My first memory of postage stamps was when I purchased them from the local pharmacy. I think their value was 18 cents then. The price had just increased, and my grandmother was nearly offended at the additional three cents. I have always been amazed at the United States Postal System. In 1981, you could put a few handwritten pages inside an envelope, address it, and have it hand-delivered anywhere in the country. Door to door, for a full 18 cents. Even today, with postage at more than half a dollar, the statement stands true: Door to door. Quite extraordinary, don't you think?
With that said, I despise checking the mail. For one reason and one reason alone, I am terrible at managing money, and the mail is proof. The only things I ever find in my mailbox are notices, statements, and remittance slips for things I cannot pay. They come in a variety of colors because colored paper is threatening. They come with statements, claims, and words like "past due," "final" and "attention" written on them in bold, because bold words are equally threatening. They burst out of the mailbox when I force myself to open it because there are so many crumpled envelopes from one week, or two weeks, or more weeks. The threats and warnings can barely be contained within the metal box to which only I hold the key.
I work. I earn. I spend. I have been a poor money manager for all my years. My grandmother used to say, "that money's burning a hole in your pocket." And it was. It does. But I cannot live this way any longer. I have children, and their future is tied up in pink and green and grey paper with big, bold words on them because I don't have the ability to think more than a day in advance. I didn't even start saving for retirement until I had worked for 20 years. I have been stuck in a never-ending cycle of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" (also something else my grandmother used to say). I know that some of you are quite shocked, but I honestly didn't know to choose any better. It's true. I did not think far enough ahead to worry about how anything was going to be funded. Not even when it came to owning a car or having children. I used to just quickly think "it'll work itself out." But I know better now. I do.
I am owning my irresponsibility. I am owning my selfishness. I am owning my ignorance. And I am making changes. My first step was to open all. of. the. mail. You would think I had cut down a tree, but no, it was just a month's worth of notices. I addressed the most prominent and worked backward. I addressed and dismissed my shame and owned my tardiness. I spoke to so many people and explained all of this to them. I made arrangements and asked to have reminders in the form of mail, email, and texts. I even asked for patience. I accepted the fees, the late fees, the reconnection fees, and even the "it's been turned over to collections", and the "sent to litigation." It was so hard. By the time I was done, I was in tears. My notepad littered with amounts, addition, subtraction, months, balances, due dates, question marks, and many sad faces.
How could I do this to myself? And to my kids?
The truth is, it doesn't matter how I got here. What matters most is that I am aware that the fault is mine, and the responsibility is mine. I have to forgive myself, create a plan, get on track, and stick with it. Of course, it's not going to be fail safe to begin because I'm learning, but it's a start. I've been investing in my retirement for many years at the maximum level. I have payment plans set with everything that was past due. I'm eliminating a few amenities until I am back on track. I'll be cooking from a limited menu and focusing on household favorites until we can loosen our belt a little because I know they will be eaten and enjoyed, with limited waste. I'm aiming for very few extraneous purchases until the holidays. And even then, I plan to cut back.
The best part of this process has been the love and understanding I have received from my kids. I sat them down and explained it all. I told them the mistakes I'd made and how it evolved into this predicament where I have to make some hard choices. We talked about the past, the present, and the future in relation to jobs, money, earning, bills, spending, and saving. Of course, they don't understand the nuances of finance, but they understood enough. We agreed to work as a team toward a constant goal of spending less money. We talked about long term goals like college, vacations, cars, and weddings. And the definition of "needs" versus "wants."
It's not going to be easy to change my spending habits or save money. Certainly not as easy as putting postage on a letter and having it travel across the country for a few cents. But it will show my children that sometimes grownups make mistakes -- that it's always good, to be honest, and take responsibility for your choices (or lack thereof). It will also prove that our needs are met, goals have to be set, plans have to be made, and money has to be saved. Some money has to be saved. I know better, and I can do better, and we will all reap the benefits. As long as someone checks the mail.
See more of her blogs at BrownSugarBritches.com