Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Think I Can, I Think I Can!

Month 3 in the Year I Said No already? Ooh, this one is a good one, and probably much more fun than saying no to financial powerlessness. I am to say no to avoiding tasks that seem outside my domain (Yes to trying things I don’t think I can do).

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to pigeonhole myself. You know, leave certain tasks for Tom because they are areas he seems to have more affinity for, or because they are “guy things”. But there’s a distant voice in my head, that of Steve, my first really serious boyfriend, who gave me a memorable left-handed compliment once. He said, “You’re not afraid to try anything; you just go ahead and do it. Even if you end up being not that good at it.” Well, I could take that two ways. The first was, maybe I really suck at a lot of stuff. But I decided to embrace the positive part of it, the recognition that I was not afraid.

Now, Steve was not talking about skydiving, extreme sports, or any such daredevil mischief. He was referring more to everyday things, things that I am guessing he may have avoided, perhaps because they might make him look a little foolish or inept. Since then, somewhere along the way, I have gotten a bit more cautious. Some of it is natural, I suppose; just a result of becoming a mother and middle-aged. But some if it can be a negative side effect of married life, one I plan to eschew a bit more vigorously than I have been.

Take last weekend. I got myself into quite a hot spot. I mean cold spot.

I was feeling very optimistic about the comparatively mild weather and the streams of water flowing down the curb, so optimistic that I decided I could drive my Pontiac Bonneville right over the foot plus of snow in “my” section of the driveway, the section that allows me to park in my own spot without constantly having to arrange with Tom to move his car, or vice versa.

Well, my optimism suddenly seemed more of a delusion when my car got firmly implanted in the snow. Logic’s not my number one asset, and it took me a while to figure out that my problem was much bigger than tires spinning on ice. My entire undercarriage was jammed with snow! Snow in every crevice, between pipes, so packed in and pushed up that the car was so going nowhere really fast.

At first, my thoughts turned to Tom. I needed a man to push me out. Or pull me out. Preferably my man. And then I thought that even “mighty Tom” with his big truck might have to do more than just push or pull. And then I thought how embarrassing this predicament could turn out to be. I mean, duh. Did I really try to crush a massive volume of snow with my ’98, nearly 230 thou mile car?

Of course, it was raining (at least it was warm rain). So I spent a wet, merry hour experimenting with my lack of common sense. Before I realized the enormity of the glut in the undercarriage, I was convinced I could melt it all away. I ran in and out of the house for pitchers of hot water. Oy. Ultimately I realized that dig I must, and I dug, and dug, and dug, hair in my face, glasses falling off, probably at risk for dying if I just once forgot to click back into park after another fruitless spin of the tires.

Then, finally, victory. How good (and soaking wet) it felt. I did find a silver lining. Surely my workout exceeded any Wii Fit boxing points I had scored that week. I felt slimmer and more independent all at once. 

Next on the agenda: tackle some household thing I'd never normally take on, like stripping old paint off a closet door or repairing something mechanical. Why do I avoid these things? Well, I know I'm not a natural. I know I risk getting judged, mostly by Tom who tends to be a perfectionist with little patience for the unfortunate technically inept. And I know I can get someone else to do it!

But then I remember my mom, who really was powerless to do much of anything technical in the household after my father died. We were all so admiring (seriously) when my visiting Aunt Norma did a simple fix on our nonworking toilet. She really did save the day, considering we only had one bathroom.

I don't want to be that person who doesn't try, nor to set that example of "giving up before you even start" to my son. So off I go, to broken nails or at least a fine crust of dirt beneath them.  Vive la grease, grime, owner's manuals, and elbow  grease! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ducks in a Row: Herding the Finances

So, February’s nearly gone. Maybe too short a month to completely succeed at saying no to financial powerlessness. But not too short to point myself in the right direction. Of course, as we all know, the hard part’s staying on the path.

There are so many ducks to get in a row. We had a good start with complimentary telephone credit counseling from a nonprofit group, one I researched that lived up to its “no scam” appearance: Money Management International. For Tom and me, a lot of what we heard on the call reinforced what we had already suspected about our financial habits: sloppy, not really taking the proverbial bull by the horns. But it had the power of helping because it came from outside our dysfunctional, homegrown microeconomy.

It still amazes me that I had to reach 43 before I came up with a budget-minded and predictable process for food shopping. I’ve learned that, yes, it really does help to pick a day for shopping and stick to it. And before you even contemplate going to the store, to make a list of meals that drives a list of ingredients. Finally, to have a rule that you don’t deviate from list. For more sensible folks this may seem ridiculously obvious, but for me it has been a boot camp in self discipline, and so far I don’t feel like going AWOL. In fact, I welcome the structure.

There are so many online tools and smart phone apps these days that it’s hard to find an excuse not to become a better planner. Take the free Cozi family planner shopping lists, for example. For a while, Tom and I shared our grocery list this way (although now I have a truly "dumb phone" in keeping with the budget, so I must now keep a list with the rather antiquated pen and paper. Isn't it ironic?). But gosh, it feels good to get organized.
My sister found a good site that includes a free money journal when you sign up. It attends to the psychology part of the equation, and I’m starting to see you need equal parts of structure and psychology to make any headway with disordered finances.

Although I’ve never wanted to deal with finances head on, I’m found myself almost wishing February were a longer month. Not that I can’t keep tackling this stuff throughout the Year I Said No. It’s just that I’m on to month 3 before you know it: No to avoiding tasks that seem outside my domain (Yes to trying things I don’t think I can do). It should be interesting quest.