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October 13, 2008

Now Take A Nice, Calming, Deep Breath

Economy_2OK, I'll admit it, I've had some stomach-churning moments in the last few weeks. And not just about the election! I'm worried about money.

I'm having flashbacks to when I was a freelancer in the movie industry and whenever I was in-between jobs I'd freak out about where my next paycheck would be coming from. Now my gig is steady (mom), but I don't have any income, and suddenly I am really feeling the NEED for income.

I've been able to be home with my kids for the last nine years because my husband has worked and made a decent living for us. I've been lucky that we have a mortgage payment low enough my income wasn't required to make ends meet, but I've probably pushed that luck a bit. Our savings level is not where I want it to be, and even though I know better, I did feel like we'd be OK without lots of savings because we had so much equity in our house. I considered it our back-up plan.

Well, of course our equity isn't what it used to be, although we're not upside-down. But it's no back-up plan, that's for sure.

I have realized something about my life recently: I'm not living very responsibly with regard to money. I don't go to Paris for shopping sprees, but I do go to Target a lot. And when I'm there I have to admit I'm usually buying things I want, not things I need. And that's true about my online Amazon habit, too: I could get most of those books at the library. I know when I was younger, we just "made do" with what we had around, we didn't buy new things every time we needed them. I don't think I've made myself make do for a long time.

We had a garage sale last weekend to clear out clutter, and I was amazed at the "stuff" I had purchased pretty recently that was now disposable, going for chump change to strangers. Amazed and a little disgusted. I'm looking around my house now and seeing things that are just taking up space. I'm having massive buyer's remorse.

Also, because I usually do my Christmas shopping early and might have been done by now except for the fact that I am paralyzed about spending the money this year, I'm freaking out on several levels: the time-is-running-out level, the we-can't-spend-any-money-on-presents level, and the what-will-they-think-of-me-if-I-don't-buy-any-presents level. It's a wonder I can sleep some nights.

There are times I really do feel like the sky is falling. And then I have to pull back and breathe, a lot, and make myself relax. Be in the moment. It takes more of an effort lately.

When my husband and I bought our house, we adjusted our spending on everything else. No more sushi dinners on Saturday nights; that money needed to go into our home improvement fund. It was a mutually-agreed-upon, tangible goal that trumped all others; it was easy to scrimp because the house was so worth it.

So maybe that's what's been missing for me: a tangible goal we're all on board for. "Retirement" is such a ridiculous word to me. I can't believe I'll have what my parents' generation had. It doesn't seem possible anymore, especially since I had children at an older age.

But college savings for my kids, and a travel fund for all of us, now those are goals I could get behind. Those are goals I need to have plastered in the front of my mind every time I think about buying something that I know in my heart will end up in a future garage sale.

This is an original post for the LA Moms Blog. When she's not losing sleep about the state of our economy, Sarah blogs at Mar Vista Mom.

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