first of the month: money panic

I’d like to try something new today.

Every time I ask a question here on the site, all your answers blow me away. Inevitably, one or two of you even send me emails with full essays answering the question, confessing that your answer feels too long to put in the comments. I sit in bed and read out loud to Joey, and we marvel over how on Earth I got to be in this position where people write such beautiful words and I get to read them. If there’s one thing I like even more than writing, it’s reading other people’s writing.

Each time one of these conversations happens (like here, here, or here), it throws me into a bit of a storm. I think, maybe I’m in the wrong line of work. Maybe I should be editing, teaching, or something else where I can just read for a living. Or maybe it’s just you–the particular mix of wonderful who find your way to these conversations. Either way, when you all tell your stories and speak up, that’s my favorite. I’m not sure if I’ve ever expressed how much I love listening to you. 

So I’d like to try something new. On the first of every month, I’m going to ask a question or offer somewhere to start. And then, if you’d like, pipe in. Feel free to make your comments as short or long as you’d like, and of course, feel free to comment on each others posts, too. Or if you have a blog of your own and you’d rather wrestle with the question there, just leave the link in the comments.

This is no different really from the other times we’ve all talked here, but because it’s one of my favorite parts of this site, I wanted to make it official. I’ll call them First of the Month posts, and I’m thinking of them as something we all get to work on together, a monthly journal of sorts. They’ll stay open forever too, so there will be no time limit on when you can answer.

Let’s try, and see how it goes! Thank you, as always, for being here, and reading, listening, and writing.

Today’s question is about money. Maybe because it’s tax time, or because we have so many family birthdays packed into early Spring, but I feel like I often have money panics right around now. This weekend I was thinking about the ways I ease that panic, and the tricks I’ve developed over the years both to calm my nerves and to bring our finances into perspective. Of course we have times of overhauling the family budget, of needing to take out loans to pay for dental appointments, or of making big decisions about how we earn or spend money. But I was thinking about the little things, small ways that make me feel better, less anxious, and often when it comes down to it, more thankful. (And because I was also freaking out a little bit, I had a good opportunity to test my own theories.) So when I’m freaking out about money:

1. I buy flowers at the supermarket. In the summer I tend to have something blooming and growing outside, but the rest of the year, the decision to veer into the balloon and lily-filled section of the supermarket changes the whole tone of my shopping trip. It’s a luxury! But the five bucks I spend on tulips has some serious payback. I walk through the supermarket with those tulips in the little kid-seat section of the cart and I feel like someone who spends extravagantly, someone who has plenty of money to fill my house with flowers.

2. I give tiny, anonymous gifts. I leave five dollars with the person behind the counter of the coffee shop and ask them to buy the next person’s coffee. I pay someone else’s toll. Besides giving me a secret little rush for doing something I’m not really supposed to do, this helps me feel the fluidity of money in a different way. (But really, I do it for the rush.)

3. I say thank you when I pay bills. I learned this one from a friend last year who I think learned it from one of those self help books about getting rich, and although I don’t think it will make me rich, it does make me happier. When I write a check for the electric bill, I think “Thanks for all the good electricity!” Especially when I’m paying bills, it’s easy for me to slip into the feeling that the money is being taken from me. Thinking of each of these interactions as an exchange reframes them in a whole new way.

How about you? What do you do when you feel freaked out about money? Do you have tricks that help you refocus and shift your attitude?

Thanks so much for participating in our first ever First of the Month! I can’t wait to read.


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88 Responses to first of the month: money panic

  1. allisen says:

    I think about the median household income in the United States ($50,000). There are times when I veer toward being petty or jealous of people who have more than me, and I can always bring myself back into perspective by saying “Self, you earn more than half the people in one of the richest country’s in the world. Be grateful!” And it works. I do feel incredibly blessed and grateful.

    • alana says:

      Yes, absolutely. That number holds a lot of weight–whether we get there or not, it puts the financial situation of most of this country in perspective. I think that often the media (I think, including social media) often make it look like everyone is off on vacation or buying lovely couches. But really, the majority of the country is trying to make more happen with less.

  2. Whitney says:

    I’m going through money panic right now! My husband and I just bought our first house on Thursday. Last night, while stripping wallpaper in the basement, we discovered water damage/crumbling sheetrock/mold. In my future craft room! Sigh. A problem that we, unfortunately, can’t afford to fix for a couple months. I’m trying to deal with it by reminding myself how lucky we are that it’s just one problem in one little corner of one non-essential room in a 45-year old house. My sewing machine and little can of Euphoric Lilac paint aren’t going anywhere in the meantime. I might try the flower trick to cheer myself up, though!

    • Kat says:

      If it isn’t the worrisome sort of mold, try tacking up some fun inexpensive fabric from the dollar bin until you can repair it. I’ve done that in more than one slightly questionable living space over the years!
      And, if it makes you feel any better – my sewing and office space are residing in the eventual master bath. I have unfinished drywall, plastic sheeting-covered insulation, plywood floors and exposed pipes. Got kicked out of my work space when we added to our family and will be out of luck entirely once we can afford to finish that room.

    • alana says:

      Oh, mold! I hope this is all resolvable, but I also can’t help but jump in and say- first house! Congrats and wahoo! That’s huge. You’re euphoric lilac will get up on that wall soon. And yes- I agree with Kat. I’ve strung up fabric or cork board over some pretty moldy walls in my day. Just see if you can confirm that it’s not the kind of mold that might make you sick, and I’d give it a regular hefty scrub with white vinegar to keep the growth down.

      • Whitney says:

        Thank you, thank you! Fortunately, we found out it’s not mold. Unfortunately, it’s major termite damage (though, thankfully, it’s all very old and there aren’t any active termites). It’s so hard watching the beams that are supporting the upper floor of your house crumble at the slightest touch. Kind of makes me wonder what was the point of having both a general inspection AND a termite inspection if they both missed something so major. Sigh. At least we still have our apartment to live in while it all gets fixed.

        • alana says:

          Hooray for good news! (Termites are better than mold when it comes to new house plagues, right?)

          • Whitney says:

            I wasn’t so sure at first (there was some structural damage), but a couple of angels worked all through the night ripping out the crumbling beams and putting in new ones (and insulation! and drywall!), and now it’s as good as new. This experience has taught me to just give it up to the universe…whatever happens is going to happen, and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do to influence it. And 9 times out of 10, it’s nothing so bad as what I imagined it could be.

  3. Kat says:

    There have been some lean, lean times in our house over the years. I deal with it the same way I deal with all the other stresses – by being grateful and finding the good. So I think, “I’m so lucky my kid is crazy strong-willed and loud. She’ll never be pushed around”. Or “I’m grateful that so far, even at our lowest, leanest financial times we can tighten our belts until we can barely breath but we can still just make it.” Every day I’m grateful to live in a place where we have heat, shelter, and some form of food on the table. First-world problems are good ones to have and we’re lucky that our biggest issues are small in comparison with so many other folks in the world.
    As much as I love your approach to flowers or making someone’s day brighter, I can’t bring myself to even go out for my own coffee or toss a single extraneous purchase in the cart when the budget’s tight. But, I will do nice free things for myself and the family – dig through my fabric bins and whip up a new skirt for my daughter or a kitschy apron for myself, institute family homemade pizza and game night instead of going out on Fridays (this one has stuck even once the budget relaxed some), take the kids to the church playground or out to the trails with the dog. Picnic on the back deck when the weather’s good or in the family room in the winter. We tend to just focus more on family fun time.
    And when I get nervous about the budget, I rummage around in my stockpiles and bake and cook and clean and mutter to myself. Family knows not to bother me when I’m in the middle of a good bout of muttering. Which means I get quiet time to work through my worries and they get yummy food and a sparkling clean house. The food can get pretty creative depending on what’s on hand at the time, but after a day or two I’ve worked it out of my system and I’m ready to face the world again!

    • alana says:

      Isn’t it amazing how the process of making food and cleaning the house can help? There’s something in the creation of a real meal from so little that has such power. And a clean house feels new to me–it makes me feel like I have so much.

    • Rachel says:

      I just wrote a post about how I really don’t deal with my money panic, I just try to survive. But I do these things too! Extra-thorough spring-cleaning, baking, making coffee in the afternoons, having picnics on the beach. And getting through the leans weeks/months/years DOES feel like an accomplishment and makes me feel like I’m good at something, even if it’s not financial planning.

      • alana says:

        YES. I’m way less organized than most of the people here, but somehow just making it through makes me feel good. And coffee in the afternoon is on my little “I feel rich” tricks, too. Sometimes it makes me have trouble sleeping! But in the moment, it feels so decadent, especially if I take a moment and sit in a sunny spot and zone out while I drink it.

  4. AmyEmilia says:

    Whenever I think money is tight, I go actually LOOK and see if that is true. It is worth an objective check, to see that indeed I do have more than enough money to make it to the next payday. Sometimes that feeling is really just a feeling!

    • alana says:

      This is such a good point. Money is so wound up with emotion, and sometimes it really is just a feeling. Sitting down and actually doing the math for the rest of the month is often really helpful when I’m feeling like we can’t make it. (Of course, if the math doesn’t work- it does the opposite!) But it’s good to actually know where you stand.

  5. jacquie says:

    oh how i wish i could afford to buy flowers at the grocery store or anywhere for that matter. i remind myself of how much i save by making my own granola, bread and dried beans rather than canned and how much tasty and more nutrious it all is. i also try to remember to take a step back and remind myself that i do have more than many others. since i work in the inner citty and with a disadvantaged population so i do get regularl reminders of that. oh and when i take the dogs out for the last walk at night i make it a practice to look at the skies and take a deep breathe in – even though it is an urban environment – seeing the stars, skying and just breathing and walkin help me feel more settled. and i realize the last has nothing to do w/ money but it does help me.

    • alana says:

      Jacquie, I think money is so wound up with everything else–and that moment when you go outside with the dogs and breathe and take in the stars–it has everything to do with it. I think that taking those moments to enjoy and take care of yourself helps to build up strength and well-being for all of the other moments. Even more, it’s a treat and a luxury that doesn’t cost a penny. It’s a bit of a cliche, I know! But it’s really true that some of the most wonderful things in the world are totally free.

  6. Kris says:

    As others have said, when I’m feeling down about our tight budget, I remind myself of how much I have. It’s tough to make the mortgage every month, but that’s because we chose to live in a large house with a large yard instead of having extra money for cable or ordering out.

    And, when I feel like I just have to splurge, like sticking to my budget and tracking every cent is going to suffocate me, I splurge on good food. Last week, it felt great buying a gallon of maple syrup. Maybe the syrup isn’t the best example, but I figure if I’m not going to go on vacation, or buy new clothes, I might as well be eating well. And, if there’s food in the house everyone enjoys, then everyone is happy, and a tight budget isn’t so stressful.

  7. vix says:

    When money is REALLY tight I make ice cubes … lots and lots of ice cubes. Then I have the luxury of drinking ice cold water.

    After that I tidy and clean my house, suddenly I find a lot of stuff that I can use, whether its clothes that fit, or food in the pantry.
    I catch up with the laundry (having all your ironing done makes you feel so good!) or baking if we have the ingredients

    Entertainment when money is tight? Monopoly night, homemade popcorn and an old dvd. Homemade pizza or just leftovers… eaten by candlelight makes everything a lot more romantic.

    I end up going to the library to read magazines & books, download lots of free kindle books, Zinio offers free magazines

    I take cuttings of my plants and put them in cups of water to grow roots (free plants for my garden!) and I save seeds from fruits and veg that I want to try grow

    We give away the clothes that are too small (but you could sell yours)

    I make new accessories, to cheer up my old clothes (knit a scarf/cowl/fingerless gloves/hat) (bead a bracelet or necklace)

    Lack of money makes you depressed, I read a free book recently about natural serotonin, it says you must sit in the sun for 20 min a day… that’s free! And makes you feel so happy!

    Cant afford flowers? grow your own. or buy fake ones. or grow a pot plant.

  8. Mindy says:

    When I was little, my parents both worked in textile manufacturing. There would be times where neither of my parents would have work. Feeding three kids I’m sure was hard on them. My mom especially never let on about money issues. As long as you have food on the table and a roof over your head then you have a lot to be thankful for. My mom’s mantra always works in times of uncertainty : Why borrow tomorrow’s troubles.

    • Hannah says:

      Mindy I had to jump in and comment because this was one of my mom’s mantras too – if I would get wound up about something that might happen, she would always tell me, “Well, no need to borrow trouble.” I love that expression. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Lisa M. says:

    I love this new idea for your blog! Money…. I agree with you about paying for the person behind you. Last year, on Good Friday, I had stopped at Starbucks on the way to work. When I got to the window, the barista said the gentleman in front had payed for mine because it was Good Friday. Since then I find myself paying for the person behind me from time to time. It’s a warm rush of happiness in doing something for someone you don’t even know.
    We are faced with money concerns at the moment. My husband recently lost his job and our youngest will be transferring in the fall from community college to a private college to complete her jr/sr years. We have been so blessed in our lives up to this point that we are continuing on faith that things will work out.
    Your blog is the one that I always check first to see if there is a new post. I am so thankful that I stumbled onto it last year! Your words have been a help and an inspiration each week.

  10. Anna says:

    Do any of us actually have a good relationship with money? I grew up in a house where my parents made lots of money, but had a great knack at making it evaporate. Needless to say, it was a stressful environment and made me a bit more cautious (read, panicky)than they were.

    Now when I worry about money (say like now when we just bought a new house, our oven went kaput, our car went kaput, hubby needed expensive knee surgery, and we found out we were expecting our first in the span of A MONTH), I take things in stride. I try to remember that we have been ever so slightly responsible financially, and are semi-prepared.

    I find that stressful money moments make me want to roll up my sleeves, make a fabulous(budget friendly!) meal for hubby and I, and remember all the reasons we have to be thankful. We are healthy, happy, employed, and have each other. All about perspective right?

    • me says:

      you are pregnant … THATS WONDERFUL … Ive been having fertility treatment for a year and not been able to conceive again after multiple miscarriages.

    • alana says:

      Absolutely, Anna. I feel like that’s such a common thread of the comments here–it’s all about perspective. Still, what a month over there! Congrats on the good stuff, good luck with the hard stuff and… remember to breathe!

  11. Kimberly says:

    Last year, determined to end a lifelong pattern of sticking my head in the sand when it comes to money, I nominated Tuesdays as a weekly check-in day — I refer to it as Accountability Tuesday on my calendar. Every Tuesday, I check the balances in all my accounts, to check for inaccuracies and surprises while they’re still fresh and easy to manage. I pay my bills and make as many of the week’s financial decisions as I can. Once done, I feel free and in control. Accountability Tuesdays were hard to face at first, but now I appreciate the honesty they bring to my money matters, with little need to panic anymore.

    • Heather Fuller says:

      I love that you picked Tuesday. I think I am going to change to that day too. It seems like the day with the least emotion associated with it.

      We started on the envelope system last fall after a particular rocky few months of barely scraping by because we had spent so much time with our head in the sand. For some reason, at the beginning of last June I wrote down every pay day and every bill due date and quickly realized that to meet everything we were going to need our meager savings and then would only have $150 a week until the end of September. I know that $150 can sound like a lot but for us it was scary. It had to cover food, medication, gas, parking, pet supplies and all incidentals for the entire summer including those mystery items that always rear their ugly head when times are tough.

      I lowered it to $140 so we would have a $160 buffer at the end. The way the bills and income were colliding everything was going to be stable by the first of October. We were super successful and it felt AWESOME. We did not get plants for the garden or trips to the beach nor did we fix a lot of stuff on our home but we did not get behind on our bills and that made up for everything.

      In order to avoid that situation we too have started a weekly accounting of our finances and I always write down all bills and pay days. Now when I get stressed I add everything up and remind my self that we will have everything paid for so all will be well.

      After 16 weeks on $140 a week we decided to plan out what we need and sort it out into envelopes weekly so we would not go over. Funnily enough only an extra $100 per week and we can fit in more fun and get the stuff from the hardware store too.

    • Elisabeth says:

      This is a great idea! As someone who’s kind of just starting out (I’ve been living on my own for a couple years) and with a whole boatload of family money issues (seems to be a peculiar inheritance in our group! Lol) it’s been somewhat of a struggle finding the balance of budgeting and not freaking out all the time. I am someone who tends to just not spend on anything at all except bills and food and then suddenly realize all my clothes are a disaster. Been working on this but it’s tough. So maybe a weekly check-in is the way to go! And Tuesday is a nice, neutral day…

    • alana says:

      I love this too. I’ve actually just started writing down all the money that goes out–I’m taking baby steps! It feels good though, and I want to incorporate a weekly time where I catch up with all of this. Tuesday it is.

  12. Peggy says:

    Perfect timing for this! Thank you so much. I have been panicking about money over the last week. One month ago I was feeling really good about our money situation but then our taxes went the opposite of normal for us, had a large vet bill, a child needs dental surgery, birthdays, graduation, etc.
    But I think talking to my hubby about it made me feel better. Also when we have times of money concerns I usually have some gift cards that at other times I forget about. I can use those and feel like I am splurging.
    I appreciate the tip about thanking the electric company or bank for what they have given me. I think that will be helpful.

    • Whitney says:

      Man, doesn’t that always seem to be the case? It seems to me that everytime I start thinking that we’ve finally got things figured out, stable jobs and a budget that meets our obligations and still gives us room to breathe, the universe smacks us in the face with a nasty surprise. When I’m panicking about our budget, it helps me to talk to my husband too.

    • alana says:

      I agree- for me, it helps to talk to Joey when I freak out about $ for a few different reasons. First, it makes me feel like we can create a plan together, and that always helps. He also has really different emotions around money, and he balances me out in those moments especially. And finally, we usually end up sitting on the couch, sharing a beer after the girls go to bed so we can talk through it all, and just that slowing down and checking in makes me feel like I have so much. (Now arguments about money are a whole different story. But luckily, those don’t happen as much.)

  13. Maria says:

    I love the suggestions about saying “thank you” when paying bills and understanding that it’s an exchange, not just a nebulous expense.

    We’ve been using a budget template and envelope system from Dave Ramsey for a couple years and it has helped a lot. Once a month I enter my paycheck and any other income, then put cash in envelopes and then pay through our prioritized list of bills, expenses and savings until the balance is zero. After about two hours of work I have an accurate picture of where we stand financially and I’ve got a little money in my “Spending Money” envelope. It may only be $20 a month, but it’s mine to do what I want. As a neurotic saver, on those days when I am worried about money, it’s important to “splurge” a little (if there’s money in that envelope). I’ll treat myself to a gourmet coffee drink or buy a pound of good shrimp and make a dinner that feels special.

    Thank you for the discussion. Great ideas here!

  14. Anna says:

    I have to second all the comments that place a value on “perspective.” Whenever I worry about money, I try to sit very still and look around me. At the home I love, my family, my pets, the beautiful countryside out my windows, the brilliant blue sky, my lovingly maintained garden, and I do a huge inventory of all the many things I have to be grateful for…there’s quite a few. And then I think about the fact that I have been blessed with reasonable intelligence and that I can make whatever decisions I have to make that are in the best interest of my family and myself, whether it’s cutting items from the budget or keeping the old car with nearly 200K miles on it for another year. Life is as uncomplicated as I make it.

    • alana says:

      Thanks for touching on this, Anna. Our own capability to think through difficult issues and make decisions is something to be thankful for. I think this is a place where education (whether traditional or more non-tradition) really helps too.

  15. katherine says:

    As always Alana, you’ve created something lovely and positive, thank you for that.

    I’m meticulous about recording everything I’ve spent money on or purchased every week. Whenever I haven’t updated my spreadsheets in a while I get anxious and certain I am about to run out of money the next time I purchase a coffee. Being able to see how I’m spending my money and what I’m spending it on always makes me feel better about my budget.

    I put my weekly budget on the same spreadsheet where I track what I’m actually spending, so I get an early heads up if I’m spending too much or if I have a little bit of extra cash for something this week (Like maybe a gallon of maple syrup!).

    I also often calculate the cost of whatever meal I just made, and then think delightedly about how much more it would have cost me in a restaurant, or if I didn’t love cabbage as much as I do. It makes me feel resourceful and competent as well as making me less worried about money because I know that even on a very tight budget I know how to eat well.

    • Whitney says:

      Haha I do spreadsheets too! I put them in Google docs so my husband has access to them, too. We both only get paid once a month, so we have to be really careful not to spend it all at the beginning of the month. It’s nice to see how what we spend one week affects our budget for the rest of the weeks that month, and it really is great peace of mind to know how much you have to play around with after all of the bills are paid. And I totally second how great a feeling it is to calculate how much it cost to make dinner at home vs eating at a restaurant!

    • alana says:

      Oh, I love the restaurant/ home meal calculation. But as you can imagine, that’s right up my alley :) .
      It’s funny, last year I tried to start keeping track of everything on a spreadsheet, and I just wasn’t motivated to keep it up! I recently switched over to plain old notebook, and I love using it. It’s all about what gets you going, right?

  16. Rabecka says:

    I get my financial peace of mind by creating a monthly budget for the whole year in advance. I have the standard bills listed out on a monthly basis format. We have two paydays per month and the majority of our bills are the same every month (as are our paychecks as the hubby and I are both salaried). So, I know exactly what I’m paying each payday (or pretty close to it) and how much is leftover after the bills!

    Once I have the standard monthly bills listed, I go through each month and add in the extras (birthdays, school supplies, membership fees, etc). When payday rolls around, I immediately pay the bills, balance the checkbook, and see exactly what’s leftover. After bills are paid, I make sure enough is set aside for gas for the next two weeks, and then it’s grocery shopping time!

    It’s great to have money left after the grocery shopping and such is done. At that point I feel like, I’ve got all the bills covered, we can make it to work and back, and we aren’t going to starve so woo hoo, the rest is my play money! This is usually spent on stuff for the kiddos, books for me, dinner out, or maybe some flowers for the yard if it’s that time of year.

    If there isn’t anything left after the neccessities are covered, well, I take much comfort in knowing that ATLEAST THE NECESSITIES ARE COVERED!

  17. kate says:

    i have had a real issue with money stress taking over my life and my mood. i’ve been actively working on this for a year now. it’s been a really good process! one thing i do is similar to your tulips. when i feel like i am suffocating from lack of money/movement/freedom i go the other way. i buy something i think i “can’t have.” i’m talking small. i get a latte and a scone from my favorite cafe. i have to feel like i can have something for me. and that all our money isn’t just for our kids. we drop a lot of bank on their education and sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left for us parents. so, a new t-shirt (on sale at the outlets) or a latte and scone combo can go a loooong way.
    also, for me, i want to keep perspective on these earthly “problems.” so, i often think ahead to later-in-life-me. and i say to myself–older, wiser me will NEVER say, “thank god i worried so much!”
    there has to be a better way of navigating $$ challenges than to worry your way thru them! right?

  18. Ali says:

    These comments are all good reminders that even though things feel tight right now (I recently lost my job and am only getting about 50% of my usual paycheck from unemployement), we are fortunate that DH makes a lot more than the average family, so we’re already ahead. When we are getting our usual amount, it is so easy to burn through it on frivolities like eating out and nonsense purchases. Now I actually have to think about each item I invest in and consider whether it is really worthwhile. I’m hoping that even after I get a job, I take this new way of thinking with me.

  19. Helen says:

    My family has always had a very tight budget and we’ve never really had extra money. Last year was the first year in 11 years of marriage that we’ve made more than 30,000. The thing that keeps me from sliding into frustration and despair is being able to create things. My friends and family know that I’m the person to take leftover yarns. I get slips and bulbs from family to keep expanding my garden. I keep an eye out for roadside berry patches and make jam and syrups. I love creating a new dish from leftovers or basic pantry staples. I save my seeds from my garden plants and take full advantage of all the wild edibles in my yard. As long as I can keep on feeding my family and make them fun, special things with my bits and pieces then I can look around and feel proud. And I’ve found that when the real crisis hit us we’re too busy dealing with it to worry about it!

  20. Tomoko says:

    Money… Money… Money… I know how all of you feel! We cannot escape from it or avoid it! We have to face it… I am glad i am not the only one!
    When I feel stressed out about money, which is quite often, I pack our lunch and take my three year old to a park, and have a picnic. Just looking at her playing and enjoying herself reminds me what is more important in my life, our lives. Turn off TV which is full of advertisement, not going into a store, or a mall. We do go to farmers market, get fresh ingredients and make something at home. We try to set our table with clothes napkins and all of us sit together. Again, reminding ourselves that even we don’t have it all, we have each other.

    • Whitney says:

      Love the suggestion of going for a picnic! My husband and I have been having “patio picnics” while we work on our house, and the fresh air is such a great pick-me-up. Not to mention how good it feels to smile & laugh while watching the squirrels do their squirrel-y things.

    • alana says:

      I’m a big fan of the picnic, too. We have a big field behind our house, and just the process of packing a meal and bringing it out there does wonders.

  21. Kate says:

    I’m new to this site after discovering your book at the library. Really enjoying it, thanks.

    We are lucky enough to have a good income, but it wasn’t always that way. When things are tight or stressful for whatever reason, I ask myself the following questions: ‘Do we have a roof over our head and a warm place to sleep?’ ‘Do we know where our next meal is coming from?’ and ‘Is everyone I care about reasonably healthy and safe?’. If I can answer yes to those questions, then I know everything else can be taken in stride and dealt with.

    • alana says:

      Welcome, Kate! And I’m so glad you’re enjoying it the book. Library copies have a very special place in my heart. And it’s true- perspective is everything, right? Thanks for joining in!

  22. Catherine Barber says:

    What wonderful responses you have had so far!

    There are several things that help me not to panic about money. One is to always, ALWAYS balance my checkbook, down to the penny. Nothing’s worse than guessing how much money is left for the month. I also budget a bit obsessively, with many categories and spreadsheets. It’s time consuming, but I love the feeling of power it grants me.

    I also think about Suze Orman’s advice to respect my money, and it will respect me in turn. If I treat my money like it’s something to be thrown away (like how I used to use my credit card for impulse purchases I really couldn’t afford, but I just felt like money didn’t matter), then it will disappear. If I respect it, and think carefully about my spending and saving, I’ll have more. It really works!

    Finally, I try not to have too many regrets about my past spending habits. If I could go back 10 years and change a few (ok, a lot) of my decisions, I’d probably be better off financially. But what’s done is done, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve grown older, and I’m thankful for the good choices I make now.

    • Rebecca says:

      I agree that you have to remember the value of your money. I’m lucky enough to not be pinching pennies right now but, I still try to ask myself if what I’m spending money on worth the time I spent earning that money? Sure that new shirt is nice but is it worth x number of hours of my life? For me it seems like my time is the most important thing.

    • alana says:

      Thanks for this, Catherine. It’s such a good point- hopefully we all grow smarter about money as we get older, right? I like to think that even if I’ve been irresponsible with money in the past, I’ve learned from it and it’s gotten me to where I am now.

  23. Catherine Barber says:

    Oh! Another thing I’ve recently started doing was a rotating monthly budget. Since our income is the same month to month, I know exactly how much I have to work with starting on the 1st of the month. From there I take out all of the standard bills – anything that has the same payment every month. But what I used to label as “miscellaneous,” (car repairs, vet bills, new clothes, professional trips for my husband, swimming lessons, etc.) is now labeled “rotating.”

    I know from past experience that I will usually spend X on all of those miscellaneous things in one year. I divide X by 12 (making sure that that still works within my monthly expenses, after regular bills – if not, I need to reassess X) and that’s my “rotating” allowance. At the beginning of the month I try to anticipate which weird, miscellaneous bills need to come out of “rotating.” Some months I use all of it; sometimes I use only a little, and the rest goes to savings; some months I have to dip into savings to cover the difference. But it’s a huge help to know that I don’t have to use my grocery budget to repair the car battery this month, because I’ve already allowed for car repairs in my annual budget.

    • Whitney says:

      Hey that’s a great idea! I might have to start collecting that “miscellaneous” data so I can incorporate rotating expenses into my monthly budget. May always seems to be our most expensive month (between birthdays, Mother’s day, property taxes for the car, etc)…love the idea of budgeting those extra expenses into every month so the money’s just sitting there in savings until we need it!

  24. Sharon says:

    My Grandmother used to say that “worrying doesn’t fix anything, it just takes up your time” and I always try and remember that with financial issues or other types of problems, but it’s not easy.
    During a period of a layoff and unemployment early in the recession I had many sleepless nights over what we would do if work could not be found before benefits stopped, how we would afford it if something broke or happened, and everything else that goes along with that. Then I read where we worry more about what COULD happen (fear of the unknown we can’t control) than what actually does end up happening. I think that’s true. In our case losing that job led to one much better, without anything going wrong. I also was forced to realize we have a wonderful family that would never let us be homeless (my irrational middle of the night worst fear) or anything else.

  25. Leanne says:

    As a graduate student, money is always tight. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head, food on the table, a smooth running car to get me to work and school, good health, and a loving cat to come home to at night. And I always remind myself that things could be much worse.

  26. Becky says:

    I put my money woes to bed a couple years ago. I started a “jar system” of managing my money – different accounts for different things I spend money on. Necessities, short term and long term savings, education, play, and give. My income is erratic and this system works wonders. It’s changed my financial peace in a lasting way. I always thought of money as the water, and I’m just the river, but with a system in place that helps me manage the flow I feel much more at peace. I have money for the things I need and I have money for the thins I want. If I want something that I don’t have money for, I have a system of saving up for it. It’s quite freeing to have my money work for me! I used to go on miniature shopping binges when money was tight, but that was not a lasting cure and caused much buyer’s remorse and am even emptier feeling. I’m glad I don’t stress about the beginning of the month anymore.

  27. Joanna says:

    It’s nice to know I am not the only one who struggles with money. My husband just completed grad school and has a part-time job which bring in enough for a tank of gas for the week. We make several economies (no TV, no new clothes, no car), however this year we are splurging on a trip to the UK to visit two friends. We are pinching our pennies now more than ever and we now think twice (sometimes three times) before getting something. Is this (coffee, shirt, book) going to be worth the ticket to Museum X in England? Most times, we put it back. for Lent we gave up spending money. We only bought fresh fruit and dairy and got creative in cooking meals from what we had in the freezer. We had one weak moment and bought a frozen pizza (take out would have been too much), but we cherished every bite. Sometimes, it not about how much you spend, but on how much you’re enjoying the things you spent your money on. I smile when I put the book back knowing that I will enjoy a lovely cup of tea instead while in UK.

  28. Patrice says:

    Oh, money…

    This is a great thread. Comforting to read.

    This has been a rough honeymoon year for us. I lost my job just after I got pregnant, and couldn’t get another one because… I’m pregnant and the world is an unfair place sometimes. So, we’re down to my husband’s entry-level, non-profit salary — BUT it comes with health insurance, so that’s been huge. Unfortunately, his organization is ALSO experiencing financial hardships, and they weren’t able to make payroll this month. It’s been pretty scary, especially since our baby is due in 2.5 weeks and, no matter how much I reassure myself that babies don’t need THINGS… the nesting, obsessive list-checker in me is struggling.

    (1) I took the initiative to make a spreadsheet budget a few months ago (quite similar to the ones listed above). We had to cut down on spending, but it is intensely satisfying to know that we’re not hemorrhaging savings. Also, I’m feeling empowered because the budget was/is undertaken under my initiative. Money gives my husband panic attacks. So, while he’s incredibly collaborative in other areas, I just had to accept and OWN the fact that I’m the money boss. He’s grateful and I’m at ease.

    (2) Making stuff myself. WHY ARE CRIB SHEETS SO EXPENSIVE?? Mine are cuter, anyway.

    (3) Taking GREAT solace in the generosity of family. If all goes to hell, they will never let us go hungry.

    (4) This is my favorite one: imagining me and my husband in the future, financially secure, and fondly reminiscing about our past poverty. I imagine my future self being thankful for her current wellbeing, but also she’s thankful to my CURRENT self for being resourceful, rather than despairing in this crazy time.

  29. Patricia says:

    Alana, GREAT IDEA! Look at all those incredible comments, I’m loving them all! Since I shop on Tuesdays (I go on the village senior center bus, first to major supermarket and then the following Tuesday to a Super Walmarts) I will make my accountability day, WEDNESDAY… I live alone and on a rather tight fixed retirement income. I’ve only been retired for 1-1/2 years and am still not comfortable with cutting expenses so much, but its becoming more and more of a challenge. I’ve cut out a monthly game subscription on the internet, my monthly cell phone bill by buying a prepaid phone on HSN with a special of 1400 minutes free for a year and then every time I buy more minutes they will be tripled for free, I’ve cut out Netflix since I can get it free with my prime account (well worth the $79 yearly for free delivery, free movies and britcoms and britdramas), I’ve cut out spending about $400 a month for food (groceries, eating out, take out) and now spend about $140 of cookable groceries (and 2 lunches a week at the senior center), I’ve made many decisions based on what I have in my wallet and what I want. I also take care of my little grandchild two afternoons a week and my daughter insists I take $30 a week for that to cover expenses (lunches and craft supplies)… so I’m comfortable and happy and challenged. I believe you should do this “Monthly Money Panic” every 1st of the month – looking at it from different perspectives – it would allow us to catch up with others who have posted and see how they are doing. Keep up the good work, I love your blog and check for new entries daily.

  30. mary says:

    Well, I am reminded of my mom’s favorite saying…”Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.” She raised six thrifty, creative and well educated kids on that one-plus staying married for th e same man for seventy(egad)years!

  31. Caitlin Hotaling says:

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet but I love some of the ideas and use some. My situation is a little different, I panic, but really have no need to. Yet. That’s the rub. I’ve got a net for now, but it is slowly shrinking and as time goes by I think my gawd I’ll be flippin’ burgers when I’m 70! Not true. But I go there and worry myself silly. Then I look around and think I have tons, I could sell some of it. We have land, hubbie and I, and that would be the first obvious thing to do, sell some of it. Somehow I forget this every time I panic, it completely leaves my mind as an option for the future. Then there is the worse case scenario, homeless. Not likely but panic brings on the doom and gloom. Lucky for us we own our van and our trailer and so really we could never be homeless, we have a home on wheels sitting in the driveway. So, when the panic comes I try to remember that worse case scenario we travel the country and get odd jobs along the way. In the end it’s all a matter of perspective. Do I need a house this big? Do I need new …. ? Can I live much leaner and be happy? Can I do something about it? If so do, because action feels so good! Even if it’s as simple as not buying anything that isn’t on the list for the grocery store. Thank you for reading and writing and cooking and living!

  32. Colleen says:

    I always find myself feeling panicky about money when we spend a lot on little things in a short time period. It is usually too many coffee/donut outings combined with too many trips to the home store combined with internet purchases that all happen within the week. Then we step back, take a break for a while, and restore the peace of mind.

  33. Sharon H. says:

    My money panics hit because there is no “we”; there is only ME. There used to be two of us, but one of us lost his mind, rejected his family and went off into the sunset. So…in one way I’m glad I have both reins of this horse, so to speak, but in other ways……at age 50+ it’s a very scary thing.
    So…if I were to find a way to deal with it, it would be to be very thankful that both of my daughters persevered ANYWAY, and that they both make more now than their momma, and that the three of us (four, including my wonderful SIL) have each other, and that…is priceless!

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  38. Kim says: — changed our lives. It helps hold us accountable to what we are spending because every time we swipe a card it pops up in one of the categories we have budgeted. When the budget category turns yellow, I get nervous, but I don’t panic til it turns red.

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  48. just found this post and I LOVE it and all the helpful comments! You’re right about good readers – mine are always full of wisdom and encouragement and I that definitely enriches my life.

    Going to adopt your attitude towards bills – that will help me feel more generous and fair-minded. I also learned to say about something expensive that someone in the family wants to buy: I want to save my money for something else (instead of saying what my parents always said: we can’t afford that). It reframes the decision as a choice instead of making me feel impoverished.

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