I really don’t think anyone else is interested in my financial prestidigitations. I’m just opting for transparency. Since compulsive behavior is part of my bipolar kit, I need to open it up for inspection. And since living on Social Security Disability is a fact of life for lots of folks with mental illness, maybe we can trade magic tricks on how to make those dollars stretch.
Even though I started tightening my belt a week before, the real test came with my February check. It seemed silly to be nervous about walking into the bank with my little list—a month’s worth of quarters for laundry, a $50 bill for the car fund, and cash for the week’s groceries and gas. Nervous, I guess, because I don’t do this very well—sticking to what feels like severe restriction. So, I tried to reframe my thoughts. Not restriction, stewardship and different choices. I’m making different choices about how I spend my money. I’m doing this. It’s not being done to me.
I know a big part of budgeting is planning. I’m an expert list-maker and always have A Plan. I’m just not as hot at actually implementing The Plan. The bipolar part of the equation gets in my way. Knowing that about myself makes any plan tentative—possible, but not probable. Planning seems to set me up for failure, so I’ve learned to make plans loose and friendly to give them a fighting chance.
I made a loose meal plan, a handful of ideas for meals that I could mix and match—stir fries, chili, roasted vegetables, hummus wraps—then made a grocery list from that. This week I had plenty in my food budget for the initial shopping trip, plus a little left over. That little bit extra felt expansive to me—I could get cornbread mix to go with my chili or a frozen pizza later in the week if I wanted to. Since cooking still makes me anxious sometimes (especially when I’m under stress), it helped to have this bit of breathing space.
I didn’t bother trying to walk in this cold, and managed fine on my budget of $15 a week for gas. I’m surprised that staying home hasn’t felt restrictive, especially since I’ve experienced several days of depression and anxiety. Usually that makes me want to bolt. I went to the movies a couple of times here in town on the gift cards I received for Christmas. My friends and my sister treated me to meals out. I’m also still seeing my therapist every week. So even though I’ve been cycling fast and hard, I seem to have enough distraction and support to keep the symptoms manageable.
The new mental health program I learned about last week is Medicaid-funded, so I probably don’t qualify. I make too much money. But a friend does pay me a little bit each month for odd jobs, and that might be enough to qualify me as working disabled. This makes no sense to me, but that’s a whole other post. It does look like I will be reimbursed for about half of the rent I paid in 2013 (who knew?). That would pay off all my medical debt. Sweet!
This is hard. But, I’m hoping the longer I stick with this budget and continue to see results, the more comfortable I’ll get with it. The most important factor is to reduce my stress, make this as easy as possible, so that my symptoms don’t overwhelm me. That’s the rabbit I keep fishing for inside the hat.