Yesterday Erik and I went to Circuit City for a new radio and came out with Microsoft Money 2006 as well. Ying and Stale had recommended this program to us as a good quick way to get a reality check on our spending. So we bought the software for $29.99 and brought it home. I opened the package, popped the disk into my computer, and clicked “install.” Then it told me I already had a previous version installed. I did a quick check through My Computer and sure enough, Money 2004 was there in all its glory. I should have checked before we bought the program, but I had no idea! And now that we have opened the package on the 2006 version, I don’t know if the store will let us return it. As Andy remarked this morning when I told him, my first entry in the program should be “ARGH – $29.99.” This doesn’t seem like a very good omen for our money-managing!
In all seriousness, though, running the program (the old, already-installed version) has already given us quite a wake-up call on our finances. I’m not sure exactly when I started spending money like a well-established member of the upper-middle class, but that’s certainly what I do now. Clothes shopping, spa treatments, eating out, enthusiastic nesting, private Pilates sessions – these all add up, and they’ve added up much quicker than I let myself believe. After downloading our bank statements to Money, looking at the bar and pie charts of our spending (no surprise: eating out trumps all else as our biggest expense), and attempting to make a monthly budget based on what we think we should prudently be spending, I have come to one simple conclusion: I should just stop buying anything at all. Honestly, when I look at how much we spend compared to how much we ought to be spending, I really do feel like just throwing up my hands in frustration. How am I ever going to bring down my spending to the level it should be?
And yet that’s the even scarier part, that I need to ask myself such a question. What on earth does money buy that is so important to me that I feel I can’t possibly give it up? Do I really need to do Pilates with a personal trainer, eat out with friends, or store my papers in coordinated stacking plastic bins? Well no, of course. Exercise is free, cooking is cheap, and the papers can sit wherever they please. But I’ve become accustomed to having these nice things, and they’ve all made my life as I know it much pleasanter, more interesting, and better organized. The coordinated bins alone give me a deep sense of satisfaction each time I look at them, but then I’ve always been an organization freak. I’m not truly extravagant; I wouldn’t keep spending on these things if I didn’t honestly think they were worth it. Sure, I waste a bit of money here and there, but doesn’t everyone who’s got that extra bit to spare?
But the realization that I’ve become so dependent on these material things (or services) has been disturbing me no little bit. I’m a graduate student in history, for Pete’s sake. Why exactly do I feel the need to live like a well-kept yuppie housewife? (I do have a theory that I spend more when I’m unhappy, since contentment is cheap and assuaging feelings of insecurity with material goods isn’t — which might explain why my spending went up as soon as I started grad school — but that’s a story for another day.) I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize that my present way of life is not sustainable for the income I can reasonably expect to earn. Somehow or other, I’m going to have to cut back and shape up, or in a few years’ time we’re going to be looking at some even more serious problems than what Money 2004 showed us yesterday evening.
Can it be any coincidence that the more I write, the more I read? This week I’ve finally managed to break my usual vacation habit of reading only my old favorites, generally Agatha Christie mysteries and well-loved children’s books. Today I finished Fannie Flagg’s Daisy Fay and the Mystery Man, whose first chapter I dismissed as trying-too-hard silly but which I loved by the time I got to the end, and now I’m halfway through The Hound of the Baskervilles, my first Sherlock Holmes ever. I think the trick to getting myself to read something new is to keep reading first sentences, book after book, until I find the one that just sounds perfect to me at the moment. Fortunately, I’ve amassed enough unread novels by now to make this task a breeze; I’ve practically got a lending library’s worth of summer reading just on my top two shelves. I hope that by the time the summer has finished, I’ll have made my way through at least one of those shelves!
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]