Cash, Post-it Notes and Paperclips

by Chrysula on June 7, 2010 in planning,work life balance

Debt can be useful when leveraged properly.  For most of us however, it has the potential to become a scary millstone.  The work life impact?  Choices.  Excessive debt removes our choices, burdens our mind and body and adversely affects our well being.  Which is why I was intrigued to discover several months ago Adam Baker of Man Vs Debt.  His mantra: “Sell your crap.  Pay off your debt.  Do what you love.”
I have an interview with Adam coming up in the Work Life Stories series.  As a segue way, here’s a little of my own experience.  About 12 years ago, I was finishing up my Masters and suddenly moved back to Australia from the UK.  I remember joking that if I ever got married my dowry would be a whole bunch of debt and a great photo album.  
I’d accumulated a large sum of student debt, but at commercial lending rates (my Masters was in London and I was not eligible for student loans there) including some travel and consumer debt.  I was blessed with a fiscally wise brother who helped me work out a strict budget.  He and his room mates allowed me to move in to their place for very low rent, that same brother sold me an old bomber of a car that leaked in rain storms but got me from A to B, and he was my loan officer for the car until it was all paid back.
Critically, for the next three years I walked around with cash that had yellow stickies and paperclips on it, segmenting it into spending categories on a twice-monthly and weekly basis.  I would withdraw cash each pay period and hide it in my house, divided and labeled, transferring budgeted amounts to my wallet weekly.   When the cash ran out for food, no more food.  I could not dip into another category to top up, because those amounts were also accurately pre-planned and the dollars needed to be preserved accordingly.
In the middle of it, I got married so between the two of us and some gratefully received parental air miles, we bought a ring, paid for a wedding and moved countries.  Two salaries were then able to get us through the last stretch of debt, but most of it was taken care of before I got married.
Note to suspicious persons, I don’t do this anymore!   Insane, right?  But surprisingly liberating.  I had to see the money to learn the lesson.  The journey back from irresponsibility and ignorance was long, slow and hard.  I’ve never lived without a budget since, although certainly I have experienced subsequent fiscal tests and not always passed them with flying colors.
Here’s what I continue to learn.  Giving yourself boundaries actually gives you more control.  This truth applies to time, to food, to exercise, to relationships (especially in parenting), to work and to money.   That does not mean your boundaries look like my boundaries.  That does not mean limiting ourselves to scarcity thinking and being in a state of lack.  It means having a vision of where this is all headed, what we want, who we are and why we are doing what we do.  Our money choices reflect that sense of mission as much as our time choices and our health choices.  
What’s your money story?  How has your relationship with money changed your work life equation? It is important to discuss money, especially in marriage, but also in the workplace, in a more honest and up-front way.  There are so many taboos and risks in being more open on this issue.  The topic is especially on my mind since a recent negotiation course I took.  What are your thoughts? How do you stay true to your guiding principles when it comes to money?
This post is written in deep gratitude for the blessing of patience and support from my extended family and for their role in my on-going money management education.
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Photo credit: Money


Leanne Chase - @LeanneCLC June 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

As usual wonderful post. I am quite fortunate that I learned from my parents (who were by no means rich) the value of boundaries and a dollar. While I am much more financially secure than they were at my age, I still stick with what I learned…much to my little one's dismay.

And of course I wrote about it :-)

Vickie Pynchon June 8, 2010 at 10:54 am

This is a GREAT story; one I learned during the last recession (early '90s – job loss; 50% pay cut; foreclosure; bankruptcy). I too learned to live on cash and BOY WAS IT DIFFERENT. It made me stop and think about everything I spent money on. (credit cards = magical thinking). This was after living, single, on a six figure income which was, in the early '90s, living LARGE. I waded back in to a legal and financial life very s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y, turning down job offers that would have boosted me back into six-figure land, concentrating on getting my priorities straight and my personal life somewhat better aligned with my professional one.

EVERYTHING good flowed from that.

Hey! Thanks for the link to the negotiation course. THIS is my BLISS. THIS is occupation aligned with purpose.

Here's what my money taught me: it doesn't make up for unhappiness. Ever.

Stephen June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Very Interesting. I get into the cash vs credit debate with my better half all the time. And increasingly it seems like she is right. You just feel the spending more when you are actually handing over little green bits of paper! Ironically if we were perfectly rational creatures credit cards would make more sense, as they have rewards, keep a record of spending, and do away with annoying change. Sigh. If only credit card companies let you set your own weekly spending limits!

Jonathan Prial June 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Our most recent insight into finance came when my wife and I were visiting our son in Senegal (he was in the Peace Corps). We spent 4 nights in his village in a hut and learned what it means to do without. We ate with his family with food (mainly carbohydrates) cooked over a wood fire where there was no electricity and no running water.

We learned the difference between what we want and what we need. We came home with the realization that we didn't really need anything. It would do everyone good to step back and see if our level of consumerism is just a bit too high.

I only read an except, but I have to finish "Possum Living".

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. June 9, 2010 at 11:51 pm

The wants and needs juxtaposition becomes so powerful when you literally have nothing. And Africa has the capacity to provide that in a way few other places can. It has been more than 20 years since I was there and it still feels like a deep part of my soul stayed behind.

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. June 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Certainly there are easy-ish ways to simply track spending (there's an app for that!). But nothing has the physicality of cash. I rarely do things with cash anymore, but boy do I have to be oh so careful with the debit card and occasional credit card with balance paid off in full. No easy solutions to that part of the equation.

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. June 9, 2010 at 11:56 pm

I love this "concentrated on getting … my personal life somewhat better aligned with my professional one." Again, this idea of integration in all elements of our lives (I just journaled on this over at Craving Balance). The money decisions become simple when we are in alignment. But we pop out of alignment so easily and frequently! Which is why budgets and the boundaries they give us become so powerful. Thanks for adding your story here. Missing your negotiating calls, but cannot wait for your new book!

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. June 10, 2010 at 12:02 am

I am so glad you shared that post here. Setting consumption limits has a direct correlation to what kind of work life we need to manage that consumption, and is a major contributing factor to the new responsibilities families face, but also all working people. And your parents sound perfectly wonderful. They must be of course to have you as their daughter.

Sandy June 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I've just read this post and I really enjoyed it. Our lives have been steeped in debt for the last several years due to long term ill health (that is now thankfully and joyfully resolved).

We are steadily payng off our credit card debt and have a temperature type chart on our notice board where we highlight how much more we have payed every time the statement arrives. I delight in looking at that piece of paper, and seeing how much we paid and how much ($0) that we've spent. It gives me such a sense of strenght and control over our futures.

We are getting closer to retirement and no longer own our home, however, with our careful budgeting, spending money on what we need, not what we want, it will again become a reality. We tithe, grow some of our own food, share with others, repair things (I love how my husband is so skilled at that), make do, live simply, but most of all, are HAPPY.

We are regaining ground and feel so quietly pleased with the pleasure that it brings. We didn't expect that feeling …..

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE. June 12, 2010 at 7:53 pm

The visual of the notice board is brilliant – so simple and yet a tangible representation of forward momentum. These ideas you raise of "sense of strength and control over our future" and the unexpected quiet pleasure of accomplishment are beautiful side effects of making empowered choices. Gratitude for sharing your experience here.

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