Money

(Just before I start, I’ve had wine today and Tues, but none on Mon and Weds, so not quite cut it out in the week, but it’s better than drinking every night.)

Money was bound to come up sooner or later with the mental decluttering I’m doing.

I’m trying to stay conscious of my emotional state and work through things as they cause me problems, and today’s issue is definitely money. I sat down and did a long overdue bank reconciliation and my financial situation is dire. Really dire. I am £6611 in debt. I do a tiny bit of freelancing on the side, which brings in the odd few hundred, but I haven’t worked in earnest since I left my job in Feb 2013, over four years ago.

I was so depressed at this figure today, and then I found myself stuck in the common thought of Why am I such a financial failure when I am educated and reasonably intelligent? which always makes me feel utterly crap.

I have changed jobs about as many times as people change underpants and have always found sticking to one thing to be tremendously difficult. I was also (hindsight tells me), not very good in the workplace at establishing boundaries, being heard, and standing up for myself. I allowed people to treat me as a friend, the nice girl, the confidant, the co-conspirator and the one who always had a joke to tell. I didn’t have leadership qualities, even though I had leadership aspirations. I always felt like a bit of an imposter – never as grown up as all the other grown-ups I worked with. I acted like the new girl for most of my 20 year work history (all because I wanted people to like me. People-pleasing is a destructive force for sure).

Sigh.

And of course, I went to a not very good university to get a masters in my late twenties, which cost me quite a lot. No one ever really explained the value of cost-benefit analysis to me, but I’ve spent the afternoon thinking maybe I didn’t get back the value I invested in getting a masters from a not very good university.

Let’s find out.

At the time I returned to uni I was earning £19,000.

I worked part time during my degree and earned £4,660.

I borrowed £9,000 to support myself for the year. So the year I was at uni cost me:

£9000 loan + £14340 in lost earnings + loan interest estimated at £2,000 = £25,340

Assuming my wages would have risen with inflation, my old wage (had I not been promoted or anything), my actual earnings post-degree, the difference, and the time to pay off my year out must be something like this:

Years after degree - original earnings, actual earnings, difference, reducing cost of degree
1 - 19311, 19642, 331, -25009
2 - 19681, 23466, 3785, -21224
3 - 20265, 30780, 10515, -10709
4 - 20694, 30199, 9505, -1204
5 - 21337, 31658, 10321, +9117

So, four years down the line I was almost paid off, and five years down the line I was in credit to the tune of £9k. I basically raised my annual wages by 10k.

Hmm. So actually I think my very basic cost-benefit analysis shows that it was financially worth it. There is the factor of potential promotions had I stayed in the same line of work for five years. But I just can’t know that – and given my promotion history it may never have happened.

So, that’s not the problem. My degree was totally worth it.

But where did I go wrong and how did I end up almost £7k in debt?

I dug myself out of debt once before (probably around £5k), and maintained that status quo until I went on maternity leave for the first time. It is not easy going from earning a decent full time income to earning statutory maternity pay.

For four years I have spent carelessly. That is how I have ended up almost £7k in debt. The big question is:

Why do I spend carelessly?

Having thought about this, I guess the real reason is that my lifestyle choices are more expensive than the income that I have available to support them.

It’s that simple.

I am living a false life where I think I can buy things I want. I am avoiding reality.

We live in a wealthy area and our kids go to school with kids from wealthy homes. It’s a state school, but it’s a good area. We’re lucky – the kids benefit from a good education for free. But we socialise with people who are relatively better off than we are. They are nice people. We’ve lived here 10 years now and we feel the same as them… but we aren’t. Or at least, I’m not. My husband earns a good wage, but not enough to cover my overspending.

Part of this is about self-acceptance (I’m starting to think almost everything comes back to this most important of concepts). If I accept that I have to budget, even though I mix with people who seemingly don’t, then I will be able to stick within my spending limits.

But if I don’t accept myself and my own financial limitations, I end up like I am now. Debt-ridden and miserable.

So perhaps I need to be more self-aware with my spending. Perhaps I need to ask myself: Can I afford this, or am I just pretending I can afford it?

Because if I can’t afford it, it doesn’t make me any worse or any better. It’s just who I am. And that is perfectly okay.

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