So. I sold my first novel for a nice piece of change.
And while it’s not pay-off-your-student-loans-in-one-fell-swoop money, it’s still a welcome addition to my day job as a freelance writer.
Thing is, the freelance hustle ain’t what is used to be.
Michael, one of my dear readers, hit me up and asked me to write a post for his column, The Recession Diaries, which runs on TheRoot.com.
He wanted my thoughts on coping with the recession. At first, I didn’t want to do it. I’m blessed. Really blessed. How dare I whine and moan about how I’m still broke?
Then I realized. I am still broke.
A decent book deal means nothing if you’ve been blowing through money like water all your life.
I’d like to blame TH. And though he’s made it clear that he’s not to be part of this here blogging-on-the-Internets, there’s no way I can explain how I ended up in this financial quagmire without calling him out.
When we met, we were single, money-spending twenty-somethings out of an all-Black episode of Sex and The City. (I don’t know what world Carrie lived in. But there were NO Black people in it. And then? They throw in Blair Underwood and he’s wooing Miranda. Really? Miranda. Not Carrie? Come on. GTFOH.)
It was all about dining out, blowing money on drinks, shopping. If we had money we spent it.
As real life progressed, we didn’t change our spending habits. Marriage, kids, house. We still spent spent spent like there was no tomorrow. Neither of us have ever practiced sacrifice.
If TG says she wants to start scrapbooking, off to the art store we go, dropping fifty bucks on supplies. She showed an interest in sewing, we immediately bought her a sewing machine and signed her up for private, one-on-one instruction.
Our biggest downfall is probably going out to eat. It’s our raison d’etre. Nothing better than a Sunday morning lounging over eggs and coffee at Toast or Bluestone Coffee in Montclair. Or dipping into the Cheesecake Factory after a trip to the mall.
We lived in a Thai restaurant called Tuptim’s when I was knocked up. And that place ain’t cheap.
Starbucks? Yup. Every day. Both of us. Sometimes twice.
The only thing we didn’t do was run up credit card bills. At first, because we couldn’t get a credit card anyway. But even after we did clean things up a bit, that’s one trap we haven’t fallen into. We (generally) only spend money we have.
But still. We both knew we needed to get it together. When the recession hit, it became doubly clear.
Thing is, I always thought, well when I sell my book deal and get lots of money, all will be fine!
I did get the book deal with a decent amount of money. But if I don’t reign in my spending and come up with a real budget, we’ll be in serious trouble.
Sure, I’m making more money now. But I’ve also got more expenses. Duh.
The book deal woke me up. I saw how the money on paper would not stretch far if we didn’t budget. And budget hard. (For details on how my deal is structured and why the advance is not necessarily a mega-windfall, check out the column I wrote over at TheRoot).
I’m scared of budgets. A budget means I can’t buy a new pair of Converses just ’cause I feel like it. Or a new wallet. A cup of coffee. Or whatever. I’m used to buying what I want, when I want. As long as I can physically put my hands on the cash and I am relatively sure my phone won’t get cut off, I’m buying it.
But that has to change. Savings accounts and college funds need to be bulked up. And I need to prepare for Doomsday. What happens if more magazines go under? What if I can’t go back to teaching because schools are in hiring freezes? What if I can’t even get a regular day job?
We had a family meeting and enacted the Doomsday Budget.
Without boring you with all the minute details, TH and I each took out 150.00 in cash on April 1. We get nothing else til May 1.
We’re brown-bagging our lunches and I cook at home every night. Everything is budgeted to the teeth.
That’s 150.00 for all discretionary purchases: Starbucks, Omar’s, magazines, books, clothing…everything. Ugh.
Having cash in my wallet makes me treat it so differently. Swiping a debit card feels like magic. Handing over a five dollar bill feels real.
It’s changed the way I operate. I think twice before I walk out of the house. Bottled water? Better not forget it. Ain’t buying it for two dollars because I’m thirsty and I forgot my water at home. I keep graham crackers in the car for Tog so I don’t have to buy her stuff if we’re out on errands and I run out of snacks.
I miss hiring a sitter and going to dinner and a movie with TH. But do you all realize how expensive that is? At least 60 for a sitter. 20 for a movie. 45-55 for dinner. Um. No. If it’s not a holiday, that’s not happening.
We went to a movie recently. First show of the day. Only six bucks. And we each used our own money to pay. Which was hilarious. I almost backed out of the date cause I just wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a precious six dollars. I tried to bat my eyelashes and get dude to pay my way. Seeing as how we were on a date and all. He said no. Chivalry is dead.
At Starbucks, we looked longingly at the tray of goodies at the Starbucks counter. 3.95 for an apple turnover? Sigh. We walked away.
I held firm at the concessions counter. 5 dollar popcorn? I don’t think so! I had a granola bar in my bag from home.
“Not getting any popcorn?” TH asks.
“Nah, I’m good.” I said.
“Are you sure” he said, narrowing his eyes.
He was making it clear. If I wasn’t chipping in, no popcorn for me.
The Doomsday budget will not be good for my marriage. ‘Cause I was about to pop him. And dude was really not trying to share his dumb old stale popcorn! Hmph.
(When the movie started, I had to throw my hand in there and take some popcorn and dare him to stop me. He didn’t. But after the movie was over, he told me I ate fifty cents worth. And he wants his money.)
Anyway, I’m noticing how much money I spend without even realizing it. Example: my mom came over to visit. I ended up showing her some pictures I had just taken of Tog. She loved them and asked me to upload them to the local pharmacy. I did and then I offered to pick them up for her. D’oh! That was six dollars! I never realized how often I pick up tabs and other random items that cost me money.
It only took me a week to get the hang of it.
Now, I’ve got it done to a science.
Met my good friend Vicky for breakfast–and ate before I got there. Just coffee for me, thanks!
Got a hankering for a soy chai latte–and just dunked a tea bag in some boiling hot soy milk and added honey. Voila! A bootleg latte for free.
I’ve actually gone entire days without spending a penny. Sweet!
Budgeting means planning. Planning means acting like a grownup. I’m damn near 40 and I’m just coming to terms with this.
This is what adulthood is, feet issues and budgets. Ugh.
Dear readers, please tell me. How much do you spend on non-essentials in a month? I mean things that are not budgeted. Your just-for-me stuff. Could you cut that number in half? Do you use cash or debit cards mostly? Can you feel the difference? Are you fiscally responsible? Super spendy? Or somewhere in between?
I’d love to hear from you…
P.S. It’s May 24th. I’ve got less than a week before I get to re-up. Anybody want to guess how much money I’ve got left?