I will have to write about this in more depth one day, but one of the more remarkable transformations that has occurred since moving to Portland, is that my life seems CALMER. I am less of an anxious nutjob. I don’t think I’ve lost my ability to be a nutjob, I think I just have less opportunity. I don’t know if it is from moving out of California, quitting a stressful job, not having odd living situations, or just residing in a city where I just feel more at home.
I do think one of the major reasons for the reduction in my neuroticism is the state of my finances. Five years ago I was ANXIOUS. Full on, rattling teeth, afraid-of-loud-noises, can’t-sleep-at-night ANXIOUS. Part of this was genetics, part was just the chemical juices manufactured in my brain, but part of it was self inflicted. And a lot of it had to do with money.
Unlike a lot of people, I’ve never had an outrageous amount of debt. I never lost my mind in college, spending money on hookers and blow. Okay, maybe a little. But I was always treading just BELOW water. I don’t know why it happened, I made a decent amount of money, being a soulless accountant for a movie studio. But I always had a bill due, rent always seemed unforeseen, my American Express was always too high, something was always being paid late.
I was juggling and keeping everything in the air, though clumsily. I was disorganized and I dreaded even attempting to get a clear picture of my cash flow. All this, while being an accountant. In credit and collections, no less.
The way anxiety works, is that is only takes one thing to worry about. One thing triggered all my nervous thoughts about everything else. I might not even remember the original thing I was anxious about before feeling panicked about everything on the planet. It could be one bill due, then I would be up all night worrying about how my life is falling apart. Fun stuff.
When I moved to Portland, I had a few thousand dollars in the bank after my Hawaii detour. I could have probably squeaked by with the money I had in the bank. But I borrowed $2000 from a dear friend (who was also my ex boyfriend) in order to cover my butt while looking for a job.
I was very lucky that my life fell into place rather quickly. I got a job within a couple of weeks, but is was a full $23,000 less a year than I was making in California. And yes, living expenses are slightly cheaper in Portland, but not that much cheaper. And as it turned out, my monthly expenses were exactly the SAME. So $23,000 less a year was a huge, painful cut. I lived frugally and agonized over purchases. “Survival mode,” as my dad called it. I tried to keep up.
The first six to nine months were hairy. I needed to completely rebuild a household after selling everything in LA and Hawaii. Pots, pans, dishes, a kitchen table, a bed, blankets, something to sit on besides the floor. I bought some used stuff. I deliberated over every purchase. Do I really need a colander? Was $2 worth it? Ikea was my good friend.
I got into a routine and I was juggling again. Paycheck to paycheck. What a familiar feeling. And little by little, I was sinking. From a tax return, I had enough to pay my friend back the $2000 I owed him. But he held onto the check, probably to make sure I was really on my feet, and I chewed further and further into that reserve.
I had moments of frustration. I wasn’t living an extravagant lifestyle. I wasn’t spending frivolously. I was living in a cheap studio. I wasn’t doing anything “wrong,” but I felt guilty that I was still getting into a hole. I felt like a kid in my mid thirties. I was lucky to have a boyfriend that was happy to take me out once in a while. Because if we were living on my entertainment budget, we’d be eating cheese and macaroni out of the pan every night.
As I struggled to keep all the balls in the air, a couple things began to happen. I was paying my bills, and I realized, I was getting to the end of a few long term loans. Suddenly, my student loan bill stopped coming. I had paid it off. I paid off a bank loan also. My credit card debt was under $2000 and I chipped away at it. I rolled the money I would have paid to my loans into my car payments. After another tax return, I convinced my dear friend to please, cash his check, before I slowly spent it again.
Dave and I moved in together and we shared expenses. I paid off the rest of my credit card debt and actually began saving a little. And you know what happened? I CALMED DOWN. I was already more than happy about my move to Portland and the life I was building. I was already calmer, even through the initial financial difficulties. But having an emergency fund and a decent cushion against the monthly bills is better than Prozac. I felt like an adult in my mid thirties.
As I was paying down my debt, I loved the feeling of accomplishment and success of seeing my balances go down, and finally, disappear. All while the economy was crashing and everyone was freaking out like their hair was on fire. Hair on fire! Hair on fire! World falling apart! Everyone freak out!
Last night, I went to go see JD Roth talk about his new book, Your Money, The Missing Manual. He’s a Portland based writer who got his start writing the well known blog Get Rich Slowly. I was able to speak with JD briefly after his talk, and he was encouraging about blogging. He’s a guy that was just trying to get himself out of debt, and he built himself a blogging career. I’m looking forward to reading his book.
Now that I feel pretty healthy financially, and I don’t dread looking at my bank account, I’m interested in hearing how other people manage their finances. JD and others in personal finance recommend Your Money or Your Life. JD called it “life changing.” I read the first half and wrote a little review over here. Just the little bit that I read felt like an alignment adjustment. I need to reread it and get through the whole thing.
I check Get Rich Slowly a few times a week and dig into the archives for personal finance topics that I relate to. It’s neat that he lives in Portland. I love that his blog is practical, non foofy or mystical, and non “self helpy.” I phased out of anything “self improvement” in my twenties and now avoid it like the plague. I feel fully improved by now.
Or rather, though my life is much calmer, I try to be entertained by the healthy reserve of my remaining neuroticism.