Aileen is tired of being in mother f***ing debt.
Aileen is tired of being in mother f***ing debt. She can’t stop wondering why her family is living paycheck to paycheck, despite making good money. We talk about budgeting, and why it’s always deeper than money.
Well…Adjusting is an editaudio original. It is exec produced by Steph Colbourn and Robin Hopkins. Thank you to Maria Passingham, Kathleen Speckert, and the whole editaudio team.
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Well…Adjusting is a podcast that is intended for entertainment purposes. It is not meant to be used for therapy or medical advice. If you need help from a licensed professional, you can text "MHA" to 741-741 and speak with Crisis Text Line.
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Robin: Sometime in my late 20s, I did yet another self-help course, and I came out all lit up with possibility. I started calling all my family, I’m talking about the changes they can make in their lives for happiness… I mean, you can just imagine how psyched everyone was to get my calls. “Oh Jesus, it’s Robin again.” So by the time I get to my dad, I had been thinking about how he was always talking about how he didn’t want to be in sales anymore, and how he wasn’t happy with what he was doing with his life, and so I launched into this diatribe about how he could go back to school! He could get a new career! He could be anything he wanted to be! And there was this pause on the phone, like, a very long and uncomfortable pause. And he said, “Robin, I’m 73 years old, I can’t go back to college.” So, I resisted the urge to bring up Rodney Dangerfield, and I just said something about how he was missing my point. It’s about every day is a new day to change. Needless to say, my dad stayed in sales, and I learned to only give advice when asked. And I can generally do this. Oh, who am I kidding, I can’t, I can’t help myself. But that’s not the point. The point is, I stand by the idea that every day is a new day to decide who you want to be and how you’re going to show up in this world. And some days I can do that, and others, you know, not so much. But I do know that if I fail, there’s a new day a-comin’.
R: Hello, folks! I’m Robin Hopkins, and this is Well… Adjusting. Where I talk to people about life stuff, but, you know, not in an NPR way. More like, a “We’re at the bar, we’re having cocktails and I am getting into your business” sort of way.
Steph: Oh! We love a cocktail.
R: Oh yeah, and producer Steph is here too.
S: Oh yeah, hi, that’s me.
R: Today we chat “Well… credit card roulette.” Ooh, I am so excited about today’s episode! Today, we are joined by one of my very bestest friends, she’s like my sister. Her name’s Aileen. Sometimes I call her Bean, just for clarity’s sake, so you know. And recently, Aileen came to me about her finances, and she was essentially talking to me about how she’s over 50, and she’s like, still in motherfucking debt, and she’d had it. And she asked me for help. And I was so excited for her to be in that place of being like, “I don’t care what my age is, I can learn a new way of being.” And after we started working together on her finances I was like “Oh! Oh! You’ve got to be on my new podcast.” And today, she is bravely sharing with you all of her money stuff. So, let’s get to it. It is, I mean… I hate to be all dorky and say “Finances are so exciting,” but they are. Let’s get into this.
Aileen: I’ve never had a budget my entire life. My husband’s like, “You spend whatever you want, you deserve it.” But I’m just tired of always being behind with everything, like always being in financial debt. And some really big financial things came up last year, which put me in a position where I was really forced to make a big change with the way I spend, and the way I save or don’t save.
A: You know, I’ve watched Robin for years, buy apartments and go on big trips and do all kinds of stuff that I’m like, “Man, she’s good at this.” And also, always has, you ask a financial question and she comes back with some really smart answer, and I’m like “Oh, okay.” (Laughs)
R: You know what’s funny is, when you reached out, like you texted me and you said something like, “Could we hop on the phone for a few minutes to talk about a budget?” And I was like, “Oh yeah!” I’m thinking this is like a three-minute conversation, and I’m going to just send you this spreadsheet that I have. ‘Cause it’s not unheard of for people to ask me about my spreadsheets, you know what I’m saying? So, I sent you over the spreadsheet, and we got on the phone, and we started to talk, and I really quickly realized that you didn’t want my spreadsheet, which, you know, fine, okay. But you were ready for this much bigger conversation about “I want to make a change with the way that I relate to money.” And so, we started talking.
R: So, let’s get into a little bit about, where were you in this moment?
A: We had just decided we were going to secure a house at the Jersey Shore, which was $4,000. Before that, we knew we had to go to a wedding in Nashville with our entire family, so the five of us in April…
R: Which, five airline tickets, ouch.
A: And then, right after that, we found out that another one of our nephews was getting married in August, in Canada, in Vancouver. And I just got really overwhelmed trying to think of how I was going to do everything, because of course we’re not going to deprive ourselves of something and not go on this trip, right? That’s, I think, part of our generation, is like “Oh, you don’t say no to anything, you just put it on a credit card and you figure it out later.” So, all that just really threw me off. I actually can’t remember a time when I was that… my heart was almost pounding, like “How am I going to do this?” And every single day I’d wake up with it. I’m like, “I have to figure this out, I have to figure this out.” I was frustrated that… I was mad that I had to figure it out.
A: I just wanted to have some normal finances, I was coming up on about to pay off my car. We were in a good spot, not terrible, and I’m like “Well, this is going to take me a year to recover from,” and I was mad about it.
R: And one of the things we talked about that I think is really interesting is the concept or the idea of paying for something before you do it. And it just blew your mind, because you were like “No, we always… I’m going to charge it, and then I’m going to deal with it later.” And I was like, “I really want you to address that.” Like, I think within a half hour of talking, I was like, “What we need to do is change your whole thinking about the way you relate to money.”
S: Can I just ask, are you comfortable saying how much debt you were in when you started chatting to Robin?
A: Well, at the time I think I had just purchased my tickets for Nashville. So, I think we had about… we probably had about $5,000 of credit card debt. That we could have paid off, but I don’t think I intended on paying that off right away, because we had this other debt. So Robin helped me to consolidate it. So that was probably only about… (sighs) I think it was about $12,000. $12 or $13,000.
R: Plus the three trips that you needed to plan for. And at that moment, you were like “I’m going to have to put those on cards.”
A: Well, we have… I mean, we have heavy expenses. We have a heavy mortgage, we have… it was just, that put us way over the edge, because I had been… even though I was living paycheck to paycheck, I wasn’t saving anything. So, I’m like, “Okay, we’re managing, managing, managing, managing. This isn’t awful, we’re not carrying big, heavy debt.” But then when that happened, it was just like the rug got pulled out from under me. It was like, “Okay, this is bigger than me right now.” In the past, what we’ve done when that’s happened, Robin, is we would just take money out of our investments…
R: (Sighing) Oh…
A: …just to pay down the credit card debt.
R: My anxiety levels. Yep.
A: That’s how we managed for years and years and years. And so… that’s been a big lesson, from just changing our habits this year. And we have not done that since last year, which is…
R: I mean, it’s incredible.
A: …it feels really good.
R: And I think we started talking 9 months ago?
S: That alone is a huge win.
A: Right? And, you know, it took you and I a few phone calls before I could even get past the shame of the way we spend money.
A: I just was, like, in such a shameful place. Other people figured this out by now. I’m 52 years old, I’m still putting trips on credit cards and having to pay them off over a whole year. Like, that just really… I just felt like a failure, to be honest.
R: Why do you think that is? Like, why do you think you felt like a failure?
A: Because my husband and I make a lot of money. (Laughs)
R: “We shouldn’t be in this position. We should know better.”
A: Yeah. And we’ve made other financial mistakes that have put us in this spot we’re in now, too.
A: This kind of assumed… that in every couple you have one person that’s better at the finances than the other, and I don’t think either one of us have that. I pay bills, that doesn’t mean I’m good at budgeting or planning our finances.
R: That is true. Usually there’s one person that’s good at one thing… that’s interesting that neither of you are good at it. Especially, you were a business major in college! I had, like, 17 majors, but you were a business major, for God’s sakes! Taking accounting and shit.
A: Financial accounting was, I did drop out of that class. (Laughing) That one was not good.
R: (Laughs) I’m, like, already shaming you. We were just talking about feeling shame, and I’m shaming you about your business major. I should tell our audience that we’ve known each other for so long, and so I can shame you with love.
A: Shame it up.
R: I remember we had a lot of talks about, I was like “You can shame yourself all day long, but the elephant is still sitting in the middle of this bedroom.” You could feel the shame, and then you can… I call it the “fuck-you slide.” You’re like, “Fuck this shit, this sucks, and so I get my credit card out, and I slide it, and I buy stuff I shouldn’t buy,” because you feel ashamed. So I’m like, you’ve gotta get out from under the shame in order to just even deal with the budget. I don’t think we even got to a budget until the second or third call.
A: If you really want to… the real major problem, if you remember from the beginning, was having 6 or 7 credit cards and playing Russian roulette with that. So…
R: I nearly threw up when you told me how you were operating your finances. Can you explain to people what you would do?
A: Yeah. Yeah, well, I’m sure a lot of other people do this too, but… knowing when your statement cuts off, and when you can kind of start spending again, and then, “Oh, we’re stuck, the car just broke down and we have to pay $400, but which card are we going to put that on. Let me put it on this one ‘cause we don’t have anything on it and the statement won’t come until this date.” It’s like you’re stacking up your debt ahead.
R: And did you have, before this moment, ‘cause you’re saying you have anxiety about these three trips. But did you have anxiety about when the bills are coming in? And I remember you saying you would switch the dates of when the payments are due, to sometimes buy yourself more time? Did that give you anxiety, or were you just on autopilot, like “This is my system, this is what I do.”
A: Yeah, I mean, you just figure it out. There was… I would say there was a time maybe five years ago where I got a lot better at not carrying a balance, but it was on four or five different credit cards. So I paid everything off every month, but I was still putting stuff on different credit cards to manage what was coming in. Or, sometimes if I felt like we were in a good place, it’s like “Oh, well let’s go away for the weekend, and we’ll just put it on that credit card.” There was no savings, it’s paycheck to paycheck to paycheck always. And if we can’t figure out the paycheck, then it goes on a credit card that we’re going to pay off later.
R: And it’s just, “I’ll deal with it later. I’m not going to deal with it right now.”
R: I feel like, a couple of times you refinanced your mortgage and took more cash out. That killed me, too.
A: We did.
R: I wish we’d had a conversation back then, ‘cause I would have smacked you around a little bit. But you weren’t ready for it!
A: No. Even… my financial advisor told us not to do it. He said “Don’t do it.”
S: Wait, you have a financial advisor? Other than Robin?
A: We did, but we got rid of him. Which was also a really bad decision. Because he was the one that helped us save for our house before we had kids, he was incredible.
R: This is why I go back to, it’s an underlying issue. You have done the right things, you’ve put yourself in the right place with advisors, you make good money. It’s… there’s something underneath this that you have to continue to explore, about why you’re comfortable being in this position. And I think that’s really hard for people to get their head around.
R: That you would actively, on some level, subconsciously, one, would choose to do something that’s harmful to ourselves. But we do it all the time. That’s the real work. That’s the real work. It’s not budgeting.
R: Out of curiosity, what’s your family history with money? What kinds of lessons did you get about money growing up? Are you operating the same way as your parents, or different?
A: (Laughs) I knew you were going to ask me that question. I’m like, “How am I going to answer that?” And it’s funny because the two of them are opposite. My parents divorced when I was very young, but my dad always had his own business, always had a wad of $100 bills or $20s. Big wad of cash in his wallet. You came home from college, you’re leaving, he’s giving you $40 for gas, you know? He was just always doling out the cash. That kind of stuff. If I ever got into trouble I would just call my dad, and be like “Dad, I can’t pay the utility bill,” in college, and he’d be like “Okay, I’ll send you a check.” My mother was the opposite. She comes from a big Irish family, they never had any money, and she holds on to her money. She hates waste, she’s gonna wrap up the end of the bread at the restaurant, and then she brings it home and wraps it in Saran wrap and puts it in the freezer, and she’s going to pull that sucker out in about four days and eat it with butter, and that’ll be her breakfast.
A: She’s a saver. There was no money to be had, with my mom. You had to get it yourself.
R: I wonder, it sounds like you might be a mix of the two of them. But maybe the bad things of both of them. (Laughs)
A: I blame my husband. No!
R: It’s fun to blame Jeff.
A: He’s so funny, he’s just always like… I’ll be complaining, like, “Honey, look at this, we just got this bill again, and we were just about to be in a good place, and I just bought that whatever,” and he’s like “Who cares? You deserve that, you should have that, you can have whatever you want. Have I ever given you a hard time about money?” I’m like, “No, you haven’t, but maybe you should.” (Laughs)
R: (Laughs) Maybe you should actually be looking at the finances. So, he never worries? He’s never like “Oh hey, babe, we’ve got 6 credit cards and we’ve got 20 grand worth of credit card debt.”
A: He has no idea, and he…
R: Oh, so you don’t tell him? Or he doesn’t ask? This is a don’t ask, don’t tell…?
A: No, he just has no interest. I’ll show it to him, he’s like “Oh yeah, let me go do some overtime.”
A: He doesn’t care about the details. His response, his answer to any time I complain about money is, “I’ll go do more overtime.”
R: Like, “I’ll fix it.”
A: Yeah. And it does! Lots of times it does fix it, for sure.
R: Yeah. Well, it certainly helps.
A: But that puts a lot of pressure on him.
A: And it shouldn’t be that way. But I mean, the other part of it is, it’s not just my spending, it’s having three kids, two in college. I’m still paying for all their car insurance, I’m paying for their phones, I’m paying for half my son’s rent…
R: Well, you know I’ve got something to say about that, I’m like, you’ve gotta start setting some boundaries. You’ve gotta make them pay for some shit.
A: I know. Because, with my oldest, he has a job, he just got promoted, he’s got good money for his age, but he’s still not paying his car insurance, his cellphone…
R: Yeah. It’s time.
A: He does make his car payment himself, because he bought a new car.
R: Just take one of those payments. Like, what if you gave him back his car insurance? Couple hundred bucks a month, hundred bucks a month. That’s a $100 you could then put towards your debt. ‘Cause as soon as you free that up, you put it towards something.
A: I know.
R: You have to start to think about putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you save your kid.
A: I know.
R: But one step at a time. We’re asking you to cut a lot of things…
A: I know.
R: …at once, and I’m always wary of that, because sometimes you can go too far.
R: You’re gonna backslide, you’re gonna react, and you’re going to end up right back where you were.
A: People have told me that this is the most expensive time in your life. I don’t know if that’s true. But when your kids are in college, it’s like… it’s just everything.
A: And now, with gas, it’s like “Mom, do you have ten bucks for gas?”
R: You’re like, “Maybe?”
A: Like, “No I don’t, actually.” (Laughs)
R: You’re like, “Let me get out my credit cards, let’s see. This one has $150 on it…”
A: “Use this one.” (Laughs)
R: “Wait, no no no, not that one. This one.”
A: “Wait, let me check the closing date.”
R: (Laughs) So, I think that what we have established is, this is a horrible way to live.
A: Yes, it is!
R: Like, I have so much anxiety, and again, I really think you can’t get to the budget stage and the actual things to do until you address why you’re doing what you’re doing. And so we spent a lot of time just talking about your relationship to money, because I truly think… it’s almost like if you… I always make a lot of analogies to weight, because I am a person who’s struggled with my weight. But if you go to Jenny Craig, right? And Jenny Craig is… Jenny Craig’s great, because they give you the food. If you eat the Jenny Craig and then you only eat the Jenny Craig, you will lose weight. Because they are giving you the calories, they are giving you, it’s like a budget. And you will lose weight. But if you don’t address why you’re eating in the first place, whether it’s a small thing like you just love ice cream and you’re going through menopause and your metabolism’s slowed down, or a big thing, like you have addiction in your family like I do, and I’m eating over my feelings. If you don’t address that, the second you stop ordering Jenny Craig, you’re going to put all that weight back on. And I feel the same way about money. So we spent a lot of time talking about why you’re doing what you’re doing before we even got to budgeting.
A: Yeah. I think what’s been hard for me in the process is, I want the big win. You know, like…
R: What’s a big win for you? What does that mean?
A: A big win would be, like, $5000 in the bank.
R: So, out of debt and you have a solid savings.
A: Yeah. Like, that would be a big win. But I think I’m so focused on the big win that everything else feels like a loss. But what you were teaching me, which is still hard for me, is… when you were patting me on the back for some things I had done, and I wasn’t seeing them the way that you saw them.
R: Well, because you’ve made great strides! You really have. I mean, we have to talk a little bit about the system, because I think, honestly, I think this talk is less about the financial system, but we should say it. Which is that, you take your smallest credit card and you pay that off, and then you take the amount that you were paying to your smallest amount and then you add it to your next smallest amount, and you put that towards that one. And then you just, one card at a time, you get out of debt. I combined that with one credit card for all of your expenses that you use each month, but you have to be able to pay it in full. And so, that requires an investigative look at your budgeting, and saying “This is what I spend each month on food, this is what I spend on gas, booze…” And you’ve gotta really tell on yourself. You’ve gotta be honest. And then, the third part of it… and there’s more really in depth, but again, this is more about the relationship to money, but the third part of it is really about, anytime you get extra money, you put it towards debt, but not all of it. Because I think what’s really important is that you don’t get into a depraved, feeling like “Oh my God, I’m on an austerity budget, I can’t breathe.” Because that’s… nothing sends you into the fuck-you slide faster than feeling like you never can have anything nice. So I always use a rule of thumb of, like, if Jeff’s overtime comes in, what you need to do is, if you want to be a superstar, 75% goes to your debt. 25%, go out and buy yourself something pretty. If you’ve had a really hard time and you’re just like, I want to do something extra, 50%. But the point is that anytime any extra money comes in, you are sending half of it towards your debt. And that is the key to getting out of debt, that and slowly picking off the credit cards. If you can consolidate to one card, I encourage that, one of those no-interest ones, but only if you cut up and stop using the other cards. You can’t keep doing the credit card roulette. You can’t do that.
R: But you did so much with that!
A: Yeah. Initially, it was really good. I mean, I was scared because we just kept putting everything on that one card, and I was like, oh my God. I just kept watching it every day go up, up, up, up. I’m like “How are we going to pay this off?” And it just took… it took a couple of months for it to balance out.
A: And then…
R: Well, because you were used to being like “Groceries go on this card. I go to Target on this card.” And that makes the balance look less. But when you tally up all that you’re spending, it doesn’t matter if it’s on five cards or one. That’s how much you’re spending. And you shouldn’t spend more than comes in through your checks.
A: Yeah. And that was the hardest part. You kept saying “Yeah, you just put everything on one card.” I’m like, “Everything?”
R: She’s so resistant to that.
A: Remember when I told you that every single paycheck, I pay something? And you were like “What are you talking about?” and I’m like “Yeah. When this paycheck comes in I pay this. When this paycheck comes in I pay this.” And you were like…
R: I was like, “Stop that.”
A: You said, “You need to make two payments a month.” That was a very big change for me. I just, like, trusted that. It was like I jumped out of an airplane. I’m like, “Okay, I can do this, I think I can do this.”
R: But give yourself a win, though. You pre-paid for how many of those three trips, before you went on the trips?
A: Um… well… remember, the Nashville one I had to put on that no-interest credit card to pay off over the whole year.
R: Yep. I do remember that.
A: ‘Cause that was so big. So that one, I still have $1500 to pay off. But the Canada trip is paid for, that one’s done.
R: Producer Steph just gave the “Woo-hoo!”
A: (Laughs) And I actually paid our beach vacation off, like, two months ago.
R: This is what I’m saying! You haven’t even gone yet!
A: But that was, like, on a four-payment plan. I know.
R: You are so quick to say that you’re not succeeding. Two of your three trips, you paid off in advance. And this is what I’m saying. It is critical that you celebrate your wins. I talked about with you, I was like, “It is going to take you a year to 18 months to get out of debt, and then we can start adding a savings plan.” ‘Cause then, all of that money you were paying to credit card debt, now we can give you a little more on your monthly spend, but 75% goes into savings. Or 50%. You know, whatever you… all that can come. But you’ve gotta celebrate the wins along the way, because it’s hard work to get out of debt.
R: I don’t hear celebration in your voice, Bean! I don’t hear it.
R: This is what I heard: (glum voice) “Yeah.”
A: Right now I still feel like, I’m a little bit of a setback. And it’s not anything awful, it’s just… I’m not where I want to be. And I want to get there.
R: It’s not a linear, like, “Every day I’m a little bit better.” You’re going to have some setbacks, and then you’re going to start again, and then some expense is going to come out of nowhere and you’re gonna be like “Fuck, I gotta figure that out.” You know, that happens. I think it’s a mistake to think it’s all just going to be clear and smooth once you figure out a new way to look at money.
A: I’ve made some other, like… I don’t know if these are dumb mistakes, but we didn’t save money for our kids for college. Not… I mean, we saved some money, but not enough. And after they got through the really expensive first couple years, we did financial aid, we did some private loans. But then it was like, the tuition bill would come in, and it would be like $3,000, $3,500 for the semester, and I’m like “Oh my God, I can’t do this to my kid.”
A: I don’t want him to have to pay this on a loan later. It’s only $3,500. Jeff, that’s only a couple of overtime jobs for him.
R: Get to work, Jeff! Get to work!
A: So I’d set up a payment plan for us to pay this off over, like, five months, and that would kill us.
A: ‘Cause I’m not good at this whole budget thing anyway, and now I’ve just added an extra $500 a month because I felt sorry for my kid, of what’s going to happen to him in the future. We did a lot fo weird stuff like that, you know.
R: And then, five months later, then the next tuition bill’s due. And then your second kid ends up in college, and it’s like…
A: Oh, yeah.
R: It’s just like a nonstop rain, just pounding you. It’s relentless.
A: I just thought I was doing things the way everybody did it, just live paycheck to paycheck, and some people are better at saving than others, and yeah.
S: At one point you were talking about your habits around paying things off, and you were like “I know on Tuesday, this comes in and so I pay it with this, and then on Wednesday, this comes in and I pay this.” And to me, that says that you’re a very organized person. Would you say that’s true?
A: Yes. Yeah, no, you should see… every Saturday morning I sit down and I look at all my finances, and I always have.
R: That’s what I think’s so funny, is you spend so much time looking at your finances, and it’s all so fucked up.
A: Oh, my God.
R: It’s hilarious.
A: It’s a lot less now than I used to, I’ll be honest. Because sometimes I used to, and I’d be like “Oh.”
A: “Okay. Nothing to do here!” So it’s different, it’s different. But, no, yeah, I am really organized. Can I share an organized story that happened this week?
A: So I was using this one Venture card, which Robin and I agreed was the best card to use and gives me all this cash back, but then this friend of mine’s like “Oh, you have the venture card?” She’s like, “So do I! I get tons of miles for that!” And I’m like, I don’t get any miles. And I’m looking at all the benefits, no miles. So then I realized, I don’t have the mileage one, and I want to go to Ireland next year with my Mom. So I’m like, “This could be a way that I could go on this trip, and it’s almost like a savings plan.” So, I switched to this new Venture card. But I had just done all that work to put everything on the one card.
A: So now I had to put everything on the new card. (Laughs) So this week, my Venture card was due, but… (Laughs)
R: I know, I’m like, what’s going to happen here?
A: See, this is the old me. I wasn’t getting paid until yesterday, and I wanted to pay more on the card. So I put a reminder on my calendar to pay it after 5, so they wouldn’t take it out of my checking account. So, I don’t know. I got this new iWatch, it keeps turning off my notifications, I don’t know what happened. I’m brushing my teeth and it’s like 9:15, and I’m like “Oh my God! I’m supposed to pay off my Capital One card!”
A: I’m now sprinting downstairs. I missed it by an hour. I had to pay it by 8PM. And, for some reason, I didn’t set up the autopay in case you don’t pay it, so then I have a late charge, and I have interest charges on this random card…
R: Son of a bitch!
A: I was dropping f-bombs here and there. So, yeah. That was a bad thing that happened this week. But I set up the auto-pay right away, and I just said to myself, “You know what? It is what it is. You move on, girl.”
R: Yeah. And you set up the auto-pay, and getting this card was a good thing because you’re using it as a savings plan toward a trip in the future. So you’ve gotta pull the good out of one bad thing. And $40? For God’s sakes, we drop $40 on two cocktails. That’s your late fee, you’re fine. You’ll deal with that, you move on from it. But it’s impressive you remembered.
A: (Laughs) Yeah.
R: You’ve just gotta pull the good things out.
S: I don’t know if this is off-limits, so feel free to push back. But you have children.
S: Do you talk to them about money? Do they have jobs? What’s their vibe?
A: Yeah. I’m trying so hard for them not to be me. So, like, I actually taught my oldest son everything Robin taught me. And then I have a son in college who reminds me exactly of myself. He’s just living paycheck to paycheck, like “Mom, can you give me 40 bucks for groceries?” (Laughs) And I’m like, “Sure, I’ll just take it out of my no money…”
A: Just take it out of my pile of no money.
R: So tell me where you are now. How are you feeling about it all now?
A: Um, I’m feeling… I’m definitely feeling more aware. More aware of everything.
R: That’s huge.
A: That’s the biggest part for me. And I have also made my husband a lot more aware of things, so he’s aware too. But… (laughs) It’s like I can’t tell myself I’m doing good with it.
R: I feel like that’s some of your biggest work, is because it’s like… if you can’t see what’s really happening, without your emotions that you’re bringing to it or your past, then what you’re going to do in relation to it is going to be skewed. Do you know what I mean by that? Like, if you’re looking at it, you can’t see the successes, then you are much more likely to buy something you shouldn’t, fall off the wagon. And then it’s a real slippery slope to being right back where you were.
A: Yeah. I have to, realistically, in my head, say “Look at what this year has been and continues to be, and give yourself a break.” I just have to, like you said, and I haven’t done it… you told me to write down the good things that have happened.
R: Why have you not done that?
A: (Laughs) I don’t know. We’ll have to do it together.
R: Yes! We’ll set a deadline. Deadlines help. Because you know that you’re supposed to do it. And even if you don’t make that deadline, you’re in the space. It moves you in the space. And I just want to say, too, we both had kids, and the nurse practitioner said to me, “It was 9 months in, it’s going to be 9 months out.” You didn’t get into this financial situation in six months, you’re not getting out of it in six months. And I don’t know why you would think that you would. I do know why, because that’s what you want, and I get that. But you’ve gotta be kind to yourself, and you have to… you just have to be patient. And you have to do all the work on your relationship to money. That is the most… that awareness, to me, hearing you say that, I’m more proud of you for that than even paying those two trips in advance. ‘Cause that’s what helps you make a different choice next time.
S: The part of this that’s mind-blowing to me is, you are doing so much work…
S: …to be in debt. The things that you were doing before, to me, I’m like, oh my God, you had to think every day about what you had to pay off and why, and you’re organizing and moving things to different accounts. I could never do that. That, to me, takes way more work than paying off one credit card. You know? And I think there’s, like, a misconception that people that are in debt, or self-described “not good at money,” are somehow messy people. Just kind of chaotic energy or whatever and not paying attention, but that’s wicked not the case. So there’s, as Robin said, something deeper happening. Because you obviously are a boss human. You have a good job, you show up for it. You obviously are a good mom, you show up for your kids. You’re obviously doing all the things.
R: And that’s why I said to her, “You’re going to be amazed at how much less work this is, when you get this. The 1st and the 15th, you’re going to do some payments, and it should take about 15-20 minutes. That’s it. And then you don’t have to think about it if it’s not the 1st or the 15th, because it’s all happening.”
A: I think where the rub is is, I’m not doing enough to spend smartly. To put some guard rails on my spending. I’m not doing enough there. And then when the surprise thing comes in, I’m like “Fuck. Now what do we do?”
R: So that’s an area of growth. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s not a horrible thing, you’re not… there’s no “but.” That’s your next area of growth. Is to just take a deeper dive, looking at your spending and what you could cut.
S: A rule I have is I’m never allowed to buy something when I’m already going to the checkout.
A: Oh, that’s good.
S: So you’re at Target, and you’re like “I got everything,” and then you start walking to the checkout, like… those stores are fucking designed so that you buy all the little shitty knicknacks while you’re waiting in line…
S: You’re like “Ooh, I could maybe eat some popcorn right now!” and “Oh, I’ll read this magazine while I’m waiting, and then buy this weird lamp for my friend Susan who I’m going to see next week.” Like, you don’t need that shit.
A: Yeah. Okay. Oh, we did just get rid of our cable.
R: Alright! Woo-hoo!
A: We’re saving $180 a month.
R: You know what I’m going to say to you. You’re going to keep $40 or $50 of that a month in your checking, and the other $140 is going to go toward debt. Or towards savings, or towards… half is to debt and half is for that next vacation that you have to pay off.
A: Maybe I should just start writing down every time I say no to buying something.
R: Yes! That’s a great idea. Or acknowledge it in some way. That’s a great idea. And, you know, you and I are similar in that we both are always thinking forward of what the thing is that we want. And the thing that… I probably will be fighting this for the very rest of my life, is to be in the moment. And if you can not be thinking forward and you can be in the moment of how you’re doing, that’s where you’re going to see your wins. ‘Cause, they’re not happening out there. They’re happening right now.
R: I see them. I see you. You, my friend… I want to say this to you. I want to say, I’m so grateful that you shared this, and you shared at a level of detail, and I think it’s so important that you did it. Because you are the face of many, many, many, many, many, many people who are in debt right now, and who think it’s too late, and they can’t start again. I’m so thankful that you came and you shared your story. And I just want you to go and be kind to yourself, look for areas of growth, and look for your wins. And consistently write them down. And if you have one journal like this - I’m holding up a notepad - and you just keep adding to it, imagine when you’re able to flip the page. And then, when you’re having a low day, you can pick that up and you can read it. And you can see, “Look at all the things I have done.”
R: So, I’m super proud of you as your friend. And as a host, I’m so thankful that you came and you shared all this with us.
A: It’s been my pleasure.
S: I feel like right now, though, you should write down “I haven’t gone into my investments in 9 months.” Like, that’s a win! And you should write that down now.
R: (Gasps) Yes! And you should write down “I paid for two of the three trips in advance.” Write those two things down.
A: Okay. I don’t have any paper!
R: I want 10 things written down in two weeks.
R: That’s reasonable. That’s reasonable.
S: I love when Robin gives homework at the end of these. (Laughs)
Voices: And by the way… by the way… by the way…
R: Oh! And by the way. You just went out to dinner with your friend, and you wanted to get the miles. Okay, I approve of that. So you drop your credit card down, and your friend Venmo’d you for their half of the bill. Now comes the tip. Cash out that Venmo balance. Don’t leave it in there and use it for cabs or deli runs or whatever shenanigans you’re up to. Transfer the money straight to your bank. Then make a payment to your credit card for your pal’s half of the check. Otherwise, all those split bills will leave you with that end-of-the-month “Wait, why is my credit card bill so high?” moment.
R: Hey folks, it’s that time where we get a little advice from our expert of the day. Elise is smart and funny and she knows all the things about all the money. You’re going to want to listen to this.
Elise: You have to make your money work harder for you. So, all these credit cards give you points and such. I’ve booked trips using my points. That’s an extra. So that part is great to me. If you look at The Points Guy and all these other… if you use cash, you’re not getting any credit for it. Some people like cash, they like the anonymity of it all. They pay and they know exactly what they’re spending. They don’t get into credit card debt that way. If you’re an undisciplined person, go with cash. You’ll never get into credit card debt. You know, some people do these things where they put the change into the… anything you can move, I don’t like to have a lot of my money accessible to me. It makes it too easy. I’m a spender. I want to charge everything. I don’t want to carry cash with me, I’ll lose it, spend it, lose it, spend it. Makes it too easy. So sometimes, people do need it in a savings account where you can’t take it off. You can’t use at a cash machine. I like doing monthly money in investments. Like, if you want to open a mutual fund, I like the money taken out right away. $100 every month into Vanguard or whatever it is you’re investing in. $100 into your savings account. If you have anything, if your job has a TDA or anything, tax-deferred annuity, invest, invest, invest. Especially if you get a raise. If you get a raise and you’re already living off of what you make, that’s gravy. That goes in the savings bucket. ‘Cause you get used to whatever you make. You make more, you get used to it. So at some point, you have to say “That’s the extra. That’s the vacation fund.” That’s whatever it is that you want.
R: I mean, she said it, didn’t she? She said it all, and I think we should all be listening.
R: Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s probably enough for today, don’t you think? But before we go, I do have to say so many thanks to Aileen for really opening up and sharing her money journey. And of course, thank you to Elise for all her knowledge that is going to help all of us just be a little bit more sorted when it comes to our finances. For more Robin - and you may need that, you probably don’t need it, but - you can follow me @realrobhops on all the platforms, all the socials, as the kids today say. I’m going to see you next week, folks. ‘Til then, just, I don’t know… make smart choices, have some fun, but you know, like, not too much fun? You know what I’m saying. Be good. See you soon.
R: Well…Adjusting is an editaudio original. It is exec produced by Steph Colbourn and Robin Hopkins. Thank you to Maria Passingham, Kathleen Speckert, and the whole editaudio team.
R: Oh, hey! Before you take out those airPods. This show is just for entertainment. If you are in need of help, please, please, please reach out to a professional. Go ahead and get that help, you deserve it.