Yesterday I had to choose; a really cute floor cushion that is ‘just the right thing’ and a lovely set of high thread count king size sheets that suit my color theme quite perfectly… or not buying those things right now, at risk of having to pass on them all together – they are on sale, and not regularly available in any case. It’s a difficult choice, and I fight myself; I have a budget, and financial goals – one of which is buying myself a little home of my own, which, however small the home itself may be, is by far the largest budget impacting goal I can imagine for myself in this lifetime. Buying a set of sheets, itself, holds no potential as an individual purchase to derail my longer term goals…only…things like that are so rarely really individual purchases. I don’t mean that they are reliably associated with the purchase of additional (or impulse) items – I’ve gotten pretty decent at staying on budget and resisting those temptations – it’s that they seem small and insignificant in the moment, but annualized they end up amounting to a larger sum than easily predicted – because they are not entirely, fully, 100% planned.  “Needed but not planned” is a category of expenses I have yet to fully master.

I’ve come a long way with learning to handle my finances with some measure of skill – my TBI being what it is, I also rely on a fiduciary caregiver – someone whose role in my life is to assist me with managing my money, through budget assistance, financial planning, coaching, reminders, regular activity monitoring and regular reviews of progress to goals. (I have been financially abused in prior relationships often enough to be uncomfortably aware how much I need the help – and how risky even the help has the potential to be; it’s scary sometimes.) I still have challenges – and most of my day-to-day challenges with managing my money fall in the “needed but not planned” category. It has been the threat of potentially facing old-age destitute that forced me to consider having help with the money piece of my puzzle, and so far it has been a very wise decision.

Yesterday on my lunch walk I wandered through a nearby retailer filled the with joy that the sense of the recent payday tends to provide me. I spotted the cute cushion – and it is so perfect – and oh hey, those sheets are just the right color! I resisted the impulse purchase (hey! go practicing!) and assured myself that I could easily walk back after work and buy those then. I got back to my desk some time later and checked my budget and my bank account – which has become a habit, a regular practice, when I consider any unplanned expenditure. I expected to feel that satisfying feeling of confidence and self-assurance that comes of managing my affairs so skillfully these days…and…oh. Wait…what?? My balance was lower than I expected (not low, just lower), and I felt crushed for a moment, and deeply disappointed with myself. What had I done ‘wrong’? I emailed my traveling partner, agitated and stressed out by my findings, and feeling worried and somewhat frantic. He called me back with gentle reminders that goals are ahead of me, progress is incremental, and that everything is okay. Reassured I moved on with my day.

Heading home, I felt the pull of that cushion and those sheets… the urge to walk that way, look at, and touch those things was very powerful. I also know so much more about how my injury works, and why there have been so many times in my life when I would literally be checking out at the register paying for things I could not realistically afford, all the while negotiating with myself, trying to talk myself out of it…until I was at the exit, at which point I would switch to trying to justify the mistake I had so obviously just made. Disinhibiting injury. Loss of executive function. Not a game – and holding so much potential to destroy my future. 😦

The only thing in life that's all about the money is the money itself.

The only thing in life that’s all about the money is the money itself.

Yesterday, the power of incremental change over time, and practicing the practices, made itself clear; I kept heading for home, thinking about the cushion and the sheets, and the purchase I am not making now – but may make later. I get home, and add those things to my list of ‘things to have maybe’ (I generally  use my Amazon wish list for that purpose), which I consider each payday with great care, and an eye on the future. “Needed but not planned” is restricted, these days, to things like grocery essentials, and toilet paper – stuff that just can’t wait if I have run out, truly legitimate needs. Everything else goes to plan. This is what works for me, day-to-day. [You are not me; your results, and your best practices, may vary.] Any time I recklessly stray from that practice, I end up facing some moment of fearfulness and panic – or regret – when my budget and financial planning suddenly don’t add up. (That’s what caused me to be taken by surprise regarding my account balance yesterday; a reasonable, affordable – but not planned – purchase, made on the recommendation of my traveling partner, definitely affordable – still, not planned – and I had failed to account for it over the following days of other spending that had been quite planned… but not adjusted to account for the unplanned expenditure.)

I’m not good at skillful self-indulgence. I get easily carried away and take things too far, spend too much, lose sight of my longer term more important [to me] goals. I’m not good at managing panic and regret, either. The extremes of too much and too little mess with my head (thus the ongoing emphasis on sufficiency, contentment and ‘enough’). Attempting to practice austerity or extreme frugality to balance poorly planned spending, or reckless over spending don’t work very well for me, either; I react to the emotional sense of deprivation, privation, and ‘you can’t have that’ and find myself acting out against those feelings before I take time to remind myself that “I’m in charge around here, and I did this to me” – I would call it childish, but truly it is simply part of living with the combined challenges of my PTSD and my TBI. Struggling to work around the damaged bits isn’t ‘childish’ – it’s just complicated sometimes. I am very human. I have grown so much, though! I am actually frankly delighted with myself this morning, even joyously celebrating the small win that is not buying that perfectly cute cushion and that exactly right set of sheets – it’s a far bigger deal that I managed it so comfortably, than I know how to share. This morning I can see a future where I may not be destitute, living in poverty, homeless, abandoned, broken, and finished off by inevitable starvation or disease! Wow. Win and good. 🙂

When I consider money from the perspective that it is the spendable form of my very life force, I understand more easily what value it has, and find it easier to respect the needed planning and careful decision-making required for a comfortable lifetime.

When I consider money from the perspective that it is the spendable form of my very life force, I understand more easily what value it has, and find it easier to respect the needed planning and careful decision-making required for a comfortable lifetime.

My lack of skill at long-term austerity, if required, or basic day-to-day frugality when resources are limited drives continuous practice of those practices that seem most effective for me – and most of those have to do with planning, and capitalizing on the fact that I am good at planning, enjoy the planning, and leverage the planning for the joy of anticipation – which is quite as exciting and nice as the joy of spending right now, for me. Relying on my ability to plan, and follow a plan, not only gives me great delight in minutes and hours of happy anticipation and eagerness – those feelings give me opportunities to practice day-to-day resolve to stay on  plan (yep, reinforcing feedback loop for the win!) and give me a window of opportunity to carefully reconsider what I really want and need in my life – often things that are exciting in the moment (like a really super cute cushion, or just the right set of sheets) may lose their luster over a few days of consideration. I remove things from my wish list regularly, happier that I didn’t make the purchase, at that point, that I would have been to enjoy the item if I had bought it. It is rare to actually feel regretful over things I did not purchase – in fact, that generally only comes up with things like art, where a piece is one of a kind, never to be duplicated; in those cases the sting of regret is unavoidable, and may last a lifetime, for me. It is what it is; in some cases I will never have the funds to afford some piece I yearn to see in my home – in a roundabout way it is an element of what drove me to become an artist, myself. 🙂

Today is a good day to remember that resources are limited, and to plan accordingly.

Today is a good day to remember that resources are limited, and to plan accordingly.

Funny…so many words this morning, and really just to say ‘practicing the practices is effective’ and ‘incremental change over time does happen’ – and of course, ‘choosing the most appropriate practices is a pretty big deal’ and finishing it off with ‘your results may vary’ – because of course, ‘we are each having our own experience’. 😀