August 17, 2013 by lucieromarin
I manage money the same way I drive: eyes half-closed, hands gripping the wheel of fortune with white-knuckled horror, my voice in an undertone reciting, “Don’t hit me don’t hit me don’t hit me!” Moments of transfixed, perspiring horror alternate with moments of carefree abandon, which abandonment is always, always followed by a week of sickening guilt, as I consider that the pair of shoes before me may be, if not the reason I die homeless in my old age, at least the reason why ‘wealth’ only ever means the ability to afford shoes, and never the ability to rent on my own.
I have found books on the subject of financial planning to be largely worthless. Some carry titles such as “The Hip Chick’s Guide To Gloss, Glam and Glimmer on a Budget,” or “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Independence,” or “The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Thrifty Living.” These books invariably advise the same thing: shop at op-shops, cook your own meals, and ask yourself if you really need that thing before you buy it. This is all fine, but not much help to those of us who already know this, and are still barely solvent.
The less patronising kind of financial planning literature tells you about the value of managed funds, share investments and how to pay off your mortgage faster – also excellent advice, but clearly useless to those of us who cannot afford a mortgage or a managed fund. (Also, shares make me uneasy. There’s something about money turning into more money and then doing an about-face and becoming worthless that is just plain unwholesome. I bought a share-investment book in which the woman assured me that her work consisted of managing her shares for an hour or so each morning, leaving her free for the rest of the day to do as she liked. This is so contrary to Catholic social teaching about the value of work that I found it distasteful, though doubtless she is a very good woman who does lots of community work with her free time).
So, where does this leave us? Here’s my financial-planning guide for people like me, the in-betweeners, who have no credit card, no mortgage, no shares, and no investment properties, but for whom buying in bulk or second-hand is not big news.
1) You need to earn more. Saving $10 a week on a $400-per-week income is vastly more painful than saving $100 each week on a $2,000-per-week income. The world is full of affluent folk who really do need to stop buying things. You are not one of them; you cannot save what you do not earn, and the tragic reality of life is that penny-pinching will only help you if a) your aim is simply to avoid homelessness and outright destitution, or b) you have hundreds of thousands of pennies to pinch.
2) If, however, you do sense that your spending habits need to change (like mine certainly did) don’t look so much at what you buy as at why you buy. Notice what you buy when you’re depressed…
3)…and know your weaknesses. I have four. One is for multi-tasking food. Stick a label on a jar of something, anything, that tells me that profits will go to support poor children, or art, or the protection of the Murray-Darling River, or anything, and my whole being thrills with excitement. Just think! With this simple jar of pasta sauce my money will achieve twice as much! The second weakness is that aisle of the supermarket or health-food store offering lotions to make you beautiful. I can never entirely quash the hope that one day I will find that magic cream or jar of tablets that bestows upon me a radiance of complexion and lustre of hair and eye which means that guys look at me twice. Alas, I have never found it, and am forced to conclude that the dream is, in fact, a mind-controlling spell cast upon me to steal my money. So. No looking at the lotions. The third weakness is milk. Yes, milk, and for the same reasons as weakness two. Don’t ask me why I feel this way about milk and not about any other comestible, but I do. So. Be careful of milk. The fourth weakness is Etsy. The solution here is no Etsy (or any other form of internet shopping) unless a) it’s a gift, and b) you know in advance what you’re looking for, and c) there’s an easy returns system.
4) Perspective. Instead of reading books about looking hot for five dollars, read about how our foremothers lived, and realise just how much skill, energy, creativity, and economy you’re not using. (Though it may only be me who needs this!) Also, I’ve decided that real poverty is not a low income, but the inability, through no fault of your own, to improve your circumstances. Most of us are not immediately disqualified from work by virtue of race, gender, physical affliction, or lack of education. Life may have been messed up, but not irretrievably so, and I think (though I can’t prove this) that it probably helps to believe one’s poverty to be temporary rather than permanent, simply because you’re more likely to succeed if you believe that you can…or, at least, you’re less likely to resent the effort it takes.
5) Don’t envy others. It will poison your entire life. Yes, this counts as financial planning! Good financial planning involves making sure that other people’s finances don’t become the idol before which you sacrifice your mental, emotional and spiritual freedom.
6) Don’t skimp on your friends. I don’t mean that every gift has to be a quill made of a tail of the Phoenix with a golden nib, but…just don’t skimp on your friends. There’s thrifty, and then there’s miserly, and money isn’t meant to be our god. We already have one, and He doesn’t care if we’re rich.