Thursday, 16 December 2010

5 Stages of Financial Incompetence

It was pay day yesterday, so naturally I did some online banking* and checked my balance. I discovered that, if I don't want to go into my overdraft, I have about £100 to last me until January 15th, after bills and travel costs. I still have to buy food out of this fund, but fingers crossed I can take inspiration from snakes over Christmas and just stuff myself so full of food that I don't need to eat until again until around January 10th. Here's hoping.

Now, you may be wondering if this is my normal monthly allowance: it isn't. Well, what happened? You may be asking yourself. Here's what happened: essentially, I am some kind of infant who should not really be in charge of all areas of my life. I should be judged unfit for independence and assigned some kind of accountant and/or care-worker to help me live my life. My life works on some kind of Indepence Failure Cycle - let me explain...

Stage One:
Am In Charge of My Life Like A Boss.

During this stage of the cycle, I am organised. I am efficient. I am sensible. I check my accounts online on a regular basis, monitor my spending and know exactly how much I have left of my self-issued allowance after every purchase. I consider said purchases carefully: when grocery shopping I find the cheapest items available; I shop around for prices on toiletries or other essential purchases; I think about how much I have left to spend before buying luxury items or treats for myself. I am, in other words, THE KING OF MONEY. At this stage in the cycle I reach the end of the financial month with money left over; I put money into my savings; and I get another step closer to paying off my overdraft. I feel like a proper, sensible grown-up – except I feel a sense of smug self-satisfaction about my achievement, which I think sensible grown-ups don’t actually feel.

Stage Two:
Only-Child Syndrome.

Stage Two begins innocently enough. I’ve had a phase, sometimes several months long, during which I have been in rigid control of my spending. Stage Two then begins in one of two ways:-

One: the Shoulder Devil begins to speak up in my mind.

Lead me not into temptation - I can find it myself Two: I see something, strictly speaking over my budget, which I really, really want.
Finally you'll attain the status you desire and gain love and universal acceptance!Sometimes I don’t immediately crumble. Sometimes I resist the urge to go over my budget – but ironically, this just empowers Stage Two. The more I resist spending, the more I feel I deserve to buy myself a treat as a reward for not spending.

I’m pretty sure Stage Two has its roots in the fact that not only am I an only child, but I was the only grandchild until I was about nine. I am still the only grandchild on Mum’s side of the family, which means that “spoiled” seems like kind of an understatement for my childhood. I mean, I actually had an actual pony. :-D

As a result, although I’ve been relying on largely my own earnings since I got my first part-time job aged sixteen, I’ve never emotionally come to terms with the fact that I cannot have everything I want, as soon as I want it. Logically, I know that some pleasures have to be delayed and that I cannot afford to buy a life-size My Little Pony Dream Castle in which I can build a cinema room and I will have cushions made of silk and an all-Alessi-products kitchen and I will ride a unicorn that is also made of gold and can fly and my friends will die, actually die of jealousy. I know this. However, the petulant, whiny, over-indulged five-year-old that still lives in the back of my psyche does not know this; or rather, refuses to acknowledge that we need to accept our financial limitations. Thus the irresistible power of Stage Two.

Stage Three:
The Extravagant Purchase.

Sometimes it’s something relatively small, but it’s bought at the end of my financial month so just pushes me over budget.

All you need is Young Sherlock Holmes and you'll finally feel you've achieved something!Sometimes it’s something big that I really shouldn’t be spending my money on.

Come FLY with me, let's FLY let's FLY away
Either way, I make a purchase that breaks my budget. From then on, something snaps in my mind and I lose all remaining traces of my Stage One control.

Stage Four:

I’ve already blown my budget, right? Screw it, I may as well buy all the things!

Turns out British money is HARD to draw in PaintThis stage is similar to people who have trouble dieting because, should they have so much as one biscuit, they figure they’ve “ruined” their calorie intake for the day so they may as well enjoy it, go nuts and eat everything in the house. And then go out and buy cake.

Once I’ve made that one over-budget purchase the Shoulder Devil takes over completely and the rest of my mind gives a mental “oh well” shrug and just goes along with things.

During this time I do not check my balance online; I don’t look at my balance at the ATM; and I press a firm “no” at the “Do you want an advice slip?” stage. Obviously the advice is “put the money back in the bank” – but I’ve sailed past the point of no return in the SS Wilful Ignorance and there’s no listening to reason now.

Stage Five:
Shame and Guilt.

At some point, usually after the subsequent pay-day, I work up the nerve to check my bank balance. I then consider how much damage I’ve wreaked on my former careful-savings-plan.
I then swing and forth between intense guilt and shame for my over-spending, and sheer, outright panic and despair over the implications on my budget for the next few months. As the guilt/panic eases, I realise that I must live to an even stricter budget for awhile in order to compensate for the damage done to my savings/overdraft during Stage Four. This, naturally, leads back into Stage One.

Clearly, I need some kind of grown-up assistant (or possibly a helper monkey/thinking-brain dog) to supervise me. They can either act as a Voice of Reason during Stage Two, thus hopefully averting Stage Three altogether; or they can act as damage limitation once Stage Three has been reached, thus preventing Stage Four. Until the day I am assigned such help by the state, the wheels turns ever onwards….

*Not rhyming slang.

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