Turning off the noise of financial worries

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 12.56.31 PMIs your refrigerator running?

This is not the start of a prank phone call. Nor is it a question about energy efficiency.

It’s a metaphor.

You know how your refrigerator can be humming away and you aren’t even conscious of it until the kitchen goes silent, and suddenly you feel this amazing sense of peace you didn’t even realize you were missing?

In my metaphor, the refrigerator is financial stress.

It came to me one morning last week, in the car on my way to work. I was thinking about a project I needed to get started on. I was admiring the spring flowers at the old farmsteads along the route. My mind was wandering. And then I realized that something felt different: I wasn’t worrying about money.

This was a first.

Before I had YNAB, money was always on mind. I constantly imagined how relaxing life would be without that stress but I didn’t see how I could ever escape it.

I avoided anything to do with money. I never knew my exact bank balance; I’d just think back to the last deposit and do a mental tally of what other payments might have come out in the meantime. (I could have checked the balance, but I was usually too scared.) Consequently, every transaction meant worry: Would the check be returned? Would the debit card get declined?

Even when I knew there was plenty of money in the bank, I feared that it wouldn’t be enough. So I avoided spending altogether. I’d even delay paying bills until they were overdue, somehow figuring that the longer I waited, the more time we’d have to build up the bank balance. (Hint: Poor strategy.)

My fear of facing the finances head-on overshadowed every aspect of my day, from putting gas in the car to taking the kids out for pizza to buying groceries. And over all that loomed the credit card balance, made of large purchases we had sworn we would pay off by the end of the month – but never did.

The budget changed all that. My new habits took care of most of the immediate worries – the late bills, the poor cash flow – in the early months. But that familiar, low-grade anxiety took longer to fade. Like the sound of the fridge, the background stress had been so constant for so many years I barely noticed just how exhausting it was – until it stopped.

Don’t get me wrong: We still have a long way to go. We’re not out of debt yet. We’re not anywhere near on track for retirement. But the budget has given me control and awareness of our day-to-day finances. That has brought me a sense of peace I’d always dreamed of but never thought was possible.

Is your (metaphorical) refrigerator running? Do you wonder if the noise will ever stop?

Believe me: If you stick with the budget, eventually it will. And it will feel just as amazing as you imagine.

9 Responses to “Turning off the noise of financial worries”

  1. joseph Campo

    I am glad to hear this good news.
    I have recently hired a professional financial advisor to handle our retirement funds to remove that task from my shoulders. I was finding I didn’t have the time to learn enough to make the best decisions and manage that part of the equation. But I have to now budget that as another expense.

    How do you manage unknown fluctuations in your income stream, vis a vis YNAB? My wife has been out of work for one school year wne she went back to complete her MA degree. But without knowing whether she will get a job or not, I have to operate with what we have for day to day budget. And our expenses exceed our income. Yeah< I know, I need to budget that down, but it is physically impossible. Our necessities (because of mortgage mostly) now exceed our monthly income. We have been getting by on inherited money from my mom's passing last summer.

    I hope that my wife will get a job, but I cannot count on that. I am also going to pick up p/t work soon to help bridge the income gap, but that's also unknown.

    How do you handle these unknowns with YNAB? Thanks for any advice.

    • jessiebird

      Joseph, if you haven’t already, I urge you to check into the YNAB forums: http://forum.youneedabudget.com/ (It’s a very non-threatening, supportive group, I promise!). Many other people are in, or have been in, a similar situation and have gotten some good ideas and empathy there. I don’t have any good advice from my own experience because in my case, our problems were largely caused by bad money management, not a lack of income.

      If I had any suggestion, however, it would be to start by identifying exactly how much you need each month to get by and set that as a target income number. Could your wife, for now, pick up part-time/temp work that would keep you in the black each month? If you have pared down your expenses as far as possible, the only other option is to increase income.

      Also, despite your difficult situation, remember that the budget is helping you make the most of the money you do have, so stick with it. Abandoning the budget because money is tight will only hurt you in the long run.

      Good wishes for better times ahead.

  2. catesalim

    My refrigerator WAS running yesterday. The prior day, my car had been sideswiped while it was parked at work, and yesterday I had to file a claim and take it to an auto-body shop. My deductible is $1,000. I went into a tailspin all day.

    Then, last night, I sat down at our budget, looked to see what was in my rainy day category for car repair (Rule 2), and then using Rule 3, I moved some budged amounts around, and was able to come up with the $1,000 – and we’re currently living at Rule 4!

    My husband and I both sat and stared in shock that we were able to do it without dipping into our Rule 4 income, and it gave us both so much peace. I know that a year ago, we never would have felt this way – it would have been panic and worry. It’s taken work to get to this point, but what an amazing place to be. We’ve also decided to create a new Rainy Day category “Car Insurance Deductible”, and will be building that over time.

    One final action item for all of this is that I believe I know how and when it occurred (pretty sure it was a bus, based on the tire marks left on the side of my car), so I’m taking calculated steps (saving all my paperwork, requested pictures that the auto-body shop took, talking to a friend who is a Sheriff who may have seen the before and after) and calling the local bus company to see if they will admit culpability. The great thing is that even if they don’t, for today, we’re just fine.

    • jessiebird

      This is what I am talking about. Good for you (not on the car repairs, but everything else!).

  3. hedy

    Jessiebird … What a great post! I enjoy all of the contributors, but I must say, I relate to yours the most … thank you!

  4. Eric

    I had a financial situation I was in where I had thousands (quite high) in my account and I was using YNAB to budget that. Things were good and everything was smooth but I didn’t have a steady way to manage it all on a regular basis … so I thought.

    I now realize that it’s not just the software that makes this work but how you use the software for your own needs.

    When I reach that point again (and beyond – I will) I know that I will have a better way to take care of things and feel the same peace, being able to relax knowing that all is taken care of going forward (with YNAB, of course).

  5. Maiya

    Thanks, Jessie! I’m there now too, except I still have that knee-jerk reaction of panic and fear sometimes when an unexpected expense appears (for me it’s been emergency Vet bills). Then I sit down, breathe, look at my budget, apply rules 2 (rainy day funds) & 3 (roll with the punches / whack moles) and get to feel that peace and gratitude knowing that I’m living in rule 4 (LOLMI) ! I no longer have to worry about my bank balance bottoming out! Thank you YNAB!!! Now there’s actually time to ‘smell the roses’!!

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