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tales of something simple - finances

i believe

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

all types of chaos

oprah's debt diet and why it makes me laugh

My Geegie and I were on the phone the other day and she says something to the effect of “I was watching Oprah and you should hear about this Debt Diet she talks about, it’s really amazing.  Maybe you could get some ideas.”

This made me laugh and get sarcastic.  I said “When you don’t have any money at all, aren’t I already on the diet.”  Shit, I’m anorexic by now!

Oprah maintains and even earns additional millions of viewers by putting people on TV who spend beyond their means, live above their means and then give a certain number of “luxuries” up in order to get out of debt.  Well, we wouldn’t be in this situation if we lived within our means to begin with, would we?

I no longer believe in having things, buying things (admiring from afar is allowed) that I cannot afford.  We used to have an abundance of credit cards and while at one point the balances were tolerable to my already acidic stomach, they took us to a point in our life where we resented everything it helped us buy (except of course, when we were so poor it bought toilet paper and groceries because our bank account was zero).  I’m not saying that credit cards are a bad thing by any means–how we use them can be very bad.  Not paying off the balance every month, or not having a reasonable plan to pay the balance off within a certain time frame is bad.  It’s one thing if you buy a TV on a credit card because you have  a 0% APR promo and have all intentions of getting it paid off in 6 months and you can actually do so.  It’s another thing if you buy a TV on a credit card simply because you couldn’t afford a new one any other way and don’t have anywhere near the funds to pay in cash even if you wanted to.  Duh, this should tell you something.

The reason the Debt Diet makes me laugh is because diets are fads and phases.  Diets are mean, not any fun and only last until you reach your goal.  Problem?  What happens when your debt is back to zero?  Does this mean you go back to your old patterns of spending?  Well if you are only dieting, then yes.  Instead, Brian and I made lifestyle changes that will hopefully last with us forever.  We don’t buy in bulk unless it makes sense–TP and Paper towels till we die isn’t an economical way of spending $30 at BJ’s.  Shampoo on sale?  Great…buy 1, not 10.  Produce great prices at the market this week?  Buy what we can eat, because the rest will go bad and then I might as well have flushed green bills down the toilet.  Cell phone plan too high?  Get rid of the data package if work won’t reimburse it–I don’t need facebook at my fingertips 24/7 and work e-mail can wait, particularly if I’m not being paid to check it.  If your electricity company has budget billing, enroll.  Turn off lights when you don’t need them, put your TV on a timer in case you fall asleep and eat what you buy.

Also, don’t carry cash.  When we use the debit card we know what we are spending, where and why because we balance our account in Quicken.  Cash is too easy to fork over and at the end of the day, when you are $40 poorer, you have no idea where you went, why or what you got from spending it.  I feel a lot worse about my spending when Mr. Quicken’s colorful pie chart increases in the “dining out” section for the month than if I had paid cash, thrown it away and had no idea what I was actually spending my money on.

We work really hard for our money and the sense of pride I have when I am not only able to pay all of our bills (NOT credit card balances) and have a little something left over to get Pizza on a Friday night or a cup of coffee on my way to work, then I am doing something right.  There is a difference between doing without and going without.  We don’t go without–we eat, we have gas in our cars, the dogs have food.  But we do without: we don’t always buy our clothes new  (Good Will and Salvation Army are our friends), we eat out only once in awhile, we plan for events or nights where we budget to go to the movies or out with friends and don’t agree to go on a whim (mostly because we can’t).  I’d love new sheets, Starbucks Frappachino’s in bulk, a hair cut and highlights every 6 weeks, a new bathing suit, a new camera, a new phone, flowers to plant outside, a new iPod, running shoes, some new work outfits, paint for our bedroom. But I don’t need to do any of those things and there is a difference between wanting something and actually needing it to live healthily and fully on a day to day basis.  Our definition of what makes us happy is no longer in stuff.

And that my friends is no diet.  It’s a freakin’ lifelong famine.

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