We are so much better off than several years ago. So much better off. Sure, we added a couple of kids, a puppy, and a fully-dependent adult into our household, but we should be able to take all of that in stride. Right? Shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t I feel like a Richy McRicherson? At one point, when Sonya was a baby and I was in grad school, my husband said “if we could just make $50K a year, we would be set.” That goal post has, not surprisingly maybe, moved. Maybe onto an Olympic-sized field. I don’t know what that might mean, but the Olympics seem huge.
I wonder if anybody, at any income, doesn’t think about money every three seconds.
At any rate, we are much richer and feel only a little bit richer. Our debts have grown, bit by bit, surgery by home improvement by lawn mower, and it’s time to think about why I behave the way I do. I’ve come up with three obvious traps, I’m sure there are more:
- “We are making a lot more money, so we can afford X.” Which is true, in the singular. And not true, in the every-single-day-ar. “We are making a lot more money, so we can take the kids to Red Lobster” (their favorite, because of the lobsters at the front, just waiting to die. I…might need to invest in some (more) therapy). “We can afford a second car, because we finally have the salary for it.” “Picture day at school? Sure, why not get 25 5x7s that we will never take out of the envelope for $85? We have the money.” “Girl scout cookies? I’ll take two boxes from every kid who asks. I got a raise this year.”
- “I just saved X dollars, so that means I can spend it on Y.” Again, this makes sense. Viv stopped using diapers, that’s an extra $40 or $50 a month, so that money is in my budget again. But in my head, that money gets spent over and over and over again. “We can get snacks at the gas station, Viv stopped wearing diapers.” “Girl scout cookies? Sure, I’ll take 20 boxes, Viv stopped wearing diapers.” “I can definitely afford to get a new pair of running shoes, Viv’s out of diapers.” All in the same…week. The $40 savings gets re-used (this is the kind of recycling that’s bad) and becomes a $200 deficit.
- Not truly thinking about costs and benefits. The way dance works for Sonya is that she pays a base tuition, and then they also have to pay for competition entrance fees, extra practices, and costumes. If they are in one competition dance, it’s one costume, one competition fee. If seven then seven. The whole group does a huge number called “production,” which is something like 40 girls dancing together. It takes a ton of extra practice because it’s super easy for 40 girls to knock each other over on stage (extra money), it is an extra entrance fee for every competition (extra money), and an extra costume (extra money). The kicker, though, is that Sonya is one of the younger dancers, so she would be featured for something like 30 seconds, maybe. The rest of the time, she’s shoo-bopping in the background, and practices for her are a bunch of milling around, for the most part. She’s sad that I’ve said she can’t do it, but she can’t. I’ve fallen into this trap before. I’m happy (okay, not happy, but I’ll do it) to pay $50 extra a month for music lessons or gymnastics or basketball or all sorts of stuff, but I really need to think about whether the benefits are worth that $50. A lot of times, they are. Sometimes, they are not.
When we were making one small-ish salary, lots of options were simply off the table – not possible. When my husband got his first salaried job, our income doubled, and it felt like letting your belt out after Thanksgiving (ha! As if I wear anything but sweatpants to Thanksgiving). We could stop being so rigid about ever. goddamn. thing. But…we’ve kind of stopped being rigid about any goddamn thing along the way. This is something to work on.