Money


The other day I was struck with the most incredible feelings of sadness.  I just felt dead-eyed and uninterested in anything.  There wasn’t any major crises going on.   So I had to really dig in to think of what might be bugging me. 

It finally came to me that I’ve been having nasty thoughts about taking the summer off.  Taking the summer off has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  What a wacko hey?  Welcome to my world.  I always think that i can’t be *that* Type A because there are always people who push harder than i do.  I  can’t be a real Type A because i’m happy to take a vacation, I’m happy to kick back with a glass of wine.  But i think I need to accept the fact that I, Corilee, am pretty darn Type A.  And taking the summer off is hard.

When I dug into what was going through my head, it went like this.  Every time i did something i enjoyed I’d think – yeah i won’t be able to do *that* when i’m working.  And when something happening that I didn’t enjoy, I’d think, god how long will I be dealing with *that* instead of escaping to a glorious job?  In other words,  I may be out of work forever, blah blah blah, who’ll hire me, nasty negative thought, blah.   I’d locked myself into a spot between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  Whatever it was, good or bad, it totally sucked.  No wonder I felt depressed.

The crazy thing is, I wasn’t fully aware of these thoughts but they were bumming me right out.  Especially the oh-woe-is-me stuff about getting a job.  Who was it that wrote about our Big Self and our Small Self?  My Big Self is the one that is fully rested, grown up, trusts the Universe and absolutely believes that the right job will come around with my name on.  And I believe it for everyone, not just me.  If you seek, throwing your little resume out to the wind, you will darn well find the job with your name on it.

So where was this Small Self thinking coming from?  The wheedling little smarmy fearful voice with the garbage mouth that makes me feel bad?

My Mom gave me a two year old Oprah magazine (gotta love Oprah Mag, they just don’t age like the others) and there’s an Eckhart Tolle interview in the back.  He says that becoming aware of your negative obsessive thoughts is your first step to stop identifying with them.

And yes, as soon as I was fully aware of these nasty job hunting thoughts I went, ewwwwww, like I’d found a dead mouse in my bathtub.  I don’t want that going through my head, I don’t want them anywhere near me! 

I was blown away about how easy it was to unconsciously think my thoughts.  How “natural” they felt just because I’m uncomfortable with the uncertainty around my employment future.

So now I’ve been lying in wait for these thoughts.  When I wake up from the most awesome nap or have a good walk with my baby I used to think – this will be tough to do when I get a job.  Now I think – I will find time for the important things when I’m working.  Let’s just enjoy it, wow I have the summer off, how amazing is this?  I’ll remember this fondly when it’s February and snowing and I’m at a desk grinding out some task.

Tolle says in the Oprah interview that you’re never more yourself than when you’re still.  Who you really are is in that space between the thoughts.  If you can find the stillness, find your breath, let the stream of obsessive thoughts go, then you’ll find that sweet spot.  Relax into that space. 

He says, that’s where the peace and joy is.  Those qualities that are already inside us – not waiting for the perfect experience out there.  They’re not waiting for us to accumulate that next cool thing.  Or find the sexy job.  It’s right here in the present, between the fearful thoughts about the future and the regretful thoughts about the past.

And I’m taking that a step further.  Who I really am is also in the space between jobs.  Often I’ve felt very defined by what I do, which I know is silly but there it is.  This summer is an opportunity to look at who I am without my functions and skills being defined by someone else. 

So, what are my creative urges like when there’s no creative  job outlet?  What are my needs around being with people when I don’t work intensely with folks day in and day out?  What’s my energy like when I can  completely define the activities of my day? Maybe this summer is a useful experiment.

Tolle says that you can use anything for a reminder to bring a conscious presence to your everyday life.  It reminded me of something Frank Jude Boccio, Mindfulness Yoga guy, said.  He moved to a place where he could hear the trains run regularly.  Initially he thought it might be annoying.  Then he decided to use it as his Mindfulness Bell like the Zen monks do.  So whenever he heard the train, he would stop whatever he was doing and take 3 conscious breaths.  Tolle suggests we use everyday stuff, washing our hands, having a glass of water to remind us to check in and get conscious again.

Tolle says that we’re always obsessing about our problems.  He likes to ask – what problem do you have at this moment?   And he’s right.  If I considered my jobless state a problem (which i don’t like to do but let’s say for example sake) am I really experiencing this Problem while I make coffee?  Read the paper?  Feed Leo banana chunks and hear him go MAMAMAMA!! when he’s ready for more? (btw that’s baby for “Yo!  Bitch!  Need more banana chunks ovah heah!” Yes Leo is s stevedore from Joisey some days) .

No there’s no problem.  Any problem is more about what my mind has concluded about the circumstances around me than anything about what I experience moment to moment.  It’s about my thoughts.  And I can be aware of them, and come up with better ones.  You know, so they can stop bumming me out.

Money is a good example too.  I know a few households these days that have money issues, like less coming in than they need, for whatever reason.  Like us. But it’s really interesting to see how people deal with it.  Some don’t even seem to see it as a Problem.  It’s like, well yeah we’re depending on the line of credit these days.  But whatever. 

Whereas other folks don’t seem to be as relaxed about it.  They buy something they consider a necessity but feel guilty about it.  They feel stressed, they feel helpless. I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to relate to the size of anyone’s debt, it’s all about how they think and feel about it.

So I”ll continue sorting out the “problem” of taking the summer off by seeing how many beaches and farmers markets I can visit over the summer.  I think I’ll also make jam for the first time in a million years.  Maybe ginger peach the minute I see local peaches in the store.  Take my kids on a couple of day trips.  Deal with this “problem” the best way a Type A person like me can.

We saw our Money Guy last week which was mostly depressing because there’s not a lot to talk about these days.  He suggested that when i’m back to work we should figure out a real retirement plan for us.  He said, you know, like decide what age you would like to retire and we can figure out a plan around that.

Boy that inspired some deep thinking.  Because the first thing i thought, like probably everyone does, is that i want to say “take this job and shove it”, retire early and take those month-long trips to exotic destinations.  But I also have an infant in the house which means realistically I’m on the Freedom 95 plan. 

Honeybunny asked me, can you retire when you still have kids in the house?  I’m like, I dunno, what do growing boys need besides lots of food and a bedroom?  It’s conceivable that if they go to university in Halifax they could live at home.  And I’d love to help them out that way but maybe I would need a job just to cover the Costco food bills.  I can’t think that far in advance.  I can’t imagine Leo forming words yet, let alone studying Anthropology.

And then I think about work and I know I’ve been away from it for  a while on maternity leave, and heck maybe that gives me perspective, but I kind of like it.  I’ve always enjoyed what I do.  Sure there are nutty days and crazier managers and intense situations but isn’t that life?  If I found the ideal retirement cottage on the beach thinking I’d just ridded myself of crazy managers forever, wouldn’t I just discover that my new neighbour is as crazy as a bag of hammers?  That’d be just like life right?  You never avoid the crazies forever, you think this is a free ride

The other questions I ask myself are – am i healthy at 65? Am i doing a job i love? Can i follow my interests like i would in retirement? Does my job allow me flexibility to travel? Maybe not the exotic month-long trips, but what about a well-planned 2 week trip, would that be enough?  If yes to all those, why rush to retire early?

And I look at my family.  My Grandma Fox for example, was a hard-working woman.  She did her part to run the farm when my Dad and his 5 brothers were growing up because there was no shortage of work before handy things like electricity.  She had her own business after the kids left home, she ran a diner in a small town in BC.  Then she went to Vancouver and became a practical nurse, worked for years at the Vancouver General.  Then at 65 they told her to retire and she wasn’t ready.  So she used her nursing skills and worked night shift at a Seniors home near Granville Island. 

She didn’t have a touchy-feely bone in her body and we used to laugh at her stories of helping the seniors get up in the morning before her shift finished.  If someone didn’t want to get out of bed because they were feeling lousy or depressed she’d say, Get outta bed!  No one cares that you’re feeling sorry for yourself, get up!  That wasn’t the funny thing, the funny thing was that these folks were usually 10 years younger than she was.  She worked there until she was 75 and then they told her to retire.  At 80 she took up painting because she was bored.  She lived to be 94.

And just to remind me that Grandma Fox is not an anomaly, my Dad is in his early 70s and is also still working.  He stopped for a while after his first retirement but now he’s on his 4th or 5th career.  And guess what, he mostly works night shifts.  The best part about his job is that it funds month-long exotic journeys.   He and Mom have been to places I haven’t even gotten interested in visiting, yet.

So maybe I don’t get to choose to retire.  Maybe it’s in my genes to keep working until they kick me out.  Maybe my boys will be able to live at home and enjoy huge Costco-provided meals until they have their PhDs.  I’ll warn them that their mission is to find the perfect job they can do until they’re 75.  And to feel free to change careers until they do.  And better yet, it should be something they enjoy doing at night.

So I’ll tell my Money Guy that we don’t need to make retirement plans.  I’ll be too busy working.

I’ve been thinking more about finances since writing  this post and I even read a money book too.  I’ve been self-reflective about money since I’m on maternity leave and not making a real pay cheque.  I’m thinking back to how I was living when I was blissfully unaware of any existence other than having money dumped into my account every two weeks. Lately I’ve been thinking back to my history with money since I started working for the Man. 

I lived slightly beyond my means for a long long time.  There was always a balance on my credit card, sometimes a big one, sometimes less, but that interest just kept being piled on.  It was HoneyBunny, who’s much better with money than I am, who challenged me to get rid of it once and for all.  And I knew it made sense number-wise to not carry a balance but I didn’t realize how it would make me feel.   I liked buying stuff and I didn’t like the thought of  “depriving” myself of all the awesome things I “deserved” and figured that that justified the debt.

But you know how the skinny chicks say that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”?  Well the money version is that “nothing you can buy feels as good as debt-free feels”.  It was like a load came off my shoulders I didn’t even know I was carrying.  I hadn’t realized that credit card debt was one more thing to feel responsible for.  It was something that needed to be done,  and feel a little bad about.  But I paid it off and the tension was just gone. 

And I saw clearly all those times I bought something and thought it was amazing and then by the time the credit card bill came in and I didn’t have the money to cover the purchase I wondered why I bought it at all because I didn’t think it was so amazing anymore.  And felt lousy because I couldn’t pay my bills.  I was the queen of consumer and debt remorse. 

So after being debt-free for a while I realized that I got a perverse pleasure in *never* giving the credit card company money for interest.  Sure, they still got their annual fee, and it’s a good one because I collect travel points, but never any money for interest.  Take that Royal Bank!

The biggest change I made was putting a stop to impulse purchases.  I worked across the street from a mall at the time and I’d go there when I had time to kill or just needed to wander at lunch.  It’s funny how the simplest money strategy is to find something else to do than shop.  Because  I would inevitably find things I’d want and I’d get excited.  The case of the gimme’s would be overpowering and I couldn’t whip my credit card out fast enough.  So I stopped. 

I decided that even if it meant taking a special trip back to a store the next day I would put 24 hour mental hold on whatever I was yearning for.  And I discovered that most of the time  the next day rolled around and I didn’t even remember that gotta-have-it potential purchase.  It couldn’t have been that great right? That one strategy saved me so much money and also kept my closet from over-flowing. 

But I’ve realized that since becoming debt-free I plateaued and stopped trying to improve my financial situation even more.

The money book I read was one by Dave Ramsey and he features people in the book who have a household income of  say,$45,000 who pay off mountains of debt, some of them twice their income.  I was reading and wondering how they do that.  Well, in small increments over a long period of time with incredible focus and persistence, that’s probably how.   *So* impressive.

He lays out his suggestions for financial wellbeing, paying off debt, building the security fund of 3-6 months of expenses because life happens, the college fund for the kids, the insurance, not necessarily in that order.  And HB and I are generally good on all that stuff, we pretend to be responsible.  The security fund is gone right now  because I’m on maternity leave but it’s been put to good use and we’ll build it up again when I get back to work.  Having a security fund is another thing that makes me feel really good. 

So Ramsey’s next step after all that is paying off the mortgage and then the step after that is having buckets of money around that you can give away and have fun with yourself.  That sounds like a place I want to get too.  But I realize I’ve gotten stuck about the mortgage.  I have been ok with frittering away small amounts of money because as long as I have it and I’m debt-free and have money in the bank, why not.  I “deserve it”. 

In other words I’m right back to justifying my purchases the way I did when I had credit card debt.  But come on,  if I know how good being debt-free feels I can only imagine how good being mortgage-free would feel.  Like 10 times better or something right?  Can you imagine actually owning your whole house and saying “nyah nyah nyah” to your bank?  Wow.  Financial Nirvana.

But the trap I get stuck in is thinking that the mortgage is too big.  I mean, it’s not big for a city mortgage, but it’s a good chunk of money.  So I figure, why bother.  Buy a t-shirt instead, it woudn’t make any difference anyways.  But logically I know that any amount of money I put on the mortgage goes right on the premium which means the bank can *never* charge me interest on it ever again.  It’s another chunk of my house I own.  Sure, a small chunk, but better mine than theirs.  Regular mortgage payments are always a mix of premium and interest, quite a bit more interest for the first decade or so.  Have you looked at those charts of how it breaks down?  They’re very good for the bank, not so much for us.  So putting extra money on, no matter how small is really powerful.

So I ask myself, why is paying my mortgage any different than what the amazing people in Ramsey’s book do who doggedly pay down huge debt over years?  I’ve been operating on the belief that debt is bad but mortgages are a fact of life, so who cares.  I guess I want to start to care.  It’s my new goal.  I read somewhere that 95% of people never put extra money down during the life of their mortgage.  So it seems I’m not the only one who has seen their mortgage as something they live with – forever.  But I want to change that.  So that one day - it won’t be soon and that’s ok - I can experience financial nirvana.