I had a great conversation with FireflyFanatic this week that gave me a bit of perspective on how I have been running my life as we have shockingly similar attitudes towards money. I have been living for a long time now on very little and although I am pleased that I have been able to make my family finances work on starvation wages for years I think it has warped me in ways that I need to address. I have a natural inclination to be extremely frugal; while being careful with money is good I go too far. I have a baseline aversion to spending money that goes way beyond sensible budgeting and into lunacy. I don't go places because I want to avoid bus fare. I drink only water to avoid paying for beverages and skip out on events because I don't feel like I can afford them. The problem with my attitude is that it isn't based on the total cost but rather on *any* cost. There is something very deep and very powerful in my brain that tells me any expenditure, no matter how small, is wasteful.
You might think that always cutting spending until you are making money is sensible. You would be right in the general case but my current case is that I am attempting to run a household on a student stipend. The thing about student stipends is that they eventually turn into real salaries and trying to balance a budget when you are in a temporary state of minimal income leads to despair. I have enough money that I can live quite reasonably until Wendy graduates and starts to earn real cash but I have this brain that keeps screaming at me to stay home and buy nothing because I can feel my money bleeding away. Knowing that my finances are not stable is a terrifying sensation but I need to get past it and move on. I was never able to get past it when I was in undergrad and although I made decisions that blew lots of money (failing courses) I was a lunatic when it came to small amounts. It wasn't even a case of penny wise, pound foolish... more like penny foolish, pound foolish.
Having the discipline to live cheaply is a good thing. In the past I often confused that with having an irrational urge to not spend money and thought very well of myself for it; I was wrong. The best place to be is not a miser but rather someone who makes realistic long terms plans and sticks to them. Discipline is necessary to both spend enough and to not spend too much. I don't think I can actually get these thoughts out of my brain because the desperate need to live cheaply is so ingrained I am pretty sure it is my companion for life. What I can do though is crush my instincts with logic. I know that I will be happier if I get out there and do things. I will enjoy my life more if I spend small amounts of money to do the things I really want to do - join some sports leagues and buy a few computer games here and there to play with my friends. I just need to maintain discipline and make myself do the right thing... which is to buy whatever the hell I want, apparently.
Late night chats aren't just good for telling secrets and laughing; they also seem to be sources of revelation.