Money Problems

I have a money problem.

Not in the traditional sense, though. I have some credit card debt but nothing that is making me eat ramen noodles or contemplate filing bankruptcy. I have student loan payments, but as long as I follow my monthly budget I can make them without sacrificing all the joy in my life. Really, what I have is a problem with thinking I won’t have enough money.

Granted, you can pick up any newspaper and read about the economic factors that are causing my generation to delay marriage, children, and home ownership. But as far as millenials go, I’m par for the course and on track to meet my financial goals–albeit not as soon as I want to.

I grew up in a household where money was tight. My parents did the best they could, and taught me from their mistakes. But being a natural worrywart, money was something I obsessed over. I hoarded my allowance and gift cards to buy brand name sneakers, and jeans on clearance from Aeropostale (yes, that brand was hot back in my day lol). In high school I decided to be a lawyer because I thought it was a profession that would allow me to help people without being broke.

Christians subscribe to the belief that God will keep testing you until you pass the test. I’ve come to the realization that money is mine. I’ve never been evicted, never missed a payment, never had a creditor call my phone. I’m not a superstar, but on balance, I’m good with money. I put aside a portion of my check each month into savings and retirement. Sure, I can’t spend $5,000 on a vacation tomorrow and I can’t buy all the things I want but that’s life. No matter how much money you have, you get used to it and there will be something you can’t afford.

In the meantime, I’m learning to sit in the discomfort of “but why can’t I have it” and practice gratitude for all the things I do have.

Can’t Shop, Won’t Shop

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For the past few years, the media has been chronicling the fall of the in-store shopping experience. It never really resonated with me. Aside from everyday needs like groceries and toilet paper, I do a lot of shopping online, usually because what I need either can’t be found in the store, or are significantly more expensive there. Things like textbooks for school and electronics are much more affordable online. For instance, none of the stores near me had an HP laptop with the storage and processor speed I needed for under $600. I found exactly what I wanted on Amazon for about $400. A two day wait was more than worth it to save that much money!

I also shop online out of necessity. First of all, I have big feet. I can buy sneakers in store, because I have no shame in shopping the men’s section (there’s almost always a confused looking dude who checks to make sure he didn’t accidentally wander into the wrong section, LOL!). But there’s not a single shoe store within 30 miles of where I live has a decent selection of size 11 or 11W women’s dress shoes EXCEPT for Payless, whose shoes may as well be made out of cardboard*. I’m also plus size (on the smaller side of plus, admittedly, but just big enough that I can’t just walk into any store and find something that fits).  Most brands have an abysmal in-store plus size selection, so if I don’t want to wear

a) suits made entirely of stretch fabric;

b) dresses that make me look like a church deaconess;

c) Mom jeans with an elastic waistband; or

d) oversized floral polyester blouses that shouldn’t be exposed to open flame

then I have no choice but to shop online. Walmart can get you through in a pinch, but no white collar worker who can afford to buy better would choose to craft their professional wardrobe out of Faded Glory and House of Dereon separates. On the other end of the scale, Macy’s overcharges for plus clothes that look like they belong in Walmart. Nordstrom and Dillards are expensive, and sell more dresses and cocktail outfits than everyday basics.

Anyway, I finally had occasion to shop in store. I got a Visa gift card for Christmas, and I hate using those online because if you find something that’s more than the card value, you can’t split payments. I was looking for two things: an alarm clock with FM radio and an aux cord for my iPod, and one of those handheld massagers**. Both of these items were at Bed, Bath and Beyond. However, I wasn’t prepared to spend $50 on a clock, and the only massager available was a $250 chair cushion. The clock was $20 cheaper on Amazon, as well as a host of affordable massagers, but I felt like both of these items were too mundane to justify waiting on shipping. Surely I could find a good deal at a different store! So off I went.

Target was a bust on the clock- there was only one clock that met my specifications, and it was a super fancy $80 model. I couldn’t even find the clocks at Walmart (they weren’t in electronics or home office) and I was so annoyed by that point that I didn’t bother to ask an associate. F*ck it, I’ll buy a clock online. I suppose it’s something of an anachronism by now. The irritating part was that both of their websites claimed to have several massagers available in store. I even had the option to order online and pick up in store the same day. But THE WEBSITE WOULD NOT TELL ME WHICH AISLE THE PRODUCT WAS ON. The all caps were necessary because it was stupid. What is the point of going to the store to buy something if you can’t look at it and see if you even want it first? If I was willing to buy something sight unseen, I’d just have gone to Amazon.

At any rate, all of this integration of e-commerce and physical stores means nothing if you can’t find the product. Sure, I could have hunted down a sales associate*** to ask for help, but if I can see the inventory levels online there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to find out which section a product is in as well. Whatever. Guess I’ll just buy it on Amazon.

UPDATE: After blogging this, I  went to CVS to buy shampoo. Before leaving the house I checked the website and saw there were massagers at my local store. They were easy to locate,  and the model I bought was listed for the same price as it was on Amazon. Plus, I had a $2 off coupon and $5 ExtraBucks rewards  from the loyalty program. CVS is out here winning!

*Not gonna lie, those cheap a** shoes got me through childhood, college and law school. But the first thing I did when I started working full time was buy a $100 pair of name brand shoes. Once you’ve had arch support, there’s no going back.

**Not for the bedroom, y’all. For my neck and shoulder.

***LOLOLOL as if one would even be available? Or even have the answer? I’ve worked retail, I know what it it is.

On the come up.

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Good news! I found a job as a lawyer! I really enjoy the work, my boss is supportive and treats me with respect, and I have a 10-15 minute commute. Plus, now that we have a second income I can finally replace my car, buy tickets to fly out for Jaleesa’s fall wedding, and upgrade my wardrobe. The car thing is pretty urgent- I have just one working window, the A/C is out, the engine idles high, it starts up sluggishly…it could probably be repaired, but the repairs would certainly cost more than its current value. So things are pretty good. My one regret is that I didn’t negotiate better for my salary- I was so dumbstruck when I received the offer that I couldn’t think straight! But this is my first real job, I’m making enough for us to have some significant breathing room in our budget, and if I bring in a case I receive a healthy chunk of the fees. My boss has also said several times in the three weeks I’ve been working that he’s impressed with me, so come this time next year I should have ample ammunition to broach the subject of a raise. 

I know part of my unease comes from the fact that I’ve been worried about money virtually since I knew what it was. A part of me is terrified that I’ll never have an opportunity to make more money, so even the loss of a couple hundred dollars a month extra is going to tragically limit me down the line. Never mind that I’m in a profession with unlimited earning potential, or that my husband is a computer engineer working at a universally recognized company who will almost certainly be making  six figures within a decade. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I suffer from “poverty brain“- I’ve never gone hungry or been out on the street, but I knew growing up that we didn’t have a lot of money for extras. I suppose I suffered from a bit of cognitive dissonance. My parents are educated and cultured. They took us to the zoo, the ballet, gave us music lessons and SAT prep classes. I went to college on scholarship, so I had to scrimp and save money for my spring break trips that left me broke for the rest of the month. And after experiencing long term unemployment and having to uproot my life to live my in-laws, I know that the cost of living is not as cheap as you want it to be.

On the flip side, we don’t currently live an extravagant lifestyle, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t want to end up like all the Baby Boomers who fell for the lie that the economy could expand ad infinitum and trapped themselves into bloated mortgages, too-big houses, a new car note every decade, and the other trappings of conspicuous consumption, and therefore can’t retire. I’m working on trying to pare down my wardrobe and buy only affordable, but quality pieces (no more Payless or Forever 21!) that I love and will wear regularly. I’m drawing up a new budget this weekend to make sure we don’t fritter away our second income stream on things that won’t appreciate.  But I know I also need to work on being thankful, present and faithful. This isn’t the first or the last opportunity that God has for me and I need to act like it.

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