How Much Time Do You Have?
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Is 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.
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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