I've been reading this book called Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. A good friend gave it to me about five or six years ago, and I'm finally mature enough to read it. The book talks about how a budget is a lot like a diet. You deprive yourself and skimp, and it works- for a month or maybe two. Then you feel you've been so good-- you can relax. And you go right back to your old spending habits. So you start a new budget. Hmmm.... Sounds familiar....

The book was written in the 1980's, from what I can tell, or at least-- a lot of their examples come from that time. So in some ways, I'm trying to maintain a current perspective while taking in the intended lesson of some of the financial examples cited in the book. Like the time that Cindy Soandso realized she was buying a pair of shoes a week and not wearing them. And on her budget, you can see she was also paying $200 in rent per month. Yeah, right. Or how this nice military man and his wife wanted a big family and a home in the country-- and on a budget of less than $30,000 a year, they saved up $45,000 in seven years, while having four children and paying off $25,000 in debts. So I figure now, that would mean an income of around $45,000 a year, and only two children. I mean, really. If I try to believe that $30,000 can support a family of six plus a 20% savings plan for a YEAR in 2007-- I will probably stop reading this book.

The book isn't about setting yet another budget. It's actually about calculating how much time/energy you spend on your current life style, and being accountable to your dreams/goals/values for the way that energy/time is spent. It's about changing your relationship with money and with the time you spend earning it. Dominguez and Robin say that all you need is enough-- and just a little bit extra. The hard part is that our culture teaches us to have endless appetites for buying. The phrase "more is better" simply means that you'll never have enough to be happy. Once you attain it, you want something else-- something more. Because more is better.

Instead, pay attention, and notice what is enough. What is important to you in your life? Do you need another foodiddler to reach that goal or have that experience you really care about? Probably not. One of my favorite tools in the book so far is the Purpose-in-Life Test. Originally formulated by Viktor Frankl, a Nazi death camp survivor, this test helps you determine if you have a strong sense of life-purpose or meaning, and if you have found ways to live your life according to that awareness.

One of my favorite questions on the test was this: "Facing my daily tasks is: a source of pleasure and satisfaction/ neutral/ a painful and boring experience." It really made me stop and ask myself why I spend so much time not enjoying my life. Frankl's book is called, Man's Search for Meaning, just in case you want to check it out. I haven't yet. I'm too busy planning world domination on $50 a week. And besides, I (just barely) have a clear sense of purpose, according to the test results. I'll take that and run with it!

I stopped about half-way through the book to go get my weekly groceries. Step One: record all expenditures to the penny for a month. I filled my water jugs. ($1.40) I got gas. ($34.79) I stopped at a local used book store for a book my mom wants, and found a great little expenditure recording notebook. ($12.37) Coincidence #1: the book she wants is on sale this week. I realized I was supposed to meet my cousin at 3pm to pick up her Christmas Gift to me (time-sensitive), so I rushed over there.

So far, I was very cheerful, optimistic, not too hungry to food shop, totally pleased to get out of the multi-everything store with JUST WATER, and working hard to remember and record everything I spent. Then I drove through downtown in nearly rush hour traffic-- on a SATURDAY, and got pretty grumpy. I also got hungry and thirsty. Bad combo. Cousin's phone was busy so I knew she'd be in. She wasn't in. I tried to find a corner of downtown to hang out in for five minutes in hopes that she'd be back, but everywhere I went, SOMEONE WAS BEHIND ME trying to drive forward. I headed back to Trader Joe's. In nearly rush hour traffic. My cousin called about 20 minutes later. She's home now, where am I? Coincidence #2: She ran to the bank for 10 minutes, and we JUST MISSED EACH OTHER!!!

I hang up and turn into the parking lot of TJ's. Everyone is at TJ's today. Everyone. And they brought their friends along too. In separate cars. Even my brother was there. Seriously. We drove past each other in search of parking. (Coincidence #3.) I haven't seen my brother in a couple of months. So we shopped together (enlightening to say the least-- $19.77 for my groceries this week! Helps that Thanksgiving is at someone else's place.) and then headed out to a late lunch together. Coincidence #4: We actually both had time to catch up right then, and we'd both missed lunch! That was pretty darn cool.

So today I started the process toward financial intelligence. To the tune of $68.33. That's probably about a hundred dollars less than I spent last Saturday. Talk about financial freedom! It's not that I can afford to do anything with this money but continue hoarding it for car payments over the next six months... Nope. I'm simply excited that my life, and the time I spend in it, is mine to delineate. And I just regained control of my budget, too.

Coincidence? I think NOT!


Getting Mad

There are many different kinds of anger. Today, I'm focusing on the people who just don't GET mad. They don't have that moment of "hey-- I deserve better than this!" where anger is supposed to kick in and help us speak up for ourselves. We're so busy trying to make everyone else feel good that we often don't even notice how bad WE feel in a given situation. Maybe you don't even feel it's worth defending yourself or you don't think, "Woah! I would never treat someone else that way-- why is it okay for them to do it to me??"

When this has been your system of operation, and you are now slowly working to be more self-assured, self-aware, self-accepting and self-serving (in the sense that you finally realized nobody but you can give you what you need out of life)... Those little moments when you DO GET MAD because somebody stepped over your boundaries and tap-danced on your comfort zone or your right to be treated with fairness and respect... those are great victories in your quest for emotional health. Celebrate your mad moment.

For example, about two weeks ago, somebody gave me the deadline of November 15 to respond to a specific request. Yesterday, they emailed me with a demand for ASAP response on that request. You know? It made me mad. I've been working on it. I'm still well within the deadline. (I've got a week left, thank you!) Why are you hounding me?? ... and the fact that I got mad, instead of trying to make that person happy ASAP... for me, that was a little victory. That person is no more important than I am in my life now. The rules don't change just because they are tired of waiting or because they don't respect me. But it is up to me to enforce those same rules, to expect respect, and not to feel like I failed THEM when I don't get it.

I sent that person a clear, polite, and honest response. I clarified my position and maintained control of my process. HOW COOL IS THAT?!

Here is the deadline you set me. Here is what I've been doing in relation to that request. Here is why THIS PROCESS is important to me, and how it could also be of value to you. I know you think THIS PROCESS is a waste of time, but I appreciate (and expect) that you will humor me and do it this way anyway. Thank you.

Getting excited about getting mad helped me see just how far I've come in becoming my best self. I'm finally starting to respect and value my needs, expectations, and actions-- AND DEFEND THEM WHEN OTHERS DISAGREE. You see, anger problems go both ways. You can be someone who gets angry out of proportion to the stimulant-- you can be an ANGRY PERSON... or, you can be someone who fails to acknowledge their anger, who thinks they don't have a right to get mad and to defend themselves. They don't acknowledge their own needs OR their own feelings. This is just as self-destructive and unhealthy, people.

If you go around saying, "it's okay to step on me"... well, then people will step on you.

You have to take responsibility for getting your needs met, and you have to respect yourself, or nobody else will do these things either. We define our own worth in many ways, and acknowledging how we feel is one of the biggies. Acknowledging that we have a reason to feel that way, and then intentionally deciding on a course of action based on ALL of our awarenesses (intellectual, personal, emotional, professional)-- well, THAT's a healthy way to live.