Learning to avoid avoidance

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 12.56.31 PMYesterday, I got a scary-looking letter from the IRS.

I could have tossed it, along with all of the other mail, onto my desk, making sure to hide it under a catalog or something so I wouldn’t have to look at it for a few weeks. That’s how I handled paperwork before YNAB.

Instead, I opened it.

I used to be so disorganized that I was always getting government letters or second notices from billers. I automatically assumed anything I didn’t recognize had to be bad news. And the only way to avoid bad news, as everyone knows, is not to open the mail.

Eventually, when the letters came by registered mail or the notices started showing up on pink paper or with return addresses from collection agencies (I’m ashamed to say that happened once or twice), I would reluctantly deal with them — and, often, the associated late fees — in a desperate and sometimes tearful fashion.

The amazing thing, which I only figured out a couple of years ago, was that this finely honed craft of avoidance never actually saved me any time, trouble or money. How could I have known?

In fact, I wasted a lot of energy avoiding the envelopes under the catalogs on my desk and lying awake in bed wondering just how bad things really were. I felt guilty knowing that I should be opening the mail. I lived under a constant cloud of low-level financial anxiety.

After I found YNAB, however, I determined that I couldn’t really move forward with a budget until I knew what my bills were. (Yes, this was a revelation for me. And yes, I swear I am in many other ways an intelligent person.)

It took several evenings, and several glasses of wine to brace me, but little by little I got through every piece of paper on my desk. I paid what I could pay, called or wrote to creditors and government agencies, and filed or recycled the rest. It was the first time I had seen my whole desktop in years and, more important, the first time in my entire adult life I didn’t have a single unopened envelope haunting me.

So, yesterday’s IRS letter? It was a notice for my husband’s business saying that, while I had paid all the payroll taxes for the first quarter of 2013, I had failed to file the associated report. I made a copy of the report (which I swear I had filed, but let’s face it, I’m still not perfect) and mailed it out, saving myself weeks of needless worry and guilt.

The late filing may carry a small fine. If so, that notice will come later.

And I will open it the day it arrives.

5 Responses to “Learning to avoid avoidance”

  1. Holly Houston

    Thanks for the post, I can totally identify.
    Just getting started with YNAB, but definitely have historically been an anxious, guilty avoider when it comes to money. Oddly enough, that’s not the case anywhere else in my life, but my money strategy has been, just hope there is enough in the bank.
    Being a poor grad student is forcing me to get serious, though, so a blessing in disguise.
    Anyway, your post was very encouraging. :)

  2. j33pg1rl

    Very inspirational. I too was one of those that stuffed the ugly envelops under pretty magazines. Then one day the clutter would get to me, so I’d clean it up. Low and behold, I’d open the ugly mail, set it aside and avoid it til later. Later finally came the day I installed YNAB. This year is the first year that we have and are living by a real budget. It’s an adjustment, but so far it’s working. Love to hear you’re running a farm! Our dream is to run a horse training business mixed with my love for technology. :-)

  3. Karen J

    Jessie ~ Way-way OffTopic, I know, but I’m so excited about this question!
    Are you still an “old-fashioned type-setter” (with a keyliner at the next desk) at the newspaper, or doing it on a PC??
    I’m excited because I was a very good mechanical keyliner – and under the impression that I’d long ago become a “buggy-whip maker” – totally obsolete, and completely unemployable with that skill-set.

    • jessiebird

      Ha, no more actual typesetting these days (although my husband’s grandmother was the real typesetter at the same paper for many years!). It’s a misnomer; mostly it’s formatting and editing copy that comes in electronically. Not nearly as romantic, I’m afraid. I do marvel at a few coworkers who have gone through the transition, in print and photography, from everything hands-on to everything digital. It’s a different world now.

  4. Karen J

    Back to “Avoiding Avoidance” ~
    Been there, done that, have now given away the t-shirt! ;)

    When I went through a couple of boxes of “Misc.” last summer, I actually found a ton of un-opened mail that we’d MOVED! 10 years ago!!
    Yikes – good thing we didn’t pay money for movers!
    I open all my mail within 24 hours, now.

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