This is about my relationship with money. For some of us, talk about money, personal finances generally, or how we deal with money is more intimate than any discussion of sex. So. Here’s your trigger warning; this is me going on about money. You can stop right here, and not take another step, not read another word. I respect that. Take care of yourself. 🙂 Enjoy your Friday.

Sometimes basic self-care is really really basic.

Is how I handle money a matter of basic self-care? I suspect maybe it is… We’ve all been in that place, a bit tense with it, looking at a plan or a budget, looking at the resources available, measuring and cutting things to fit… feeling the relief in that moment when it is clear that there are resources, and also a plan, and that the one fits the other… with just enough left to be sure there is enough, at all (or those far more stressful times, when there just isn’t). It’s so easy to ride that wave of relief to a shore of imagined certainty and security. No one really wants to focus on one important detail that is a bit of a buzz kill; that plan has to be executed. There are verbs involved. Choices. Effort.

Hint: it isn’t the effort that is the tricky bit, generally, it’s the choices.

This morning I am looking at my budget. It’s a payday morning. I’ve got my coffee. It’s what I do. I don’t go anywhere or spend anything (nothing. at. all.) until I’ve reviewed the budget, the pay, the resources overall, my calendar (which handily includes all the recurring bills on the dates they hit my bank account, as well as things I want to do)(calendars are super cool right now, I hear, 😉 )… and I walk myself through the upcoming days and debts, making doubly sure that I can pay my bills, meet my obligations, and handle my commitments – before I spend a dime on anything that wasn’t already planned. I’d love to say this is as easy as it sounds. It isn’t. There’s quite a bit of work and practice involved.

I maintain this particular practice because “the money thing” is hard for me. Which part? Mostly matching the plan (budget) to the reality (choices, actions, deviations from the plan). I forget things kind of a lot. This is a particularly noteworthy risk because symptomatically, I also have some executive function impairments that hit me right in the impulse control. These things do not play well together in the finances. I enjoy living well*, and have modest resources – a lack of impulse control is a major impediment to good quality of life given limited resources. So. Each payday I sit down and review it all again. It’s a good time to reality-check my expectations. I sometimes find myself reconsidering future plans from this perspective, as I count off the bills against the budget, and note that perhaps I am over-extending myself (time or money).

This used to be one of the scariest things I “had to do” each payday. I tried to do it without having to be present, or think about it at all. Now it is routine, comfortable, and fairly encouraging to be able to see that I’m okay, or that some brief tough time in life is improving, or the less-than-ideal timing of some large expenditure is no longer a concern. I feel more “safe” with my life; I have clearer picture of what I can get done with my resources. I’m not averting my eyes. It doesn’t work that way, anyway.

Important observation; my choices these days are very different than they once were. If I don’t have the funds, I don’t do the things. Bills come first. “Fun stuff” and adventures are all down the list somewhere later, after quality of life needs are met. It’s not easy, and I’m not lecturing; when we don’t have enough resources in life, we make the choices that we think save us. We “do what we have to do” – as we understand it. (Often leading to poorer outcomes because we don’t necessarily choose wisely.) We don’t really have an easy time of holding collateral damage in our thoughts while we make the choices that cause it. We just don’t easily consider the “down stream effects” of our choices very well (thus the whole notion of effects that happen down stream of where we stand; because we have a fucking history of polluting our waterways that become someone else’s drinking water!), because considering those outcomes forces us to be willful and consciously deliberate about causing it. I don’t have any solutions, I’m just noting that, generally, we’ve got this limitation as creatures. I had to make profound changes in my thinking and behavior to more appropriately manage my finances, meet my obligations, and live an acceptably good quality of life. It’s sometimes still really hard to make the necessary choices. I’m not super human. I’m definitely not wealthy. I’m just practicing, and learning. It’s still hard. I still need practice. 🙂 That gets easier – and so worth it.

This is going to be one of those more difficult times, when the choices I make definitely affect my real-time experience and quality of life; I’m right on the edge of bouncing back from recently over-extending myself somewhat, right to the edge of my available resources. This is challenging; every choice in this pay period matters a great deal, and rather a bit more than any choices made in pay periods when I’m definitely in the black, with adequate resources to just go, and be, and do. Right now, each choice really matters and there can be no fucking about playfully or wastefully. I… am not good at this. 🙂 That’s why my bills are on autopay, (some are also paid a month in advance) and I keep a decent balance in my accounts, and don’t let things fall behind; I’m not as skilled at managing things check-to-check, and the ups and downs fuck with my emotional balance, which causes me stress, which fatigues me and messes with my sleep, which impairs my executive function further over time, which reduces my ability to make good choices, which causes me stress, which… Yeah. It’s a cycle. Breaking that cycle was a huge turning point for me. (Big props to my Traveling Partner for all the emotional support and coaching on managing my finances!) Treading too closely to getting back on that treadmill is fraught with risk, and very uncomfortable. Also kind of scary. Stress. The stress of it colors other things, and I have been feeling my anxiety trying to pull me back to a bad place.

It’s still ‘about’ contentment and sufficiency.

…Then, this morning, I sat down, quite routinely, with the budget, with the banking, and started going down the list, reviewing the calendar… and my stress dissipated. Limited resources are nothing new. The resources are always limited. Always. The time we have available to us is always limited. 100% of definitely always limited; we are mortal creatures. This life is not about a grind. It’s about an experience. A journey. I have limited resources, limited time, and still have so many things in life to enjoy, to attempt, to savor, to experience for the first time or again… planning is not about restrictions on any of that; planning lets me cram more life into that limited lifetime, and do so sufficiently skillfully to avoid exceeding my resources. It’s lets me “pace myself” so that self-care is handled as routine and high priority, too. It lets me identify and set priorities. The plan just has to connect to the lived reality – and that takes choices.

So many choices. I like saying “yes!” to life! Nonetheless, sometimes there’s got to be a “no” involved, now and then; those resources remain finite, limited, and don’t “stretch to fit” in any real sense. This is going to be a pay period more about saying “no” than about saying “yes”, and living the planning very closely. That’s just real. This morning? I’m not even upset or stressed by that. The “plan B” options look every bit as sufficient, practical, and enjoyable as plan A. There’s just no room for “yes!” levels of spontaneity in this one. That has to be okay, too. 🙂 That’s how it works.

I finish my coffee. It’s still quite early. Time to get started on the planned weekend ahead. There are some verbs involved; the choices are already made. 🙂 I only need to begin.

Each day dawns, entirely new, filled with potential and choices.

* Just a note about what I mean by “living well”; I mean living a quality of life that is sustainably comfortable, adequate, sufficient for my own needs, characterized generally by contentment, which allows me to pay my bills and also do things I enjoy without over-extending myself, or putting my future good quality of life at risk. I do not mean spending money lavishly on branded luxury goods, flashy brag-worthy baubles, or throwing cash around like candy corn at Halloween, or being a hard-balling big-spender. (With my resources, that’s not affordable, or sustainable, and with my temperament, it’s not desirable.)