One of the first things I did when I started TFD was launch The Financial Confessions. I felt like one of the most important things we could do here — and one of the biggest things that all the other personal finance sites out there weren’t doing — was give people a place to talk about their mistakes and regrets, without judgment. Not every TFC has a happy ending or even some kind of big takeaway to share from the experience (in fact, most probably don’t), but that has never been the point for me. The truth is that getting better at anything, especially something as complicated and all-consuming as money, is not a linear process. We get better in fits and starts, we do things we regret (even as we’re beginning to improve in other areas), and we worry about how we measure up to the people around us.
And usually, the people who talk about money are the quickest to judge. A big problem with the overall personal finance community is its general tone of “this is the right way to do things, stop being an idiot, atone for your idiocy, and become like me.” There are whole sites and forums dedicated to mocking the mistakes of others, and admitting weaknesses is simply not part of the narrative. (Especially when most of the writers are positioning themselves as experts, it’s just not a good look to be admitting that you are still making a lot of mistakes.) But the TFD model, and especially the Confessions, has always been: We are not perfect, and we don’t expect you to be. We’re not experts, and we’re all just trying to learn and get better with money.
To me, the first step of getting better is always talking about it, whether that means swapping a salary or admitting that really dumb thing you spent on last week. And sometimes it can feel like, in gathering all of these other confessions from TFD readers — send yours to email@example.com, by the way! — I’m not doing enough on my part. I have financial sins to confess, after all, and even though I am much savvier and more comfortable with money than I was when I started TFD nearly two years ago, I’m not an expert by any means, and don’t plan to be any time soon. There are still a lot of things that I objectively do “wrong,” and I am still every day trying to find the balance between “living a rich life that is rewarding and full of joy” and “delaying gratification to get myself to the bigger goals that I know I should be reaching for.”
To that end, and especially as I am in the midst of a yearly trip that usually involves several poor financial choices, I thought I would confess my sins for this month, to let you guys in on a little bit more of my day-to-day when it comes to money, and to do my part in making TFD the place where you go to be honest about your shit. So here, in no particular order, my five biggest financial sins for the month of July 2016:
1. I still couldn’t look at checking accounts when I spent too much.
I have a terrible tendency to avoid looking at accounts when I know the carnage is going to be bad, and it’s something I haven’t been able to shake, even with all the things I’ve gotten better at. Whether it’s my personal checking account while on vacation, or a TFD account after a bunch of invoices have been filled, I become like the ostrich with its head in the sand, deluding myself into believing that, if I don’t look, it’s somehow not going to be that bad. Literally the only thing this accomplishes is allowing me to forget things I need to be doing with my accounts, and possibly having fraudulent charges go unnoticed. Regular checking of accounts is a vital part of financial health, and I know this, but getting to go a few more days in blissful ignorance is a powerful drug, even if that means I’m putting myself at risk by not knowing what’s going on with my cards. Now that I’m writing this, though, I feel like shit, so I’ll go check it.
(It’s slightly less bad than I thought, and no fraud. Woo!)
2. I ordered “tapas style” at places that are DEFINITELY not tapas restaurants.
I love tasting different things. I just LOVE it. I want every restaurant to be a tapas restaurant, because just getting one main dish and one dessert (I always get dessert) is not enough for me, and shouldn’t be enough for anyone, frankly! In fact, I’m so notorious in this preference for variety that Marc has taken to asking me what my “second dish” is when we go to restaurants so that he can order it (though I should specify that I usually wave this away, because I sincerely want him to get what he wants most!), but even when we share, that’s still only two things to try. I need more. So sometimes, when I’m at a restaurant I’m particularly excited about, I’ll get an extra main dish just to try some of both. This is a terrible habit that I only indulge when on vacation, but I’ve done it twice so far while on this trip. Forgive me.
3. I took seeeeeveral cabs.
Anyone who knows me IRL knows that my biggest money vice — just like many of us might have designer coffee or frequent trips to some beauty salon or another — is taxis. I just get so lazy, and nothing makes me feel more irritated than having to get all dressed up just to take some long, sweaty train with multiple transfers to my destination. Yes, I am just like Ana Matronic leaving the voicemail in the opening of “Let’s Have A Kiki.” But the fact that for 10 days we were in a tiny beach town where we had a van which my boyfriend was shuttling us around in meant that when I arrived in Paris, I was immediately like, “Fuck it, cab time!” I felt I had earned them by not spending on them for a big chunk of time, which is a terrible financial thought pattern I have. (It doesn’t help that my boyfriend’s best friend, who we’re staying with, is a huge taxi person too, and we therefore enable each other.) Either way, we’ve been here two days and I have yet to take the metro, but tomorrow Marc and I are going to a museum and we are getting there by camel if we have to, but no goddamn cabs.
4. I forgot to notify my different banks/cards about the fact that I was leaving.
Yes, this is a relatively small thing that only necessitated me making a few calls from France/Spain, but it was a sobering reminder that when it comes to the little details of taking care of things, I am still woefully inattentive. I don’t pay attention to the little to-do lists that I leave myself for personal things, because I feel so overwhelmed by all there is to do for work. If I simply get through all of the professional prep for a trip, I feel like I’ve succeeded, and therefore all the little things I left undone don’t matter so much. In reality, being a competent adult means mastering both work stuff and personal stuff, personal stuff entailing budgets/checking accounts/letting your bank know you’re traveling. I could have gotten myself in serious shit if I had been traveling alone, and the fact that taking care of my own to-do list flew out the window without making me even feel guilty about it is a sign that I need more balance in my life.
5. I started seriously flirting with bad financial ideas because #vacationbrain.
Every year, it’s the same: We come up from the beach to spend a week-ish in Paris at Marc’s best friend’s apartment, and I say “I’m going to change my ticket and stay here an extra week.” This is bad because one, I have a dog who needs me and a boyfriend who travels four days a week for work, and therefore can’t take care of her when we get home, and two, I should not be casually flirting with the idea of spending $400 on a changed ticket as well as all the extra money that will be spent because, oh, I’m technically on vacation so I can eat out every meal and buy myself unnecessary things. I get dangerously close every year to just throwing a grand sum of about $1,000 out the window because I don’t want to leave, and somehow it always takes a few days of talking myself off the financial ledge to realize how dumb it is.
#Vacationbrain is the worst, and I have yet to defeat it fully — though I guess it’s at least some victory that, for the time being, I haven’t given into its worst impulses.
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