Je Suis Fatiguée

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I have debt fatigue.

I don’t know if 34 day burnout is a thing, but I have it. I know it’s ludicrous and it’s only been 34 days but I’m someone that has spent the last 10 years buying something new almost every single day, whether it’s a chocolate bar or a new dress. When people invited me out for drinks, the only time I would say no is if I’m already out having other drink plans I committed to first. I’m not one for saying no. And the last 34 days have been a world of No. And I hate to say it, but I’m tired.

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Acting ‘As If’

 

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I believe strongly in the magic of words. I believe the words we use to describe our lives and ourselves influences our reality, and that working on our thoughts, attitudes and beliefs should be worked on with the same care that we we work on our degrees, our bodies, and our budgets. Before this sounds hokey, I should note that I didn’t always feel this way; it was during my first year of Psychology as a freshman in university that we studied self-fulfilling “prophecies” as a psychological concept. I won’t get into the finer points of the ideas presented but I’ll share that what resonated with me the most was the mantra of “act as if.” If one would like to see something happen in their life, a powerful way to harness your own mental energy and incredible brain power to achieve certain goals is to act as if you already are in the position you want to be in. I wish I ran with that advice from the get-go and applied it the dozen or so years since I’ve been a freshman, but there’s no better time than the present to start on something. I want to explore what this means for my newly-frugal self.

Besides the primary goal of being unshackled from debt, one of my primary reasons for embarking upon my shopping ban and eschewing my spendy lifestyle is to free myself from the hold consumerism has on my thoughts, my judgments, my actions and my time. Besides the feeling of being owned by stuff, it goes much further – my thoughts have been owned by the consumer messages marketers have been drilling into our psyches and our societies and I want to put in end to it and have my thoughts back. I want my time to be mine, to be used building the life I want, and not being frittered away thinking about what to buy next: how to remodel my kitchen into something more trendy (i.e. buy more stuff for it), what pieces I can put in my wardrobe to update it for the season (i.e. buy more stuff for it) and what new products can give me that very trending, very glamourous glowy skin that’ll somehow make me more acceptable than plain ol’ me (i.e by more stuff for it). I’m tired of thinking what to buy next – it’s a non-stop hamster wheel of consumerism and I’m not going to do it anymore.

This being said, I have not ‘arrived’ at that place yet where I don’t get sucked in to the images of a beautiful dress or a thinner, lighter, not-ancient laptop (since 8 years is like 80 years old in laptop years). I need to ‘act is if’ I’ve already beaten the mind control of consumerism and made the shift to owning my thoughts as an individual and not a shopper. So now that I’m telling myself I am free from the thoughts of what to buy next, what do the Frugal Desperado’s thoughts look like? What kinds of things will she focus on, now that thoughts are used to add true meaning and significance to her life? I’ve come up with the following as a starter list:

  • Minimalist living: getting rid of the extras. Having a core group of items that contribute to my life daily, and that I appreciate in return.
  • Communicating with others in a way that focuses on giving: with the rise of social media, I find ‘communication’ is often conducted by being on the receiving end of someone’s highly curated portrayal of their life, or tagging a friend in a funny post or tweet. I’m no longer spending my time online browsing things to shop or in a mall – I have the time to pick up the phone and ask questions, make someone feel like they are being listened to. Instead of tagging someone in a post they might enjoy, how about calling them up and asking if they want to come over for some coffee or go on a walk with me and forge a real connection.
  • Frugality: Want less. Savour and enjoy more. Being creative with resources and entertainment to get to the heart of what I’m really trying to achieve – enjoyment of life! Obliterating the investment of dollars into things and moments that are fleeting and redirecting them to the game changers, the life changers. Cut out the dinners out you won’t even remember by the end of the week to put towards the trip you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
  • Character Development: I read about an hour a day, but do I really study what I’m reading? Am I staying focused enough to really absorb what I’m reading and finding ways to consciously apply it to my life? I have the time for that now. To read and then to think, to ponder, to write, to apply.
  • Volunteering: I haven’t done this in a long time. Now that I’m not spending time thinking of things to buy myself or other ways to add material pleasures to my life, what can I do to contribute back to others? Who needs my help? What times and days can I devote to making helping others a part of my regular routine, a part of the fabric of my life?
  • Practice Gratitude: I’ve gotten on gratitude streaks where I’ve written daily in a journal for 3 weeks and then stopped, or went to bed every night thinking of all the things I’m grateful for and then that eventually peters off. I truly believe gratitude can completely change how you view your life and the story you tell yourself about what your life is and who you are. I think the only true cure for filling that empty hole we feel needs to be filled with stuff and expensive, fancy experiences is gratitude. I need to find ways to make it a part of my daily practice, where thinking of things I love and am thankful is something I mindfully work on each day. I need to decide how I’ll integrate this – whether it’s meditation, daily journalling or any time I find myself in a state of want, pulling out a piece of paper and writing down everything I’m grateful for until the page is full. No, it’s not too much – I’ve spend way more time picking out the perfect stilettos or hunting for the best nude lipstick. Practicing gratitude is so much more worthy of my time.

I might not be fully there yet, but I know that if I ‘act as if’ these are the things that fill my thoughts and musings and hour-long commutes home, I will get there. I no longer spend time browsing sites to online shop, because someone who acts as if that is truly no longer a part of them doesn’t do that – they spend time thinking of ways to contribute back to their community, ways to live with less that means so much more.

The liberating philosophy behind ‘act as if’ is that it acknowledges and respects that you way not be who and where you want to be yet, but you can still live and feel like you are until you get there. That acting land feeling like it might even be the very means to you getting there.

I am no longer spending my time shopping. I’m spending my time creating my self-fulfilling prophecies, and living like I’ve already got them made.

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Man down, man down

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I’ve been at my personal best so far. I’ve had some really bad temptations, I had times that the need to shop – the desire to buy something that made me feel good, to be whispered that little false promise that’s uttered with each purchase that happiness is wrapped up inside that shopping bag – more times than I care to admit. There was the one day where I saw a beautiful dress in a shop window and within seconds my mind created a vision of me wearing it, cast in my own TV ad that promised me a confident stride and polish that was so vivid that I actually got off the streetcar in -21C weather to go out and run to the shop in a giddy mania to get the dress into my possession. By the time I reached the window I nearly had to slap myself to get a grip and not back down from my challenge, to not chalk up yet another failed shopping ban, to not be weak but to hold fast to my resolve to be the new person unshackled from spending addiction that I’ve promised myself to be.

I didn’t buy the dress. I also didn’t buy the countless coffees I craved, that bottle of wine I felt I needed to unwind after that one terrible day at work, the nailpolish colour I wanted that finally went on sale. I held firm, knowing I had a couple important birthdays this month (last week’s damage to be reported shortly) that required celebrating so I kept on keeping on.

And then the interest hit.

I went online this morning to check my balances, as I’ve found it motivating to finally look at a chequing account balance that’s not hundreds into the overdraft. The black figures are such a nice contrast to the red I’ve grown accustomed to. However I forgot my interest hits on the 19th of every month, and at 6am this morning, I got slapped with the numbers: my $18,000 limit credit card got pushed over-limit yet again, just when I thought those days were finally behind me. My interest hit, and it was a whopping $304.57.

When I applied for a line of credit to consolidate my credit cards in November last year, my bank was very, very clever. They gave me a credit limit exactly enough to cover the balances of my three OFI credit cards – $12,000 – and on the condition I close those three immediately. However, they did not extend the credit to cover even some of the balance of the $18,000 card that I have with their institution, the one I pay a pretty 19.99% for. No, no, they want me to keep on paying that at full interest. All my interest payments belong to them now. Make no mistake – I don’t believe it’s the banks fault I’m in debt – they didn’t hold a gun to my head when I kept on accepting their offers of increasing credit limits to me even though I was only paying minimums – that was my choice. But dang, it hurts, and it hurts bad. I felt like I was kicked in the gut this morning, and I haven’t been able to shake the feeling all day.

My next pay is coming Thursday, but about 90% of it goes to next month’s rent, so it’s going to be a while until I can recover my losses. By the time I do, next month’s interest will come by shortly thereafter.

I know there’s a silver lining here somewhere, and when enough time passes the gains of my shopping ban will gain momentum and I will start seeing a dent in my debt. I know deep down it’s coming, but as for today, as for right now, it’s man down.

 

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Apples to Apples

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I had a discussion today with a friend about feeling behind in the game of life. Call me a cliche, but entering my third decade came with some comparisons to where I feel I “should” be. I realize that there is no such thing as hard and fast rules as to where anyone “should” be in life and I believe these ideas are all societal constructs that should be abandoned so we could all embrace living happily on our own terms, yaddi yadda, but there are a lot of things I wanted on my own terms that I haven’t achieved yet. Being over 60k in debt by age 30 with nary an asset to show for it is not where I wanted to be. Mind you, I’m not the white picket fence type and I will never want a three-story detached in the suburbs, but I envisioned being out of debt, have a decent stock portfolio and owning an investment property I’m renting out or getting ready to flip. I didn’t want to be maxed out with memories of bad decisions keeping me up at night.

Please know I don’t think having ones financial life in order is a one-way ticket to happiness (although I’ll never discount the increase of peace of mind and the decrease of stress that arises from it) and I always try to live my life with the knowledge that joy must come from within and in the present, but I can’t help but feel down sometimes. I had a discussion with a friend today about how recently an acquaintance told me that she bought her first house – she’s 25…and houses in Toronto now average at over $950,000. I’m thrilled for this woman and fiercely proud of her accomplishment. While she’s been working away, minding her pennies and aligning her priorities to be able to get a down payment, I was drinking cocktails and partying in Vegas.

I generally don’t get caught up with the green monster and am not naturally inclined to envy others  – but I often use others’ successes as a mirror in which I judge myself. My friend who I shared this story news with gave me some tough love about my choices, but then softened up and asked me something simple but thought-provoking – “are you comparing apples to apples?” Our new home-owning friend hasn’t ever paid for board, had her education covered, and hasn’t been in a position to be responsible for basics from groceries to detergent. Can I truly say I’m in the same boat when I’ve been paying  rent and all living costs for 12 years, funded all my university and have never had a parent pay one of my bills since I was 14?

Before this appears to be a sob story (it’s not), I want to say I feel the need to share it because I occasionally feel I may have a rockier journey by not coming from a family with money, and I know I’m not the only one out there who comes from a household that had to struggle. I don’t ‘pity’ myself one iota – I have a strong sense of “suck it up, if I hustle I’ll still get everything I desire from life” – but certain factors make me doubt myself and how quickly I can realize my dreams. I’ll read some of my favourite blogs and think “dang, how could s/he pay off so much of their debt that quickly??” and then realize that person lived at home and therefore (likely) wasn’t/isn’t paying the same amount in rent and the grocery/utility/household bills I would. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with moving back home and letting the parentals help out when you’re trying to better yourself – and its certainly not easy to move back home as an adult! I’m just not from a situation where that could be a reality for me – when I moved in with my mom for a couple years a few years back, we split everthing 50/50. She was very willing to take over more of the costs of living but I couldn’t let it happen – my mother is self-employed and in a single-income household and should be focusing on putting as much as possible towards her retirement, and not looking after her adult children…especially the one that got into debt due to poor spending decisions. I got myself into this mess,  I should get myself out.

To tie this back to the acquaintance with the new house, my friend got me thinking about if I’m really comparing apples to apples if I’m looking at myself next to someone whose life journey has started with very different financial origins. I feel like I’ve been so determined to never let my humble beginnings be neither a hurdle nor a crutch that I’ve forgotten that maybe sometimes I need to be more kind to myself – not out of pity but just to respect the situation I come from. To acknowledge without letting it overpower or dictate where I’m destined to go. That instead of comparing myself to anyone – whether they are from a similar background or not – that the only measuring stick I should use is who I was yesterday and see if I can be a better person today. That beautiful and magnanimous things can happen when instead of looking out, I look within and become the best version of myself. That many rags-to-riches stories come from those that didn’t grade themselves on benchmarks set by others but by creating new ones. So to all those lone wolves out there – we can do this. Steadily and consistently, we can lay our own safety net to keep us safe as we leap over to the other side.

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The Round-Up

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My debt monster can be quantified. It has a precise figure, it knows a certain shape and form. A fluid one, mind you, but with the tendency to grow larger. I know there’s no way to conquer debt without first facing it and looking it squarely in the eye to size it up, so here goes.

Behold, my debt:

  • Visa: $18,000 (19.99%)
  • Line of Credit 1:  $12,000 (8.80%)
  • Line of Credit 2: $13,270 (7%)
  • Personal loan: $20,000 (2% – family loan)

My commercial debt comes to $43,270.

Add in the personal loan from a family member, and the official number I’ve burdened my life with is $63,270.00.

I just turned 30, and I have over $60K of debt to my name, with no car, no home, no investment property to show for it. I’ve got here because of wanting to live a certain life. I got here because of the trips, the dinners out, and the big gaping chasm that demands I fill it with more things to make me feel more complete.

The buck stops here.

 

 

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160 Days of Nothing New

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As a disciple of all things FI (except for, umm, the actual application of the principles), I’ve been exposed to many schools of thought as to how to approach one’s ulitmate goal. I’ve tried shopping bans several times over the years and failed miserably – I’m not using the word “addiction” lightly when I claim I’m a (self-professed) shopping addict; I turn to shopping to feel good, when something feels off or empty in my life I turn to purchasing new items, when I want to buys omething the thoughts are all-consuming … name me the symptoms, I have them. The furthest I’ve ever gotten was 5 days without shopping (pitiful, I know). To get something you’ve never gotten, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done…. cue in 160 Days of Nothing New.

Although I love all the different vehicles I’ve read about to taming the urge for consumerism – minimalism, shopping bans, extreme frugality, saving a certain % of your salary off the top – the Buy Nothing New folks have resonated with me the most. Perhaps it’s just the semantics of “Buy Nothing New” that appeals to me more than “Shopping Ban” – I don’t know, but it certainly feels good, and it’s feels like a fun challenge instead of a limitation. Whenever I’d scrawl “buy nothing month” or “no spend week” in my planner, I felt like there was a sense of deprivation and lack, where as “nothing new” feels like there’s still so much there for me – I have everything in the world still available to me, except for this one little category. The best part is that “Nothing New” makes it feel like a little category, when all this time it’s been my massive, untameable monster. So why the 160, you may be thinking? I was going to go to June 1st, 2016 – I’d ideally like 6 months, but in July I’ll be visiting my family in Europe and they’re in a country that’s undergone financial devastation and I know I’ll be bringing gifts for my younger cousins that will help them in their upcoming school year. That brought me to 155 days, whereas 160 days will be bring me to 06/06/2016. Rounded numbers are also just semantics, but let me live.

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Thirty Before Thirty

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Although I’m not sentimental about numbers (we have a love hate relationship, actually), it struck me to realize that I’m about to turn 30 in just over a month and I have about 30K in debt – and that’s just the credit cards. There’s also the 15K I have on my second line of credit and the 20K I owe to a family member. I don’t have a house to show for it, I don’t have a car to show for it, and I know my university education doesn’t validate the debt as none of that is student loans. I’m broke, I’ve hit rock bottom, and I’m angry. Why anger? I generally strive to be a serene individual on all fronts, but I’m happy I’m angry at my debt. I’m angry enough to declare war against it and climb myself out, and I’m pulling out the big guns to do so.

I won’t get into details about how I got into this mess, but it’s all my fault. I lay claim to every bad decision. I have had a shopping addiction I am self-diagnosing as clinical, and I wanted it all. Not only did I shop to feel better about myself, my day, my decisions (I even shopped to feel better because I was depressed about all my debt – yes, yes, I know, I realize the absolutely asinine reasoning here) , but I also never said no to anything. Dinner out? Yes. Trip to Vegas/Thailand/Europe? Yes. Drinks night? I’ve been out the last 6 nights in a row, but yes. I had problems with self-control. I couldn’t tell myself no. My FOMO and need for new, shiny, exhilarating experiences/distractions was all consuming. And all these past tense references claiming I had a shopping addiction were all present tense until this morning. The bucks stops here. Literally.

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