Saturday, October 6, 2012

Home Budgeting: Its the Economy Stupid

First thing: if you don’t have a home budget, start one.  If you’ve let it slip lately, get it going again. As the saying goes, "It’s the Economy Stupid" and you probably have a sneaking suspicion that you are falling further behind and in the new economy, you can't afford to hide in the darkness, you need facts and the inspiration to get into right-action. The times of the lone wolf method of struggling on your own and playing the strong silent type are over. It's just not the economy for that-- not individually and not collectively.

The good news is the economy won't be getting any better (as in back to normal), not for a long time. The bad news is that we can start today on keeping a Home Budget.

I say "bad news" because facing facts is often the last thing we want to do. Something in our human nature that makes the hardest things the last things we want to do, if we ever get to them. It may be comforting to realize that home budgets are not technically hard to do, only elementary-level arithmetic is required and you can even cheat and use a calculator. Though most of the time the technical skill is not what holds people back, its the emotions and feelings that get unearthed in the process. Again, it's important to realize that what keeps people from keeping a home budget is not the elementary-level arithmetic, but the emotions and feelings that get unearthed.

I say "good news" because the economy won't let us keep putting this off. We have to sober up. It's time to learn from our mistakes and make better choices. For most of us there just isn't the credit cushion of which we had grown accustomed to and that enabled our worst spending habits and semi-conscious patterns.

This is good news because many of us have been in denial for a long time. 360 degree denial. Everywhere we look, everything we see is chock full of denial. We are told the economy is improving and we believe it. We are told the stock market is a safe gamble, but we aren't given the massive users manual that should come with our 401k. We are told spend like there is no tomorrow and you don't have to tell us twice. 

Good news because we can start today-- as soon as we wipe the sleep from our eyes and smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen.

Good news because we can get on with living. Living not the big house, extravagant lifestyle we see reflected back in our TV, but the living within our means. Balancing our checkbook. Back to basics- whatever that may mean to us. Be it back to nature, back to knowing our neighbors, back to cleaning our house ourselves or just back to reality. With a home budget we can see how far off our spending is in order to make our savings goals and plans. Quick money and quick debt has a long lasting hangover with no easy cure. 

There may be nothing glamorous about putting yourself on a home budget. Though it is basic common sense, it can feel awkward and bewildering at first. But the thing I want to focus in on here the most is developing a shame-free approach to money. A lot of us have picked up feelings of shame around money, not earning enough, spending too much, etc. In our society debt and bankruptcy is comparable to the 7 Deadly Sins and we try to hide this reality at all costs. This secret life that we think we have to live slowly sucks us dry. The secrecy and shame is not only harmful to our health and relationships, but even more it hamstrings our ability to make much needed, positive changes. And in effect deadlocks our own personal recovery. The secret problems often seem too overwhelming to deal with outright. So my primary goal is to maintain this blog a shame-free zone: a home for mutual aid and support. 

It is the self-isolating behaviors that come hand-in-hand with shame, that also needs our care and attention. Creating a home budget is one major tool that can help lead us out of the grip of despair. What can lead us out of the darkness of suffering alone is the other tool of sharing what we are doing with someone we know and trust- someone we can confide in. It is important not to do this work alone because letting down the veil of absolute privacy can be good for your health.

I am going to probably end up repeating it many times on this blog, which is necessary to do because it is so vitally important and so often overlooked--- we are social animals-- we need each other more than we think. To function optimally, we need a healthy robust support network. We do not function well as isolated individuals maximizing our own self-interest. This is the myth of the 1%, if you will, and enough of us have bought into it that it almost seems real, but the shame we feel when we don't cut it is killing us. We need a supportive public life. We need a social support network, that is both deep and wide, to support us when things get strained at home, at work or in our neighborhood. This social safety net, what has been called Social Capital, may be the most important aspect in our health care. And it deeply depends on trust. Trust that we build together one step at a time. Likewise none of it happens if we remain in isolation and secrecy.  This is a larger question to explore, but just for today we can feel moved and inspired to take our first step: start a home budget and tell a friend what we are doing. 

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