -- and giggling in one of those pitches that usually gets people packed off to padded rooms. For better or worse DBS is used to it by now and doesn't flinch as much. Some of that mad chortling comes from hearing financial gurus declare that we are now in a recession and that we've been in one for a little over a year. File that one under "Slow Learners", if you will. My family wasn't paying close enough attention to declare recession or non-recession over the last 12 months, but I will say this: when gas hit $4.59 per gallon in my neck of the woods, we started buckling down for hard times.

It was a revelation, just how close to the financial edge we were really living. Suddenly, all of those bills that we were just paying couldn't be met anymore because that money needed to go into the gas tank. That was the bad news. The good news is that I finally had that nervous breakdown that I so richly deserved and had put off for so long. And before you start looking in earnest for the guys with the large butterfly nets, it's a good thing because I finally broke down that last wall of communication between DBS and myself about finances. I kept trying to pinch and stretch and make do with that thin little last dime, and he had no idea that things were even remotely that tight. It isn't as if he had been extravagently spending hither and yon -- with three children and one income, extravagent is hard to manage if you're even remotely responsible -- but at last he understood why I was agitated, morose, moody, quick-tempered, and generally not my sweet and near-saintly self.

Habits are hard to change, but easier when a marriage has finally faced and accepted the stark truth of a situation. When our drier died, he understood why I didn't immediately go out and get another one with whatever cash or credit we could scrape together. It was easier to let go of the convenience store habit with its dollar here, five dollars there financial syphon. It became easier to say no and hear no because the truth is that here and now, we can't afford it no matter what it might be. No, I'm not going to get to do that computer build that I've wanted to do for so long. No, we aren't going to be able to keep all of the ducks, cute as they are. No, if we get a tax return it cannot be spent on just any old thing; it has to be used to retire the debt that's slowly strangling us. And no, that debt cannot be allowed to return.

Yes, car maintenance is not an option. These cars have to last us as long as we can stretch them out. Yes, the garden is going to get planted this year. Eventually the drier will be an option because even in a desert there are the occasional rainy days, but yes the clothes-line is about to make a reentrance into our lives. Yes, we're going to get used to extra sweaters in the winter.

He didn't even flinch when I hauled out The Tightwad's Gazette and said that there were a couple of items I'd like to show him. He hasn't agreed to anything yet, but at least he's considering the possibilities.

One of the ideas that the Gazette proposes is that of balance; my idea of tightwaddery is not going to be the same as yours. Different people need different balances to stay sane and healthy. I'm not giving up my internet connection. I gave up cable t.v. but Netflix is still hanging in there. I might not buy another movie dvd for a long time, but The Teaching Company still has delicious sales on educational dvds that I can save up for. I gave up buying yarn only because my stash is large enough to have avalanche zones -- but look at the hours of entertainment I'm getting while knitting gifts out of that! I'm working on a blanket right now (belated Xmas gift) and a Faroe shawl (getting an early start on NEXT Xmas.) We're starting small and working our way into what will make us happy, healthy, functional, and most importantly, not so harried.

Hopefully we'll be able to translate this all into good lessons for the Banshees too. This is the practical world of math and money and time coupled with the ability to delay gratification -- or rather, to understand that gratification comes in many forms, and having money in the bank to cover emergencies can feel much, much better than splurging it all on a new toy. Hopefully they'll listen better than I did.