When I was in college, living low and stringing together a bunch of part-time jobs, as long as I had enough extra money in my pocket for a tank of gas or an all-you-can-eat happy hour, I was content.
When I was working full-time at Paramount, my pay went up, but of course so did my expenses. That was about the time I started socking money away, knowing that the whole kid issue was about to raise its expensive head. As long as I could take part of my paycheck - no matter how small - and put it in a savings account, I was okay.
When I was a stay-at-home mom and going back to the days of stringing together jobs for a little extra money to supplement the FX's freelance income, as long as I could pay most of the bills each month, I was alright. Those were the years of paying bills on alternate months, so that everything was always a month behind, but not far enough that they'd turn you off. Those were the years of buying food with credit cards and making minimum payments on the balance. Those were the years that the only entertainment we could afford was putting the baby in the stroller and walking for eight hours.
Those were the years that formed money personality I am now.
Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that I grew up with money. I lived with my mom and my step-dad and we were pretty darn comfortable. There were lean years for quite a while when we first moved to California, but by the time I was a teenager and had bought a clue as to what was going on, we were looking good. My step-father was a touring musician making an excellent income, and my mom had a very successful business of her own. My father was, to be perfectly blunt about it, a very rich man, handing out hundred dollar bills like candy. (Given the choice of spending time with his children or throwing money their way, he chose the money. A hundred times out of a hundred). I lacked for nothing money-wise when I was a teenager,and in the typical way of teenagers, didn't even realize how good I had it.
But. You knew there was going to be a but in here, didn't you? My mom and my step-father divorced and her financial situation changed drastically. My father, through his own (to be perfectly blunt again) stupidity, was on the verge of bankruptcy. My college fund was piled high on the Vegas craps tables. So halfway through my first year of college, for the very first time, I experienced what it was like to literally not have any money. To say I was ill-prepared is mild. But I was young and adaptable and, lets face it, kind of stupid, so it all turned out okay. I worked my way through an inexpensive state college (all six years of it) and looked at the entire time as the biggest learning experience of my life, in ways that had nothing to do with exams and term papers.
All that penny pinching and denial came back in full force when I was staying home with my kids. It had to. Our survival depended on it. My being able to stay home depended on it. I didn't want to work at that time, so the deal we made was that the FX would make as much money as he possibly could and I would figure out a way for us to spend as little of it as possible. If I had to label that period, it would be as The Years Without A Safety Net. Sure we had parents who didn't want us out on the street and we had credit cards, but we lived very close to the edge. A freelance income is a scary thing. Sometimes it's there and sometimes...it isn't.
This has been something I've been thinking about a lot lately, because my comfort level has changed so much in the past year. For several years pre-divorce, we had achieved a nice life, although there still seemed to be money leaks that made me crazy. The FX not only had his regular job, but a decent freelance income to boot. I was working. We had reasonably good health insurance. We may not have had a ton of extras, but we were safe. If a huge expense came up, he could just go out and pick up another project. And if he couldn't do it right then, we could wing it until he did. That's the magic of freelance. Every phone call, every rattle of the mailbox, is fraught with anticipation. Something lucrative could always be on the other end. And very often was.
That's not a factor in my life anymore. There are no unexpected checks in my mailbox, and the phone calls are mostly people who want to sell me time shares in Pittsburgh. I have my nursing income and my child support, and it's enough to get by comfortably on, but my comfort zone has diminished to almost nothing. I feel like a woman without a safety net, even though that's not the case at all. I've become compulsive again, and although that's a darn smart way to be in this horrendous economy, it's stil freaking me out. If I dip below a certain amount in the bank, even when my bills are all paid, I panic. Ten years ago I would have thrown a party over the same amount. An unexpected expense makes me crazy. I just keep thinking that my child support will be gone in seven years. I have children. They used to be tiny and now they're not. I know how fast seven years goes by.
I have seven years to come up with Plan B. I need a safety net.
Does our financial comfort zone change by our circumstances? By our life experiences? Or is it the age factor, that feeling that time is running out to "prepare for the future"? Perhaps some combination of all of these?
Whatever the reason...why does comfort always seem just one step away?
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Posted by the rotten correspondent at 12:02 AM