The Spend Cycle
Freak out about money. Aggressively pay off debt. Finally relax a little. Treat myself to something. Financial emergency. Accrue debt again. Beat myself up for treating myself to something. Freak out. Repeat. This is the story of my adult life with kids and the life of many women I know. Most days, I live frugally because I have big hopes to one day be free of the cycle above and the debt that keeps me awake at night.
When I’m in that relaxed, treat-myself-to-something phase, treating myself usually involves little things I don’t indulge in during the regular parts of life: a “real” haircut, a few shirts from Target, fancy hand soap from Bath & Body Works, new clothes for the kids instead of resale. These little things add up quickly, which is why I usually refrain from them. The self-deprecating that happens for these small purchases is exponential in comparison to the amount of money spent.
A funny thing happens sometimes during the panic phase. Instead of reeling myself in and doing damage control like I do 95% of the time, I have thoughts of screw it, I keep trying and failing to break this cycle. Even though I follow the rules of the debt payoff plan we’ve been following, we never get ahead. Life is short. May as well have what I want because no matter what we do, we’ll always be in this situation. It’s hard to fight that voice, so hard.
When I manage to get that voice under control, the self-deprecating starts again. It’s your fault you’re in this situation. You haven’t sacrificed enough. You haven’t worked enough extra hours. You haven’t cut enough. You treated yourself to things and you don’t need or deserve them.You went over your grocery budget every week for the last three months. You miscalculated. You squandered the opportunity to pay __X_ off with the extra income because you spent it instead. You, you, you. So-and-so got out of this situation a long time ago, you should’ve been able to as well, but you failed. You keep failing. YOU.
There has to be a balance between suffocating guilt and reckless abandon, right? Because I haven’t been able to achieve it. Or am I the only one bouncing from one to the other?
My mom and I went to the mall a lot when I was a kid, but we hardly ever bought anything. We put stuff in baskets, carried it around on our arms, and hemmed and hawed like it was our jobs. We nearly always decided we didn’t need it and put it back. Mom would tell me that if we decided we really needed it, it would be there if we went back for it. She was usually right. If it wasn’t there, it wasn’t meant to be. On a dozen occasions, I remember her finally treating herself to things after months of window shopping and then returning them to the store as soon as something came up. Why, I wondered? She had worked so hard. She had thought so hard about that purchase. She deserved it after all of the sacrifices she made for us. Why didn’t she think that it was ok to keep it? I didn’t understand then, but I do now. She never spent a lot, but in the grand scheme, she felt like it was her responsibly to keep the finances in order and it was on her to fix any disasters that arose.
I learned a lot from watching her do that. I think that sometimes it hurts her to watch me go through the same cycles she went through. All parents hope for better for their children, and I’m sure it’s not easy to watch when things turn out the same. What I understand now is that I need to keep pressing on toward my ultimate goal, even if I falter [a lot] and I want to throw in the towel [a lot]. She taught me that. And, she’d want me to cut myself a break, just like I always wanted her to cut herself one, and still do. Also, she would probably laugh and say it never really ends, but learning to deal with it gets easier and that’s something to hope for. I’ll take that for now.