I handed my poor, over-used debit card across the counter at Quiznos this afternoon and tried not to wince as the cashier (incidentelly, the only cashier in the entire District who puts on a smile for her customers…I really do love the Quiznos lunchtime cashier) swiped it and handed it back. In D.C., cashiers don’t tell you your total and then wait for you to nod your head; they tell and swipe simultaneously. In a way I think that’s better–like the nurse who tells you she’ll count three before sticking the needle in, but actually jabs it in at “one.” At least in the immediate moment, it hurts less that way.
But let’s be real: the immediate moment really isn’t the important thing when it comes to handling one’s finances. A long, long look at my bank statements this weekend was more than sufficient proof of that. Not that I’ve racked up some insane amount of debt, or gone on wild, uncontrolled shopping binges–I haven’t, and really (all things considered), my money situation is just fine. But I still struggle with worry about money. Sure I have enough for today, but what about tomorrow, or ten, twenty, fifty years from now?
I struggle with a constant sense of agitation about money. Not fear or anxiety, just a certain level of unease and restlessness, especially when I’m facing big life changes (like an impending move). Besides, money is one of those responsibilities that’ s never alleviated, and it touches on just about every aspect of day-to-day life. I’m faced with a long, long list of “should’s”: I should be saving more; I should make a plan to finish paying off my credit card; I should adhere to a stricter budget; I should (learn how to) invest; and I should tithe. And then of course there’s the long, long list of wants: summer work clothes; shoes; a coffee press; new bookshelves; a piano (digital or used…at this point, I’m not picky); a sewing machine…
Somehow neither list ever seems to get checked off. They both hover over me, nagging and reproachful. I’m not necessarily irresponsible or out-of-control with my money, but I’m disorganized and somewhat careless. Yes, I keep receipts from debit and credit transactions, but do I use them? No–they just add clutter to my wallet and the bottom of my purse. Sure I maintain a file of my pay stubs, but do I balance my checkbook? (Just ask my poor mother about that.) Granted I hunker down and refuse to spend any money during the last week or so of each paycheck, but does that actually mean I’m saving anything? (Shouldn’t I be putting money aside at the beginning of each paycheck, instead of panicking at the end?) I’ll spare you any further details of my embarrassing lack of ability when it comes to being my own money manager…you get the picture, I’m sure.
For a little while in my post-college years, I fell into the trap of thinking that all this unpleasantness relating to money would be removed when (and if) I settled down and got married. An older, wiser self is all too well aware that that is not the case. If I can’t handle my finances–and settle into a comfortable attitude of peace with regard to them–now, there’s no way I’ll be able to do so later, when I’m no longer looking out for just one person. After I got over that initial fantasy, I fell into the worse habit of envy: “If only I were making [xx] like so-and-so, I’d be just fine…” But is that really true? More than likely, my spending habits would simply expand to match a larger paycheck.
I realize that in order to get into good money habits, I need to devote a whole lot more effort to staying on top of my spending, saving, etc. But I think the most important thing I need to do starting now to get my financial situation in order is tithing. I used to do this faithfully, when I was making significantly less money than I am now. And guess what? I never starved, I was never late on my bills, and I even managed (somehow) to afford a few random extras…like a trip to Rome, Italy. Hmmm.
Now? I’m going to admit a shameful secret I’ve been keeping to myself for several months: I haven’t tithed in quite some time. First I took an accidental hiatus when I got behind on balancing my checkbook. Then I lost my parish envelopes for the next month. Then bills started piling up. Then…then…then…I comfort myself week after week with that ever-dangerous mantra, “God understands.” Sure He does, like He “understands” all my failures in trust, but maybe it’s time to stop resting in His ever-immense understanding and force myself to overcome my own frightened stinginess. I need to start putting those parish envelopes to good use again.