From the Blog

Ghosts in Boxes

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We’re moving in two days. I know, I can’t shut up about it. We are barely packed and aren’t nearly ready. But like most things in life, it’s not really “exciting” until there’s a looming deadline and endless procrastination, followed by white hot anxiety and a smidge of clinical insanity. We know how to party.

Among my tasks has been digging through boxes and finding a folder with all the health records for my cat. As I was looking through stacks of folders and papers in boxes marked “important stuff,” I found other bits of my past that were just too fascinating not to sit down and rummage through. See, I’m real good at procrastination. Or as I like to call it, being “strategically distracted.”

Some of these relics were bills and bank statements from over six years ago. Up until recently, I was not very good at handling my finances. I knew how to balance a checkbook when I was a teenager, because I didn’t have any money. Then adulthood happened, and bills came, and my tactics of choice for managing my money became “ignoring,” and “fretting.” This was before you could access all your bank accounts online. I only ever had a vague idea how much money I had at any given time, but I never really knew for sure, and it made writing checks and paying bills an adventure.

Back in 2005, I thought I’d get organized and devised a system of sorting all my receipts, pay stubs, bank statements and bills into an accordion folder by month. A huge undertaking. I hated store receipts and paper bills. I still do. I’m waiting for an app where cash registers can just send me an electronic receipt to my phone or gizmo that automatically exports to my financial software. You hear that, techy doods? Make it happen. Send me a royalty check.

So back in 2005, when I thought I’d be an adult, and “handle” my finances by dealing with the dreaded paper, I kept everything and filed it away. This was a noble endeavor, but as I now looked through this history, every month had past due notices and NSF (insufficient funds) letters from the bank. Every month. Multiple occurrences. It was out of control. I can’t imagine how much I must have paid in fees. But everything was filed and so organized.

I remember how I felt in those days. Scraping by. Trying to hang on. I wasn’t poor. I was just flailing. I made enough money to cover everything. But I just spent it. I spent more than I made. I was embarrassed that my finances were in such poor shape, and I was too ashamed to really tell anyone. I never really talked about it. I just kept paying the NSF fees to keep the checks from bouncing.

To top it off, I was an accountant! Those who had a slight inkling of my money anxiety slapped their foreheads. How could I be so dumb with money, when it was my job? But this made me bury it even more. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to get to the bottom of it. I didn’t want to know how bad it was.

I wasn’t dumb, but my judgment was poor, and my reactions were emotional. The spending was emotional, the denial was emotional. The panic in the middle of the night was emotional.

Now I make $20,000 less than I did six years ago, and I don’t have any debt. Switching cities, jobs and careers jolted those old patterns. The huge reduction in salary suddenly made every dollar count. I didn’t feel ashamed to be thrifty. I was damned poor! And in a new city, there was no one to “keep up” with. I met someone to share my life with, and there weren’t a lot of ways to hide deep, dark spending habits. The student loans melted away. Then the credit cards. Then the car payment. It’s all gone.

I spent a lot of time shredding those old papers from 2005. Shredding the receipts. Shredding the past due notices. Shredding the NSF letters. I sat cross legged on the floor until my hips ached and it was past my bedtime. I still have piles of paper to go. But it’s all going. Every last bit of it.

Fuck you, 2005.


  1. Reflection is a wonderful learning tool. I just received my Social Security summary in the mail and from the year 2000 on my income consistently fell year to year until it was zero during grad school. I told Tammy aren’t people supposed to make more money over time not less? We laughed and reflected on how things have changed, how they are changing now, and how thing may change in the future. Reflection puts things in perspective and helps us become wiser. At least I hope it does…regret really sucks.

  2. Dr. Smith, you and Tammy are pioneers in bucking convention. It’s hard living with different measures of success than everyone else. Yes, less income, but you’re so much smarter now!

    Like you, I much prefer reflection over regret. I’m am fond of self doubt in the way I am fond of a sore tooth, but in the end, what is the likelihood we will say, “I wish we did the same stuff as everyone else.” Not bloody likely.

  3. you were like the gardener with the overgrown yard… when you do it all day, who wants to come home and do it for yourself? this is why i remain a hairy wench, lol. you have a lot to be please about, shred all the negative, sistah!

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