Last night my son wanted ice cream after dinner. So, being the super cool (AKA ice cream loving) mom that I am, we jumped in my car and headed to DQ. (Note: the Nutter Butter Blizzard is NOT as amazing as I expected.) Anyway, we were waiting in the drive thru line and something – maybe the weather, maybe my mood – reminded me of a moment from the past. It was kind of unsettling, actually, like I was having one of those TV flashbacks.
It was the summer of 2007. My (then) husband S, 9 year-old Jayden (awww, so long ago!), and I were leaving the county fair and Jay asked for ice cream. So we went to McDonald’s, ordered food for us and a McFlurry for him, and drove around to the window. S gave the girl his debit card and we watched her swipe it, wait, then swipe it again. We looked at each other and knew that we didn’t have $14 in the bank to pay for our food.
We pulled out of the drive thru, S fuming, and went to the bank. He withdrew $10, leaving a balance of $1.13 or so in our checking account. I decided I would eat something at home to allow the two of them to get their food. We made the Drive of Shame back to McDonald’s, where the drive thru girl looked at us like we were pond scum. When we left the parking lot, the argument started.
“Exactly how much did you spend yesterday?”
“All I bought was gas! Did your gym fees come out of the bank today?”
“I don’t know, but you should keep up with the money better!”
“Well maybe you should help out every now and then!”
On it went until we pulled in the driveway at home. Jay ate his ice cream, then went to his room and returned with his piggy bank. He plunked it down on the table so hard we both stopped yelling and turned to face him.
“Take my money, Mom. Then you guys won’t have to fight anymore,” he said, and walked back to his room.
I have never wanted the earth to open up and swallow me as much as I did in that moment. I’d like to say that I woke up then, realizing all my mistakes and turning my life around in a Lifetime-worthy transformation. But you guys know that’s not what happened, so I’ll leave the fantasies for my not-so-promising future in fiction writing. To this day, though, that night is one of my most horrible parenting memories.
Back to Last Night
So I snapped back out of my trip down memory lane in time to pay for our ice cream. FYI, my debit card was accepted with no problems. I didn’t even briefly wonder if I had money in the bank because I don’t have to do that anymore. The only argument on the way home was over which song we should listen to (Jay wanted Fallout Boy’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs” and I wanted the DJ Earworm smush “Funky Goes to Hollywood.”) And I realized how much my life has changed and how many things I take for granted.
Being able to buy a fast food meal is a tiny thing. Miniscule. But for many years of my life, I held my breath every single time I did it. Much like my former coworker, Georgia, I know what it’s like to put things back at the grocery store because the total is more than I had in the bank. I have also thrown a fit when my card was declined, insisting my bank screwed up my balance, even when I knew darn well I didn’t have the money. I was a financial disaster.
One of the signs of addiction is making efforts to control your use of the addictive substance. Except I wasn’t controlling my spending – it was totally controlling me. Everything I did depended on how much money I hadn’t spent yet – and while that’s still true to an extent, it’s not the same as it was before.
Before, if I wanted something, I swiped my card and bought it. Later I would worry about how to afford the things I needed, like food and utilities. If necessary, I would “borrow” the money from my parents to make it through until the next payday. Sometimes I couldn’t buy my son a Blizzard but I could afford a vanilla cone.
These days, I pay for the things I need first. Then if I want something, I save the money separately from the money I spend from day to day until I have enough to pay for it. As a result, I know how much money I have and I don’t waste time worrying about what I can afford. If Jay wants a Blizzard, he gets a Blizzard – not every day, but a few times a month. And I do this after getting divorced and losing my ex-husband’s income.
If you’ve never been where I was, good for you! But if you have, or if you’re there right now, aren’t you tired of it? All the hoping and crossing fingers and (possibly) having to explain to your child why s/he can’t have a Happy Meal or a coloring book? I’m over it. If you are too, the only way to stop it is to TAKE CONTROL of your spending.
You need to know where your money goes. You need to check your bank balance regularly, even when it scares you. You need a realistic idea of how much money it takes to keep you afloat. Create a budget for crying out loud. Do whatever it takes so that you aren’t consumed by worrying about and fighting over money! Believe me, I know it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t used to it. But it’s the only way to make things different.
Stop dreaming of winning the lottery. Stop saying, “If we just had more income we’d be fine!” Accept your role, whatever it may be, in creating financial mayhem in your life and take steps TODAY to fix it. If you don’t know where to start, ask for help! Hell, ask ME for help if you don’t have anyone else! Just. Do. It. Now.
The memory that popped into my head last night is one of many I don’t want. I hate remembering how dumb I was and wondering if my son is going to grow up with messed-up ideas about relationships and money. I can’t take back what happened. But I can spend my time making enough positive memories to outweigh the negatives. And now that my money is under control, I have a lot more time to spare.
Is your spending under control, or is it controlling you? What steps have you taken or do you need to take to get things back on track? I’d love to hear your story!