White-Knuckle Budget

handmade greeting card, collage artThis is a Pattern:

Live in Denial.   Wake up.  Overcompensate.  Go Crazy.  Repeat.

Basically, this is my Pattern for living.  It’s definitely my financial strategy.  This past year I thought I was getting comfortable with my poverty—coming to terms with it—my smug self said.  But what really happened was that I just pretended it didn’t exist.

I know lots of people do this with money.  Statistics from The Federal Reserve say that the average U.S. household credit card debt is $15,270.  That doesn’t include medical or mortgage debt, so imagine what the real number might be!  People all over the country plug their ears with their fingers and sing, “La la la la.  I can’t hear you.”  Knowing this makes me feel a little less crazy, my compulsive spending a little less shameful.  It makes my combined debt of $3000 seem paltry.  But I still have to deal with it.

My hope is that every time I go through this cycle I learn a little something.  Maybe I can adjust the pattern a wee bit this time.  Maybe that’s denial talking, but it seems like I’m required to try.  Right now I’m between Waking up and Overcompensating.  Maybe I can keep from swinging too far into a way of living that’s unsustainable.  I did that when I decided to save money for a new car, cinching the financial belt so tight I passed out from stress and threw myself into a month of rapid cycling.   Neuro-normals go through this, too, I’ve learned.  There’s even a term for it—Frugal Fatigue.  They don’t land themselves in a mental hospital, though.  Well, I’m guessing they don’t.

There are some things I do right.  I keep a spreadsheet of every penny I spend.  I pay my bills through the Bill Pay option with my bank, so things like rent and internet service get paid the same time every month.

There are things I’ve gotten better at doing.  When I was recovering from electroshock and very brain-sick, cooking threw me into scary anxiety attacks, so I ate a lot of take-in.  I mostly enjoy cooking now, especially when I create something fabulous from digging through my pantry (see my Kitchen Sink Chili recipe below).  But, there are still times when I’m so brain-sick I can’t face cooking.  I try to have easy, microwaveable stuff on hand for those times.  And if I can’t even do that much, then try to limit the splurging to one meal, one item, one treat.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

Making wise money choices while cycling through mixed states is sort of a contradiction in terms.  The urge to bolt in my truck requires gas.  The day-long camp-outs at the theater require tickets.  Then, of course, we have the standard binge-eating and internet shopping wallows.  I’m trying to work on those things with my therapist, but squeezing them too tightly also causes backlash.  So, I need to plan for them while I work at minimizing their effects.  Tightrope walking at its finest.

So, here’s the first draft of my plan:

  1. Stop using my credit card.  That means buying gas for my truck with cash, which means a lot less driving.  That translates to only going to Des Moines in cases of mental emergency.  It also means walking as much as I can, which may have to wait until it gets warmer.  The windchill today is -8, so I think I’ll be driving to the Y later.
  2. Try something new.  This time around I’m going to try the envelope system.  I’ll take out my budgeted amounts for food, gas, laundry and entertainment each week and keep them in separate zip-lock bags.  When the money’s gone, it’s gone.  I have a friend who has used this system for decades, but I’ve always thought it seemed too restrictive.  Well, restriction is what’s needed, so I’m game to try.
  3. Keep saving for the new car.  That’s a priority for me, so I’ll keep tucking away a little each month.
  4. Adjust my medical payments.  Paying $40 a month to my mental health clinic wasn’t taking care of my co-pay from Medicare.  I asked them for a statement and found out I owe about $500.  I’ve increased my monthly payment (through Bill Pay) to cover my weekly therapist visits and start whittling at the debt.
  5. Start chipping away at the credit card balance.  I’ve routinely paid a lot more than the minimum required, but never enough to cover the monthly charges.  If I’m not using my card, I can start reversing that trend.

Personal financial experts suggest test-driving a budget before making a huge commitment.  That makes sense to me.  I won’t be able to start until my Disability check comes in February, then I’ll take this puppy for a spin.  Until then, I’m committed to zero spending.  I have gas in the truck, food in the cupboard, a gift card to the theater here in town if I need a movie.  I have $11 in my billfold, and I’m determined to still have it come February 3.  I’m good.  Really good.

Here’s what I created yesterday—a vegan chili recipe that is so delicious I couldn’t believe it.  Score!

Kitchen Sink Vegan Chili

½ C dried beans (I used pinto beans, but any kind would work.  And canned beans are just fine, too.)

¼ C Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Wild and Brown Rice (Again, this is what was in my pantry.  Use whatever rice or pasta you have.)

1-16 oz. can diced tomatoes

1-16 oz. can corn

1-6 oz. can tomato paste

1-4 oz. can green chilies, chopped

1-2.25 oz. can sliced black olives

½ onion, diced


Seasonings: salt, turmeric, chili powder, sweetener (I used a packet of Truvia, so 2 tsp. of sugar would be the same)


Soak and cook the beans according to the directions.  Same with the rice (or pasta).  Beans need a couple of hours to cook.  Wild rice needs an hour.  Drain.

Add all the other stuff.

Add water to make the chili a consistency you like.

Add seasonings.  I think seasoning is personal and requires tasting, so I don’t have any measurements for them.  Turmeric was a creative choice this time and turned out to be fabulous.  Use whatever you’ve got.  The one exception to my chili seasoning rule is sweetener.  It cuts the acid of the tomatoes and just makes any kind of chili better (in my humble opinion).

This made 4 big bowls of deliciousness—231 calories/bowl.  I topped it with crumbled up corn bread (add another 150 calories).

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Littlesundog
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 11:16:12

    This post kind of put things in perspective for me regarding your life and what it takes to survive financially.Working in the financial industry and accounting field for many years, I have had plenty of exposure to folks who live in denial about debt. Personally, I am on the opposite end of the pendulum. I am so frugal and a horrible penny-pincher that I often deny myself frivolous ventures – and for what good? A person has to enjoy life, right?

    I think your plan is a good one. And I’m proud of you. It takes courage and tenacity to tackle finances and keep after them. Plug away, and be happy with the progress you make!


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 25, 2014 @ 12:05:50

      I knew you were good with money, but if I knew you were a professional, I forgot that. So, having you say my plan is good makes my day. Thanks, Lori!


  2. Island Traveler
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 12:06:51

    It’s like reading my life story with debt and all. You’re not alone my friend. I too are finding ways to be free from debt starting by paying off the credit card & getting rid of it. It’s inspiring to see someone making a plan for a better financial future. Wishing you all the best.


  3. Rose
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 12:14:24

    I know all about the penny pinch, living on SSDI, myself. I am definitely in “overcompensate” mode, which I think you mean as to so severely restrict, that your eyeballs pop out. I am SO there. And SO annoyed with it all, because the significant other isn’t helping matters.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 25, 2014 @ 16:25:16

      Oh. Oh. I remember those days. There’s nothing as frustrating as being in frugal mode when your partners is on a spree. And visa versa. And scolding or nagging only makes things worse. My heart goes out to you, Rosie.


  4. Kathryn McCullough
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 12:54:23

    God, I HAVE BEEN THERE! Fortunately, we now live in a country where things are more affordable. That helps. We also live in a cash economy, can only use a debit card to withdraw cash. Sounds like you have a good plan.

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 25, 2014 @ 16:27:31

      I can’t help but be green around the edges when I read about your very affordable life in Ecuador… and see your beautiful home… and all the friends you’ve made. Ah, but mostly I’m just so happy for you and Sara. I know you guys understand.


  5. Brenda Knowles
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 15:27:03

    I marvel at how you endure and conquer. I give you so much credit for your creativity and willingness to share your story. Your plan seems sound and workable. I’m glad you have a movie gift card. Movies are such a great escape. Sending you peace and strength.


  6. kkestebo
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 07:45:21

    Sounds like you are in the same position I am. I had some extra money this summer, and I spent it all doing things I had put off for a long time. Now I have to get extensive dental work done, and I don’t have the money so I will have to borrow $2000. It will take two years to pay back, and that scares me. What if I have an emergency? You are doing some very good things by keeping track of what you spend. I don’t do that. I am going to plan a budget, though. My manic moods have pretty much disappeared with the meds I am taking but it’s hard to change old manic habits like spending to make myself feel good.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:14:37

      Keeping track of what I spend was essential. I highly recommend it, because we forget what we’ve spent as well as deny it. I also use Care Credit for dental and vet bills. It’s like a credit card, but there’s no interest for 18 months. Depending on if your dentist is a provider, it might be a way to manage your dental bill. Here’s the link to more info.


  7. kkestebo
    Jan 28, 2014 @ 08:24:36

    I just got Care Credit this morning. It looks great, and I will be able to afford the dental work, assuming my son gets a job soon! It’s been a long time since I tracked what I was spending. I should have started six months earlier but oh well. I live with someone so don’t have to pay all my bills by myself. I have tried living on my social security payments alone, and it was tough to impossible. Even low-cost housing was $320 a month. Good job on managing. Pets can be expensive too. Wouldn’t give them up, though.


  8. Eggton
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 14:04:21

    I am totally going to try this chili, my friend. Do you think it’s a good vegan introduction for me, or would you suggest something else? As someone who is looking for work right now, I feel you on the money thing. I’m impressed by your plan–it looks really good. I will be sending you good thoughts!


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