JanuWorry was never supposed to happen to me.
I did all the right things. The minute my paycheck arrived early I transfered it to my savings account so that it could
earn some interest for that extra fifteen days be out of sight and thus out of mind for the rest of the month. I didn’t touch it. I didn’t overspend. I stuck to my budget while still having a great time spending the festive season with my friends and their families (not my own family because interns aren’t allowed to take leave during the festive season due to the huge strain on Emergency Services when people have too much time and too much money and too little common sense.)
I budgeted for my January expenses. A wedding that I would take leave for. Some things I wanted to do around my grandmother’s house to up her standard of living a little.
Everything made sense. I was still going to reach most of my personal and some of my financial goals.
Then Murphey mucked it up.
I don’t talk much about my familial finances except to give context as to why financial literacy is so important to me, but I’ve alluded in the past to the fact that certain people close to me aren’t the greatest with money. It’s frustrating and painful to watch, especially when my advice gets rebuffed because I’m in my twenties and couldn’t possibly understand how things work in the real world. But the effects of my familial financial fumbles are actually a little more…invasive?…than I’ve previously let on…
I don’t have any consumer debt. I paid off all my student debt in less than a year. I track my expenses relentlessly, and hold myself accountable when my spending isn’t in line with my values. I invest at least a third of my gross salary and have done so confidently without the help of my dodgy former financial adviser. To the outsider it might seem like I have all my financial ducks in a row and have absolutely no vices when it comes to money management. Except for the teeny weensy tiny category that 22seven likes to
judge nudge me on every other week…an expense that I always file under “exceptions” despite the fact that it’s my largest annual expense and actually happens with the regularity of a recurring expense, without the price-tag predictability…
I always gawk and marvel in awe when I read personal finance bloggers talk about watching their parents struggle through retirement with such a detached (internet) tone. I’ve left comments trying to understand how they came to such a place, but perhaps my (internet) tone has come across as judgmental and disapproving. I am neither. I’m honestly just genuinely curious as to how people can sleep at night with a fat bank balance while their parents or loved ones struggle to get by, with little more than a “they made their bed” Kanye-shrug.
This isn’t an intellectual exercise. I know that those who raised me are adults who need to deal with the consequences of their life choices. I know that the cycle of poverty and financial illiteracy has to end with me, and that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I became a financial burden to my children. I know that I can’t always be on hand to bail family out of situations that were obvious from the get-go, and that I cannot be someone else’s substitute for an emergency fund/retirement plan. I know, I know, I know.
But that’s not how I feel.
I feel guilt. I feel responsibility. I feel obligation. I feel pity. I feel frustration. I feel a misplaced sense of hope. I feel gratitude and a need to try to reciprocate the sacrifices that were made for me. I feel cultural expectation.
And as Dave Ramsey will tell you, if money management were about math, nobody would ever call his show because the math (and the logic) are the easy parts.
So when I got that phone call about a family “emergency”, I knew better than to log into my accounts and transfer the money. I had a stern talk with the individual in question. I expressed my disappointment. I said (for the thousandth time) that this would be the last time.
And I still pressed send.
I have a couple of good friends that I called to talk me off the ledge. One friend is in a similar “sandwich generation“/”black tax” situation, and we both cried and ranted about the unfairness of having to choose between helping our current loved ones verses our future selves/children. That conversation gave me a good venting space, but it didn’t offer solutions. The other friend is from a very affluent background, and she managed to give me some much needed objective advice. She told me to decide what was the maximum I was comfortable sending to family over the course of the next year. She told me to halve that number. Then she told me to send half of that half with the proviso that my relative knew that was all I could afford to offer for the next year or so. They’d call back anyway, but then I’d still have the rest of the money available, which I’d then halve again to drive home the fact that I was not an ATM. And if anyone else called, I’d direct them to the recipient of the first half. But this would all be budgeted money, and I wouldn’t have to dissave for familial obligations.
At first, this advice angered me. It was so easy for her to tell me to not give as much as was needed because it wasn’t her heart being torn apart with each distressed phone call. She didn’t understand the pressures and the pain, the accusations of selfishness that had been hurled at me, the thinly veiled remarks that had lodged themselves deep in the crevices of my heart.
But then I thought it through. I’m not emotionally at that place where I can be rational about my family and my finances and where those stand in relation to each other. I know and acknowledge that although generosity is a virtue, it can also be a vice when people take advantage of you or feel entitled to your hard-earned income/savings. Knowing this, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that my family wasn’t at least taken care of in the most basic form. But I also know that I can’t enable and endorse financial irresponsibility. And I cannot be funding lifestyle choices! So that objective voice was what I needed. I needed someone to verbally slap me across the face and bring me out of my feelings.
I can still give, but it needs to be on my terms. And it need to not be at the risk of putting myself in a similar position of need in my later years.
The lesson was a little late, though, and
January Januworry fulfilled its promise to be a tight month despite my best efforts and intentions. But it forced me to really take in what my choice meant, how my own needs had to be deferred and how I had to sacrifice to remain debt free–if only as a reminder to myself that I too have my financial flaws and should try harder not to be so harsh and judgmental.
You never know when someone’s illogical financial behaviour (and its subsequent consequences) comes from a deeper, more psychological/emotional place.
Edit 4/2/17: It also reminded me the value of taking responsibility for my life choices. I chose to help out, so now I had to be a big girl and figure out a way to navigate this month without falling into a debt trap or making excuses for myself and dipping further into my Emergency Fund. I took the Uber Frugal Month Challenge despite the fact that I was on holiday for a significant chunk of january, and I’ll be doing #FrugalFebruary to balance things out and try to refill my Emergency Fund.)