Money – what to do when it’s all too hard



Sometimes, it actually is too hard. You might be looking at your bank balance and wonder how you got into this situation yet again. Although you want to fix it, you’re paralyzed. So you just carry on, shouldering this weight that is getting heavier and heavier. Your job is ok – not great, but not bad enough to inspire you to leave. Your living situation isn’t ideal, but it’s comfortable enough. By the end of the pay cycle, you have no money left, but that’s ok, because none of your friends do either. This was me, albeit quite a while ago.

I wish I could write a concise guide on how to fix this, but the inertia isn’t likely to respond to a perky ‘positive thinking’ blog post. This isn’t for the people who are sort of on the path to getting out of debt and sorting themselves out. This is for the people who constantly think ‘I should get my shit together’ and then feel so awful and overwhelmed they just walk away from it all. I’m a big believer in just sucking up the horrors of a tight budget in order to ease the pain fast, but I also understand that sometimes, life is so difficult, and the mental strain is so great, that the consistency of routine is the only thing getting people through, even if that routine is lousy and financially damaging.

There’s this pervasive idea that wealth equals success, and that nothing else matters. This is obviously not true. If you were given $10000, or $100000, it might make you feel excited for a moment, but would it then make you feel anxious? Would you blow it in a few months? There are a lot of problems that money cannot solve. But there are a lot of pressures that can be relieved and problems that can be solved if you can fill the holes in your financial boat, and bail out a bit of water.

That said, it can sometimes feel too difficult and stressful to even start digging your way out of the debt hole. If you don’t have debt, you might not be able to save anything – if you have a lot on your plate, you probably don’t want to add more. Perhaps you resolve to change things, but during a big night out or after a lousy day, you spend more than you intended, and wake up the next morning full of regret.

You know what you’re like. If you are anything like me, in the long term, sheer willpower doesn’t work. Something outside of your self control has to change. The list below is simply a selection of options. To shake off the torpor and start moving again, you don’t have to do everything, but you do need to do something. All I have here are a few financial options, but if you just get started on tidying up one small portion of life, other things tend to start to fall in place too.

  1. No more loans. Never, ever get a payday loan. Getting a payday loan is the equivalent of setting your life and your sanity on fire. I just checked out a very chipper looking payday loan website and it depressed the hell out of me. You’d be paying around 24% interest over the life of the loan. If you miss a repayment or need to reschedule, they charge you over $30. If you use payday loans to cover the few days before you get paid, then you need to work out a tight budget for as long as it takes to get away from these vampires. Sell your stuff, reduce your phone plan and get up at a stupid hour to take advantage of early bird public transport rates. Once you’re free, never ever get a payday loan again.
  2. Start using cash. Let’s say you go to work, and on the way you buy a coffee for $4 (shush, it’s a large and bought in the CBD). Then you go out and buy your lunch for $15. Some of your colleagues go for an after work drink, so you buy a few beers and spend $20. You’ve almost spent $40 for the day. If you do that Monday to Friday, you’ve spent $200 for the week, $800 for the month. How does cash help? Put enough money for a taxi home into the back of your phone case, or behind your work pass – that’s now your day to day emergency fund. Don’t touch it unless you are desperate. Then, from Monday to Friday only take $15 into work with you per day. Whenever you eat a cheap lunch, or you skip your store-bought coffee, put the leftover money into your workday extras fund (which for me is the bottom of my bag). This isn’t a huge imposition. You still don’t have to make your lunch. If you stop buying the meal deal, and just buy the burger, or go to the $10 lunch place, you’ll be fine. So, now you’ve spent $60 for the week. This can be applied to most situations. Going out on Saturday with your friends? Usually spend $200? Take $100, and stash a $20 separately as your ‘get home safe’ money.
  3. The infamous change jar. I love a good change jar. You don’t need to spend money on one of the metal Aussie currency ones from the $2 shop. Just get a large coffee jar/tin (someone you know will have one), make a slot in the top, and superglue the lid on. Beg someone for the jar and the glue, and you’ve got a free change jar. Get one of those stupid cloth bags that retailers keep handing out and sew the top together. Now you have a change jar-sack! HOORAY! Depending on the time of year, your change jar should have a purpose. If you know that you spend a lot on presents at Christmas, then start the jar now, for Christmas 2018. The official Mongrel change jar has had multiple purposes over time. At the moment, it’s growing in the hope that by the time our phones die, there is enough to buy two more outright. Put the change jar somewhere safe, and at the end of every week, put your spare change in.
  4. Start your emergency fund. Create a new bank account. Set up a direct deposit for $20 at the start of every pay cycle. If you can’t afford that, then make it $5. Forget about the account. It doesn’t exist. The only way it comes back into existence, is if you find yourself in trouble and you actually need it. But be careful. When you’re strapped for cash on a regular basis, everything feels like an emergency. Truth is, most things aren’t. You know when you’re playing a game, and you have one spell, or potion or food item that will restore you to full health, or revive you? If you’re at the very start of a difficult level, you would never just waste it because you accidentally started a fight with a minor enemy without your weapon handy (hangs head in shame). Same with the emergency account. You don’t just crack it open because you only have $20 left for food for the next three days. It’s called cheap bread, spreads, rice and the specials section at the supermarket – make it work. You can’t pay your entire electricity bill on time? Then call the provider and ask for help. Swallow your pride. The emergency account is for EMERGENCIES. I would classify a major health problem or the death of a loved one as an emergency. I would say that being kicked out of your apartment is an emergency. Your microwave breaking isn’t an emergency. Attending a wedding is not an emergency. Basically, if you can sell some stuff (clothes, x-box) and pay for whatever it is you actually need, and you have the mental capability and fortitude to go through the selling process, then it’s not an emergency.
  5. Say no. Does your brother have an amazing deal that you need to get in on, but you have to do it immediately? Say no – you might love him and look up to him, but people who present loved ones with shoddy quick fixes are massive spuds. Does your best friend want you to go with her to take a class you aren’t really interested in? Say no. Does your dad drop his dog off with you for two weeks without food or toys? Say no. Does your girlfriend say that she can’t afford to pay her share of the food because she is going to buy a new guitar? Say HELL NO. There is absolutely no shame in saying “I can’t afford that”. If you’re uncomfortable saying that, then “I haven’t budgeted for that”, or “nope, I only have $20 to last me the rest of the week” both work great. If anyone asks you to get a loan, they are not looking out for your best interests. They are either fine with hurting you to get what they want, or they genuinely don’t understand enough about money and loans to understand what they are asking. It’s fine to say “If I don’t have enough money for x, then how would I have enough money to pay off the loan?”

That’s it. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Start your emergency account. Even if you can’t manage to change anything else, do that. If that seems to go ok, try the change jar. One step, even a small one, can make a big difference when it comes to putting out your personal fires.

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