Wednesday, July 16, 2003

God Give Me Strength

... unless, of course, God chooses to give me a big buttload of money, and then I wouldn't need the strength. But as far as I can discern, God does not concern Himself with such prosaic stupidities as money (or preventing people from death and illness or the will of others). But He does give us strength to get through budget crises without flipping out, so that's what I'm praying for.

As I detailed in the previous post, my finances have gotten into a bit of a tangle. I've had to borrow money from Grandmother and have been scraping by this week on tips from the last drag show, something I haven't had to do in a long time... I was even considering taking that big jar of change off my dresser down to a Coinstar machine and cashing it in just so I could get my nails done. I've considered peddling some of my less-favored jewels (as well as maybe some unloved CDs and forgotten objets d'art) at eBay, whence they often came, in order to raise a bit of scratch for getting Miss Jane's scratches fixed up.

This is simply The Panic talking... and fortunately, God has so far granted me enough strength to not act on The Panic and do anything I might regret. I know that there's no need to panic, that I have enough to make it to payday, at which time I can distribute the infusion of direct-deposited funds among my en crise accounts. No need to start bailing, there isn't any water in the boat.

Instead, I did something almost unheard of in my life of frivolity and flutter: I sat down and made out a Budget — I opened Excel, put my minimum monthly income at the top, wrote my regular monthly bills under it, and then inserted such prudent mundanities as paying down my credit card to zero balance in six months and building up my savings account in case of medical or dental emergencies.

This almost led to another Panic, since the amount left over at the end was a paltry $300 a month for discretionary spending on such unnecessaries as clothes, jewelry, gasoline, porn, lunching and dining out, movies, books, magazines, and makeup. I usually spend about three or four times that amount, according to my Income/Expense reports in Quicken. But still, I have to remember that three hundred dollars is still a tidy sum of money, and if I'm careful it should be enough. I just have to curb a few of my less thrifty habits.

Such as, when I run out of clean underwear, I can't just go buy some more. Like when I suddenly can't stand the outfit I'm wearing, I can't stop at the nearest Gap and buy a new outfit on my way to wherever I am going. Like no more buying everything Suzanne Somers ever made that fits me and I don't already own. No more buying things when I'm a little depressed and need a lift. No more buying things just because they're there.

I am also going to have to endure economies that require efforts on my part, besides just resisting temptation: bringing food to the office from home instead of buying my lunch and snacks every day; bringing bottled water from home, and/or refilling them from the tap, instead of plunking down $2 every time I go to the gym; looking for unmetered free parking whenever I can, and not going any farther than necessary to get there, avoiding going places across toll-bridges, and not taking trips to places where I am liable to succumb to temptation and spend money.

When I look at it that way, it's nearly unbearable. PANIC PANIC PANIC!!! But it's just for six months, just until I get my credit-card paid down. And there is always the possibility of changing it later on, if it proves too difficult: I based my budget on minimum monthly income rather than average, and there are months that have three paydays in them; I can take longer to pay down my credit-card if necessary; and I can maybe sell some of my stuff if need be.

The nub of it all is, I think, adult prudence. And there's something about becoming a prudent adult instead of a frivolous child that terrifies me. It's seems so much like getting old.

On the other hand, I'm trying to look at my budget strictures the same way I look at my diet: I have a specific goal I want to achieve, and I know what pleasures I must sacrifice in order to gain that goal. Just as I want to have a healthy and attractive body, and therefore must become mindful and prudent about what I eat and diligent about exercise, if I want to have good credit and minimal debt I have to become mindful and prudent about my spending and diligent about my saving.

Still, God (or anybody else who is able), if you see fit to drop a load of cash into my bank account, I would be entirely grateful. Surprised, certainly, but grateful. I mean, I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn how to handle money wisely, but I would also be grateful to forgo that lesson entirely. Either way. I leave it to You.

In the meantime, I will be over here in the corner pondering whether or not my manicure maintenance is important enough to become a line-item on the budget.

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