I wake up pre-sun, before the birds and before the noise. The day is yawning and so am I. My hands run over my face and then my quiet eyes and then I’m staring at my unforgivingly bright monitor. I skim the news, visit Perez and watch some hip-hop videos from the ’90s. Then, resentfully, I type the necessary characters to go to my bank’s Web site to check my credit card debt.
This is when the day begins to circle. The birds come out. The noises start. A headache comes on. The fog escapes my head and glides through the open window into the bitter air. I’m awake now.
It’s sobering looking at all those numbers. It’s as if the dream of the day is gone. All the little color-soaked hopes of slumber explode when visions of debt and bills and money and rent and work and hopes and cold, cold life fill my head.
I don’t want to look at these numbers — want to run away, sprint back to my bed where I belong to dreams of a life without limits, a life of a child with no worries. But I begin to painfully scroll through the Web site anyway. “Let’s do this,” I say out loud to no one.
The numbers mock me. I look at my past transactions and curse myself. Why did I spend $60 on wine? Obviously, I can’t remember. $46 at Staples. Staples! I scan the room and see no signs of pens or pencils or legal pad. And what about $8 for Zack and Miri Make a Porno? Was it worth it? OK, I don’t think I have to answer that one, not even to myself.
I get angry and launch a line-by-line inspection of every transaction over the past three months. I go through a range of emotions in the process, which culminates in a tearful conversation with my somber computer screen. I feel defeated by my spending habits and the embarrassing talk with a machine, so I log off. It’s time to go to work.
I’m driving now and numbers are still buzzing through my head. I need to sober up — need a slap in the face or something. Can you get arrested for driving under the influence of financial pressure? I need a coffee, but decide to skip it. “No more impulse buys,” I declare clearly over James Brown’s “The Payback.” “OK?” Mr. Brown responds with a “Huh, Weeee!”
Then it hit me. This whole ordeal of checking my spending habits motivated me NOT to spend. It brought me perspective on what I should buy and what I can afford. It brought me out of my bedtime dreams of buying what I want instead of what I need, which in both cases is almost always not coffee.
I’m at work now and I feel refreshed with my new perspective. I’m going to check my balance more often and look forward to it. I’ll cut spending and enjoy a richer, less-caffeinated life. I’ll live like the Jonas brothers look — youthfully reserved.
The day sets and I’m buying groceries. I put them on my credit card and feel good because I know where I stand. I know my limits. I feel fresh, satisfied. “I think I can handle this finance stuff,” I say to myself as the checker looks at me like, “Good for you.”
The doors glide open as I leave. It’s a brisk night and I’m thinking about how I just saved $7 because I didn’t buy any brie. Good decision, I think to myself.
With a smile I look up and see a glowing sign. It says, “This is not an exit,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Note: This article is featured in the 180th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Living Almost Large. The carnival features tons of helpful personal finance posts and showcases currencies from around the world.
See related: My year of living frugally, Don’t buy it if you don’t love it