A sober assessment

One simple rule $Before we move off the topic of debt, there are some positive things to share. I find this subject quite emotional – as I’m sure many people do – so let’s clear the air a little with some practicalities.

One simple rule $ imageIn my past, I’ve been through the experience of some credit card debt going bad (which happened to coincide with some poor decisions about tax also coming home to roost). Out the other side of that experience I’m cautious about spending money I don’t have on hand. ‘Vigilant’ would not be too strong a word. ‘Terrified’ might even be appropriate on some days! I worry about it. I don’t really have much now and yet still I worry about it.

I worry about you having it. I do. It is too much. Debt is hurting us. It is one of the heaviest shackles stopping us from living a life of deliberate liberation, and it is voluntary.

Some people seem to think of credit card debt as a kind of charity to themselves. ‘Thank you credit card for helping out for the cost of a pad thai on Saturday night!’ You might be out of cash and craving those sweet noodles, but actually, unless you’re as scrupulous at paying yourself back in full and as quickly as you’d expect any of your friends to be, in reality you’re in a Ponzi scheme with your bank, and the house never loses.

Let’s talk about getting out of debt. That’s a pretty obvious next step conversationally but let’s not go into paying down or clearing it off, not budgets. Not haggling over interest or swapping balances and accounts. Not how to expand or grow your income or start a business on the side. Those things are all great tactics and they can really help you but I’m not the right person to talk about those. Honestly, there’s just huge amounts of useful information and lots of knowledgeable, well-meaning people to help you with all those things online already. Hit up Doctor Google with a few simple questions and you’ll be inundated with options and links. It is easy to find an approach that works for you. Just be aware of anything that people are asking you to pay for!

What is there left to talk about? There’s a key truth to debt that hardly gets any headlines. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a secret. It wasn’t bad luck that gave my phone number to a collection agency. It wasn’t not having education or a job or support if I’d asked for it or an understanding of how to do a budget. I was lazy, busy, a bit selfish, maybe arrogant that I could do it differently – you know – normal. Even so, when faced with the bottom line, despite having the kind of habits that meant a lotto win would end up as more debt, I knew this truth and I bet you do too. It is just one simple rule and it works. I warn you now, it’s a tough one. It is not sexy. It is not huge glittering fun.

It is this: live within your means.

I know, right? Bor-ring. I can feel your eyes rolling back in your head. Stay with me on this one. I think it is radical. Daring. In this age of rampant entitlement, what could be more personally and politically powerful than to disengage from the consumer culture except on occasions of deliberate choice? Okay, that might be a bit of a long bow to draw, but think about it. Why do we immediately reject this obvious truth? Because it requires decisions and choices. It implicitly asks us to do without some things. Our fear of missing out (so common now it just goes by ‘FOMO’) immediately gives us an eye-twitch but reality is all about limits. We are finite beings on a finite planet. Our time is finite, our income is very clearly finite. Knowing this, doesn’t it seem almost childish to continue to believe in ‘later there’ll be more’?

That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as hard work that pays off, or ideas that meet a need and create happy customers, or great services and products you can build and grow from your own capacity to learn and create. It is just that winning lotto isn’t a plan. There is no magical unicorn going to come along and poop golden nuggets onto your welcome mat. Once we face our limits we get to make informed decisions about how to spend our time and the resources we already have. It is not just reasonable, in this day and age it is revolutionary.

Next week I’ll share a tool that will give you a glimpse through your blind spot, or a whisper from your fairy godmother about your particular secrets and self-destructive habits with money. You can skip it if you’re scared, or ask someone to hold your hand.
We can get through this together.

Desire’s dark side

Lustful affairs bring consequences. The lovechild of the compulsion to consume is the unwanted bastard offspring Debt.

Oh Debt. We are not shy about conceiving you.

Australians lead the world with an average household debt (which includes mortgages) footprint of 1.8 – this means that people are spending nearly twice what they earn. All of their income and 80% of a whole ‘nother wage. Staggering. (ref ABS Data May 2014 )  No really.

‘Yeah’ you say ‘but that’s including houses and everybody knows that the Australian housing market is overvalued. That’s why I rent!’ Ok fine.
Australians owe billions on credit cards, about $4 400 per person.

Just for fun, this clock (ASIC Moneysmart ) shows how much Australians currently owe on the plastic. Your factoid for today is that 49% of those who carry $5,000 or more in credit card debt have a degree or a diploma. Oh wait, last one! Two in five people have no idea what interest rate they are paying on their card (and that was in March 2013! ).

Charles Dickens quote from David Copperfield

Much as those figures stimulate the curiosity and sound all newsy they actually distract from the human story that sits behind them. It is all too easy to evaluate yourself immediately against those figures so you can dismiss them. Relief – ‘mine’s lower!’ Or to judge – ‘how could they let it get to that?!’ I chose to include them because they’re real. Most Australians of age have one or more credit cards. They owe money on them that potentially they will never ever actually pay out. Or like dieters who know better, they yo-yo in and out of debt on the cards in tides of recrimination and stoic, forced budgets.

None of us is alone with our debt baby. We live in culture where it is normal to carry debt. That’s what we call it, not ‘tortured by’ or ‘enslaved by’ an endless burden. No, we just casually ‘carry’ it. We consider it part of the ‘cost of living’. Everyone does it. Those who do not have a credit card have an uneasy aura of either a do-gooder or a bankrupt (depending a bit on the tone of voice used to convey the information) but are a bit creepy either way. Not someone you’re going to listen to anyway.

Would you listen to yourself though? If your future self could tunnel through the time vortex and whisper in your ear, what would they say to you about how you left them holding the crying, hungry baby? Can the future you remember the emergency purchase or convenience of takeaway dinner or the money you saved by buying on sale with credit? Did you ever fall in love with a book that you simply must have only to get it home and put it on top of the pile of other books you haven’t yet read? I did. Many times.

When ANZ handed my debt over to a hard-nosed collection agency and I had to own up to my past indiscretions there was no way I could remember a single thing that had been so important it had to be bought with that card. My past self had blithely given me a big stinking problem to deal with and I hated her for it. If that’s not a perfect example of provisional living going bad, I don’t know what is. I don’t know that I would have listened to future me though, if I had tried to deny those lustful urges. In the end, it was an affair that took me years to recover from.

Why do we assume that our future selves will somehow have more resources, more ability to deal with the consequences of our actions? Because we’ve inadvertently subscribed to the doctrine of progress. We do it in our personal lives, we do it in our communities when we build houses on every next block of land, leaving no space for anything else. We do it as a nation when we use every bit of energy we can grab because ‘they will figure out a new technology soon and we’ll all have limitless lives and won’t have to work’ or something that sounds like winning the ‘infinite planet lotto’. Not going to happen. Addictive and easy, sure, but not real.

The reality is that it is impossible to be free when we are in the thrall of endless compound interest on debt. In the next quiet moment you have to yourself, ask your future self what it is that you both want most out of life.

It is not going to be more debt.

Kiss your loved ones and plan a different way forward. We’ve got a lot ahead of us.

Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.

Hiatus

There’s an odd sense of guilt that I experience when I am ill (as I have been recently), that somehow, despite barely functioning physically and mentally I should be maintaining an “effective public presence.” In sideways conversations over cuppas I’ve discovered that other people feel this pressure too. It is not just on social media that we try and hide the clunky bits of our lives, it is in our conversations with acquaintances and colleagues. We down-play our dark days and try to skip through recuperation as though our soul and our heart can rebound to the pace of the paycheque. I know one woman who keeps the symptoms of her bowel disorder even from her husband. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We invented clocks to help us manage things we want to do but somehow we’ve lost control of the idea of time. Now time is a commodity and we humans must work feverishly under the relentless ticking. Things inside us must be allowed to be a bit slower. We have these tides. The sun comes up but part of us is still in yesterday or last year, or in the moment our life changed forever. We sometimes struggle to honour where we’ve come from and still have enough left to get out of bed. Some people have an internal commanding officer, a big yeller in them who gets them going. They mean well, when they share these yelling people with you, but they don’t work for everyone. The phrases I remember most from my mum while I was growing up are “pull your socks up” and “we’ve all got to do things we don’t want to”. These never made sense to me, and then once day I discovered that that’d become part of my unquestioned -ness. The system that runs me that I’m not consciously aware of.

So when there are times that staying functional in the world is a challenge, the internal edict I hear is to not let it show. To be sad or weak or worn out is to be a failure. Tick tick tick tick! Every tiny tick a hammer-blow of judgement.

This time, I tried to do it a bit differently. I let those metaphorical socks flap around. I did things I needed to do and then just rested. I took some time off from being that me and the ticking. It took longer than was comfortable and the guilt and self-consciousness about that became a topic for another round of gentle reflection and learning and resting.

Six months is not so long in a life. I consider it a good investment.

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Wheel of FortunePerhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html

Starting the hill

Climbing the hill

Starting over confronts me with the fears of not doing perfectly (or even well enough), the frustration of feeling “uninspiring” and the reality that with a full time job, community commitments, family and friends to stay in touch with, I’ve let my personal dreams get shuffled right to the bottom of the priority pile where they have cried themselves to sleep.

I started this blog the way some couples decide to have a baby – as a way to force things to be better – although there were lots and lots of much better reasons too! I was never going to admit that but in the spirit of radical transformation and honesty it seems that I won’t really be able to move forward with my creative pursuits until I get congruent with what is really going on.

Thinking about climbing a hill, planning the steps, hoping the sky will be blue, none of those things get us nearer to the view from the top. Putting one foot down in the right direction and then the next one and leaning into the wind and holding onto the hat. Dealing with the real hill.
That’s how to get to the views.

Have you ever put off answering your heart’s call? How did you start over?

Back issues of Unchained now available

Unchained newsletter mastheadI hesitated for a while about this, thinking “keep it pure!” but passion comes in so many different guises that in the end I decided to honour one of mine here alongside Trojan Moments (typing ‘the book’ then was too sadly singular!) and load up the back issues of the newsletter Unchained. It is a darling of mine that I do not wish to kill, but that decision may well be out of my hands – the club will soon have a website and what need of a dino-letter when a fast paced digital mammal exists? Yes, I am aware of the irony re: Penny Farthing enthusiasts being mad-keen on teh interwebz. I would print this on a letterpress if I had one (hint to Santa). I digress. Six issues to date, all here now for ever, for you. Pure passion – pure Pennys.