What I’ve Learned from Being Perpetually Bad with Money

I started this year with $11.20 in my bank account, my credit cards maxed out and having just closed my only savings account because I needed its $120 balance to get by. My resolution for the New Year was to stick to my budget in order to end the year in better financial balance. Well, we’re sailing into the end of this year at a pretty quick quip here and every spreadsheet, online ledger and budget management app—trust me, I’ve tried every tool out there—tells me that resolution has, frankly, been a big fat failure.

I’ve really never been great with my money. And it’s sadly not one of those things I can blame on my parents. All of my siblings seem to have arrived into adulthood possessing an ability to budget and save that I never learned. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relatively responsible, I always, always pay every single bill on or before its due date, I fill my tank with gas, buy healthy groceries and manage to buy birthday and Christmas presents for loved ones. It’s just that I don’t seem to have any knack for planning for the future, even when the future we’re talking about is next week.

I max out my credit cards on vacation because I didn’t stash away any spare cash for the trip. I spend $150 on miscellaneous health & beauty products, clothes I don’t need and candles at Target once a month, even when I know good and well I should put that spare $150 toward the previously mentioned credit card balance or, say, in a savings account. I get annual lectures from my tax accountant about how every moment I spend not starting a 401K is a moment closer to my doomed golden years as a homeless cat lady.

I don’t feel good about any of this. The guilt of it nags at me all the time. I constantly, desperately, try to change. And the stress is never-ending; it’s all fun and games until someone has a bank balance of $3.59, am I right?

I’m currently up against yet another financial wall where I have nothing to spare and nothing to borrow and, so, I’ve started thinking a lot about why I spend the way I spend in the hope that understanding the psychology behind my perpetual broke-ness will help me learn to stick to a budget already.

I’ve had a couple lonely weekends lately. People have been out of town, and, let’s be honest, my introvert-ness has kind of pushed a lot people away lately and, well, I’ve been too broke to seek out friends anyway. On a recent past weekend, I was bored and a little depressed from the loneliness. I thought about driving to Target, about treating myself to lunch or buying a nice bottle of wine and how those things would fill the time. I couldn’t do any of it, though, because I currently have no money and I quickly realized how often I do things that involve me carelessly spending money to help myself feel less sad or less alone.

Similarly, I’ve been known to splurge in celebration of a big event or even a small accomplishment, temporarily losing track of my sensibility and throwing $50 down on brunch or a new sweater with no regard for the budget I carefully planned out a week ago.

So there you have it. I’m not really sure how to fix it quite yet. But I do feel like I’m on the right track with starting to understand why I spend the way I spend. And I’m really, really hopeful that that’s the right track to finding my way to fixing it.

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