It’s 3 o’clock on Friday and I’m hugging a few of my coworkers goodbye. I’ve just finished wrapping my work on the 2nd season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. While my job is done, they’ve got a couple more weeks to go–making sure accounts are closed and bills are paid.
I stumble home clumsily, hampered by multiple bags full of my crap, and my refusal to take a cab. I get sick in cars. I get even more sick in cabs with their preponderance of tree air-fresheners. New car smell. Gag.
I walk into my apartment and drop everything. The afternoon sun is beaming through the terrace windows. No work and sun. School’s out for summer.
Ok, so it’s not summer, but sun shining in on top of thoughts of weeks of cooking, writing, and watching Downton Abbey warms me through to my soul. It’s been about 10 months since I’ve had a break from work that wasn’t filled with travel. When you work freelance your time off is often a teeter-totter of glorious freedom and horrendous fear. It’s taken me years to get to a place where I can thoroughly enjoy at least the first week or two of unemployment, before my days are edged with low-income worries. This is day one.
I’m home alone. Although my husband has Fridays off, I’ve learned from an earlier text that he’ll be at yoga till 530. About a minute into channel surfing I get an idea: I’ll do my taxes.
I gather my W-2 and 1098-E and settle back down on the sofa with my laptop. I pull up H&R Block online and start to enter my information. I’m happy and light. I’ve got the next few weeks off. Hopefully I can land something short for March and April–then it’s vacation and back to work on a new series in mid May. I always get a nice chunk of change back during tax time; I figure finding out just how big a chunk will be the icing on the cake of this Friday.
I enter my W-2 and wait for the large number in green to appear on the left. Instead a smaller, ugly, red number shows up in the column. -$155.00. I owe $155.00. What the f***!?
Some days I think I’ve matured into this balanced, forward-thinking, collected adult. Then one thing doesn’t go as planned and a switch flips; I’m a teenager again and I immediately want to smash my computer–the bearer of my devastating news.
I call my Mom. She’s baking sweet potatoes to take over to her friend’s house for dinner. She lets me flip out for a good 3-5 minutes. We go over all the ways that the information could be wrong. I claim 0, this must be a mistake. My frustration turns towards the government. I struggle to convey this sentiment when I consider my candidate for 2016 might tax me at an even higher rate than the current administration. I don’t understand things. I am not a real adult.
My Mom let’s me ramble on for a few more minutes. I secretly long for the days where my problems were ones she could fix (magically, she still can fix a few). I thank her for listening and leave her to her sweet potatoes.
Then I’m alone and faced with only one thought: I’m not frustrated with the government, I’m frustrated with myself.
Just briefly, my mind turns to a comparable area of my life.
Up until about 7 months ago I was somewhat unhappy with my health and nutrition. I ate better than most people around me and the elimination of certain foods gave me permission to eat excess of others. I ate tons of processed gluten-free crap and exercised 6 days a week, relying heavily on cardio. I felt sluggish and I weighed more than I wanted to.
Having struggled with both anorexia and bulimia for a large part of my life, I’m well connected to the desire to control. Although I can still struggle with minor thoughts from time to time, I am much better now. 7 months ago, I woke up and realized that I had been using my eating disorders as an excuse for not cleaning up my eating. I told a friend over the phone: I act like if I put any discipline or structure at all around my eating, I am going to slip back into destructive habits. But the truth is, that’s complete bullshit. That is not going to happen. I am stronger than that now.
When I first moved to New York, I kept a strict eye on my budget. I had to. It took me a while to find work and when I did it was inconsistent and didn’t pay much. I kept an excel spreadsheet of all my expenses and updated it frequently. I had a budget of $25/month for toiletries. If I spent $32 on toiletries in February I’d make sure I only spent $18 in March. I didn’t make enough to save any money but I did well with what I had. It was the first time in my life that I made a disciplined effort to pay attention to and manage my finances. I had so much appreciation for a meal eaten out or a night at the movies. Everything had value. But, also, every dollar spent had a great deal of fear surrounding it.
Now over the past few years I’ve been blessed to advance in my profession and earn more money. As my paycheck has grown, my budgeting has gone by the wayside. I act as if keeping track of where my money goes is going to bring me back to some dark place I don’t want to revisit. Yes, I don’t want to live with that fear of spending again. But honestly, I’m stronger than that now. The truth is I thrive on discipline. I long to be this free-spirit but am never able to find any true freedom within the chaos that I create when my life is not built on structure.
Really, the dark place I don’t want to revisit is exactly where I am now–relying on a tax return to supplement my time off. I could accept that a few years ago when I was struggling, but really, there’s no excuse for it now.
Within an hour of that ugly -$155.00 popping up in that column, I have a completely different outlook on my situation. The excel spreadsheets are back out, and I am working to find some sort of balance between disciplined saving and joyful spending.
I don’t respond to subtle hints; I need the rug pulled out from under me. It has been. Now I know:
I want to be an adult. (Most of the time)
I want to be a partner that my partner can rely upon financially.
I want to have a genuine appreciation for what I earn and the life it affords me.
Any financial goals for 2016? Let’s hear ’em…