By HEATHER E. SCHWARTZ
As I write my last column for Parent Pages and look back, I realize I’ve learned a lot on this leg of my … what shall we call it? A financial fitness journey? I’m not loving it, but in any case, I hope by sharing my experiences, I’ve helped other people, too. To sum up, I offer these 12 lessons I like to think of as statements of fact, meaning please take them as free and clear of judgement.
Kids are expensive. Whether you’re shelling out for a new pair of boots, saving for a future college education, or buying yet another Lego set because you’re too tired to say “no” (and it’s Target), kids are going to cost you.
Life will get in the way of earning money. Like, for instance, when you have a baby and decide to stay home with him for the next 15 years or so. Sometimes we choose, other times decisions are made for us. Either way, every phase of life isn’t meant for major money making.
A budget only works if you stick to it. Yup.
Credit cards like realistic movie villains. You may hate them for their high interest rates. But they’re not all bad. Credit cards can get you stuff and buy you time, too.
Clutter can be costly — or it can bring in bucks. I can’t be the only person who’s ever bought a pair of slippers only to discover I already own a duplicate. Well, at least one set can go to the consignment store.
Chipping away at debt means exactly that. Debt takes time to grow and time to shrink. Just like a weight loss journey, the growing time is fun and the shrinking time is slow and sloth-like. So, now we know.
A budget only works if it includes enough money to cover your expenses. Yes. That, too.
There isn’t just one solution. And that’s not bad news. Because the truth is, there are many.
A fluctuating income can be managed. When money comes in, try not to spend it all in one day on bills and whatnot (my old system). If at all possible, make it last by doling it out to yourself as a salary (my new system).
Overspending happens. Because sometimes the cat gets sick and has to go to the vet or you need a new muffler or you see something shiny. Try your best not to go overboard. And then when you do, try again.
Life will make room for earning money, too. The toddler needing your attention every second of every day is eventually going to grow up and get his own life. If you can’t seem to find more time for money making right now, just wait.
Nobody’s perfect. When I started writing this column, I felt such shame about my debt. I chose to open up about it for a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted to share ideas and help others in a similar predicament. That said, one of the most critical lessons I’ve accepted this past year is that getting financial problems under control is a process. You don’t have to do it perfectly, and you definitely shouldn’t wait until it’s all resolved to let go of your shame. It’s a lot easier to make positive changes and work a plan when you’re not constantly berating yourself for past (or present) mistakes.
I embarked on this project because I’m a writer and improviser, and I’ve been exploring different ways to grow as an artist. When artists allow themselves to be seen and vulnerable, they help us feel validated, less alone. I’m learning how to do that in my work, and this column has been an enormously valuable experience for me.
So thank you for reading and taking in any helpful tips I may have offered to whip your money problems into shape. But thank you especially for reading about my financial failures. It felt surprisingly good to let them be seen. Turns out imperfection isn’t so shameful after all.