Friday, January 11, 2013

The Underfunded Blues

Time was, even when the spouse and I were spending stupid, there was enough to fund what we needed to get funded plus the stupid spending. Then gas prices went from under $2 to $4.65 (under Bush jr., so waaaay before our current president) and suddenly what had been a perfectly adequate paycheck wasn't so much anymore. Not just because of the spike in the price of fuel, but because of everything else that spiked shortly after. Food. Household goods, little and large. Everything that a paycheck-to-paycheck household uses on a regular basis. It took us a while to realize that every impulse buy that we indulged in was no longer covered by the paycheck. It took us a little while longer to realize that even our legitimate debts had increased simply because our ability to pay them had decreased. We got to look at that debt-spiral that has first the big indulgences, and then little indulgences, and then day-to-day necessaries go from manageable to unpayable in an eyeblink. It was like dealing with a flock of Weeping Angels.

Oh yeah. Whoever came up with Core CPI? Screw you. I can tell you that never once have I seen gas prices jump the way they did and then go back to "normal". I can also tell you that I have never seen any of the other items affected by the price of fuel go back to "normal". Ever. Our income didn't jump to match the price of fuel or food, ergo, we have seen some immense inflation in this household. Stuff that in your ear, sideways. By the Great Colander of the FSM, I really wish an economist or a congressional member, preferably one with an active brain and more than vestigial conscience, would swap places with us for a month.

Thanks to the job I held early in 2012 we've managed to bring ourselves back from the brink a little. We're no longer on a first-name basis with any collection agent and it looks like we're going to be able to keep ourselves that way. Even so, when December came around I found myself falling into a little bit of a situational depression. Christmas had been covered months before, because I had done all of the shopping ahead of time, giving myself time to get as good a price as could be got and carefully avoiding the emotional last-minute shopping. It's just that as much as I hate to admit it, I really missed the emotional shopping. I miss being able to get even a little thing on the spur of the moment because I have to be so careful with the finances. And it really got under my skin when I realized I was starting to slip back into the "it's just a little thing" mentality. Yes. $6.99 or $12.99 or $8.65 are all little amounts of money, but if you're spending that every single day of the week or even just once a week, after a while it starts to ad up to the internet bill you can't cover, or the telephone service that starts to be just a day or two away from disconnect. In addition, the realization that just cutting out that mindset wasn't enough just about killed me. I had to work on the idea that spending the entire paycheck just wasn't an option anymore. There had to be a savings plan to cover the expected but irregular bills (car insurance, anyone?) and the genuine emergencies (in case we wear out another washing machine).

Let me tell you, I didn't think a savings plan was a viable option. There are days when I'm absolutely certain it isn't a viable option. But I also figured, fairly grimly, that I was just going to have to find a way to make it an option. And I'm not talking about one of those Yahoo Finance articles where the indebted finds out that, wow! you can pay off $XX,XXX of debt pretty quickly if you just quit vacationing in the Bahamas quarterly and stop buying all of the latest Louis Vuitton gear. (Really, Yahoo? Really?) On the other hand, we had killed off a credit card and had paid off the last car note. Maybe I couldn't plow all of that back into a savings account, but I could try. So I've started putting this sad little amount into a savings account every single paycheck and then I just ignore that it's there. It isn't for an overdue gas bill and it doesn't go towards feeding my notorious yarn addiction. It's there for our irregular bills and emergencies and nothing else. It has, however, made our incredibly tight budget that much tighter.

I'm here to tell you that I am one miserable mommy blogger. My inability to spend my way out of the blues is adding to the indigo color I'm acquiring. My new-found refusal to lie to myself, even a little bit, about my ability to buy my way into a better mood is a skill I've long needed to acquire -- but still. Ouch. I've just spent six weeks being touchy, irritable, miserable, sullen, and just about as much fun to live with as a bear with a sore head. I also knew, that like every other habit worth acquiring, this was and is going to take some time. There are some signs that this is beginning to become the new normal. I immediately tell DBS about the state of our bank account if I feel an overwhelming desire to spend on something. The state of the savings account may be pitiful, but at least it's there. I'm looking at projects that I need to do and actually thinking that maybe I should get something done on them, possibly even within this epoch. The desk needs cleaning and the yard needs clearing and the Banshees are going to need some formal instruction in drafting and how to construct a research paper. I have fruit trees that need to be planted (Whee! I have Sierra Beauty, Pumpkin Russet, and Blue Pearmain apples and a Morello cherry tree that need holes dug ASAP. Just thinking about that cheers me up. The trees, not the hole-digging.) I may not be able to buy the seed potatoes or any of the other homesteading staples just yet but I have the tools to create the planting beds. And ah! The ghosts of hobbies past: I have enough material to make and carve soap, enough supplies left over from my Steampunk Adventures to play with at least a little, and not all of that polymer clay was bought with Banshees in mind. So yeah, I have a serious case of the Underfunded Household Blues, but even that can be overcome by restructuring habits, retraining the brain, and patience.