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February 21, 2006

Dead Presidents Day

Bob is unaware that the budget calls for cutbacks in poopage.

Last week, Oprah did a show all about Americans and debt. According to the experts on her program, 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (meaning you have no more than two weeks of money saved up at any given time).

Seventy percent is a lot of Americans.

So Oprah challenged people to go on a Debt Diet (here's a link to the Debt Diet on her website), and I was really excited about this show from seeing the promos, and I Tivod the episode and watched it while walking to nowhere on my treadmill (a treadmill which I admit I bought with a charge card. Whoops.) (But! Best purchase ever!)

Ya'll know I've written before about money, and my challenges with budgeting. (Here's my List Of Stuff I've Learned So Far and also, the original post in which I unveil The Budget.)

Money is a particularly loaded subject for women because we have been socialized to believe that we need a man, someone to provide for us and take care of us, a general subconscious notion that we are secondary. Taking charge of your financial destiny does not appear as a liner note in Cinderella or Snow White. Though, seriously, if Cinderella had gone out and gotten a J-O-B instead of sweeping up after the evil stepsisters and talking to the woodland birds, she could have been living in her own apartment and had a credit card or two of her own. I'm just saying.

Mr. X did some rather shady moving around of money before he announced he was leaving, and he put a significant amount of debt in my name before he bothered to inform me of the impending doom. After the ink was dry and things were final, I could have complained or cried or ignored my massive debt. I have done that in the past. But I have to tell ya'll, maybe my proudest moment of all this divorce stuff was making a decision to take hold of my money and do it right. I made that budget and I was sticking to it come hell or high water or car repairs. Making a plan to attack my debt and live my life was freedom. It felt like ownership, like honesty, like a future. I am very proud of that. (I am not proud of drunk dialing him on my own birthday or of the night I told my life story to a clerk at 7-11. Ya'll know. It happens.)

When I was in college, I got two credit cards (DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER) and in my teeny, sorority-infused brain, plastic was just like a present. Free! For me! Before long I was knee-deep in debt and I was horribly irresponsible. (Dad. Hi! Please stop reading now. I'm about to say things that will scare you. Bye! Thank you!)

My debt got to a place where I... just did not pay it. I would... maybe throw away statements. Yes. I THREW AWAY STATEMENTS. As if that would make them go away. Ha! Before long, there were phone calls. And after a while, it's sort of comforting, and also really fucking pathetic, when you are on a first name basis with Enrique from Discover.

Enrique: Hi, Laurie! It's Enrique from Discover. I see you had a birthday last week. Happy Birthday!

Me: Hi Enrique, thanks! How's your mama and them?

So yes, taking charge of your money is HUGE. According to the experts on this episode of the Oprah show, the first step is to find out what you owe. Put it all on paper and add it up. Then begin a plan to reduce your debt. Finally, cut your spending. I know I can do a lot better in the "cut your spending" department (Whole Foods, I love you. But damn you are expensive.) and this trip to Paris is not exactly a prudent budgetary move.

But overall, I am making serious progress on my finances and I'm telling you this because just a year and a half ago, I had NO IDEA where my money was going. I let my husband do all the money managing (and you see how well that worked out.) I was oblivious to my cell phone plan, my cable bill, how high the interest rates were on my credit cards. I couldn't have told you diddlysquat about my financial future. I owed Peter, Paul, Mary, K-Ci and JoJo. I was one of the 70% of Americans who were a paycheck away from me and the cats and all my shoes living in a brokedown Jeep. Cozy!

It isn't easy. I had to give up a few things, cut some corners. But it is SO WORTH IT. If I can do this, believe me -- anyone can get a handle on their money. I'm putting a link to The Budget spreadsheet in the sidebar, not because it's the best tool online for managing your money, and, uh, not because it's a knitting pattern, but because it's simple and it's pink and you have a line item for yarn. I can't tell you how happy and grown-up and satisfied I felt when I watched that Oprah show and realized I was doing the very things the experts on TV recommended. I know exactly what I make and what I owe, I know where every dime goes, I bring my lunch to work, I cut my spending, yes I bought a treadmill on a credit card, but I paid for it within a month. I still have big debts, but I'm whittling them down each paycheck with a plan I can live with.

When my husband left, I thought I would break in two. Instead, I somehow managed to keep on keeping on... and in there somewhere I became a girl who is financially self-supporting, who knows how to handle her money. I'm not perfect, I do still occassionally buy a large piece of exercise equipment on credit, but overall I'm the one running this show instead of any man, whether it's Mr. Ex or Enrique from Discover.

Not too shabby!

Posted by laurie at February 21, 2006 10:31 AM