Hello. My name is Cha Cha. And I have a problem spending money.
That came out wrong. I don’t have a problem spending money. I love to spend money. I’m good at it too. So good, even I don’t know how I do it.
Which is what brings me here. — Yesterday, my credit card got declined. I have an $8,000 credit.
How am I spending all this money!?
I live with my boyfriend in my boyfriend’s house. I do not pay rent.
I do not own a car. (That means no car payments or insurance. It does not mean I don’t drive a car. The car is my boyfriend’s too. — When I moved back to Southern California to live with him, he convinced me not to buy a car. You see, he’s a plumber and drives a work van, well, to work. He only used the car on weekends. But within weeks of my moving in, he had conveniently yet coincidentally decided to buy an eight-foot bed Ford F150 off of Facebook, leaving his 2004 black Mercedes E500 just sitting there, collecting the non-covered driveway version of dust, bird shit.) Gas is expensive in California. But I work from home, so most weeks I don’t drive more than a few miles.
I have no kids to feed, clothe, or educate.
No student loans to pay off.
I pay exactly $50.65 a month for my cat subscription to Pretty Litter— non-clumping litter and dry food for my bobtailed babe, Copper Soup.
$199 a month goes to Pilates Republic down on Coast Highway 101. As long as I go to three classes a week, I’m getting my money’s worth there.
And about $270 a month goes to AT&T for home Internet. (As of last month, Ting fiber internet is available in my area for only $89 a month! I keep meaning to call those guys.)
I recently spent about two grand booking flights to the east coast. April was the first time I had been “home” since November 2019. My boyfriend and I are flying east again in two weeks. My 22-year-old niece is getting married (no less than one month after she graduated from college). Those tickets cost $700 each. Which isn’t chump change. But is $1,400 reason to be the only one in my entire family that can’t make a blessed event?
The answer is no.
I have a good-paying job. I have the money! Or at least I should have the money.
When I started at my job seven months ago, I was about $10,000 in debt. (I say “about” because, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I haven’t been the best at keeping tabs on my tabs.)
This is how I got into debt: I moved back to Southern California (and in with my boyfriend) after living and working in San Francisco for three years. During that time (I paid monthly rent, but still no car, kids, or student loans), I managed to save $30,000.
For the next two years, I used that money to eat, drink, play, and start an overly ambitious graphic T-shirt brand called “My Boyfriend is a Plumber.“ (I spent thousands. I made a couple of hundreds in return.) By the time the pandemic hit, I had $5,000 worth of inventory, about $2,000 worth of debt, and absolutely zero steady stream of income.
I am lucky. I am blessed. My boyfriend supported me with not only unconditional love but also a roof over my head and a car on the road.
I was blessed growing up too. While we weren’t the richest family in our affluent South Jersey suburb (far from it), my dad was a pediatrician and a partner at his practice. I remember frequent trips to the Cherry Hill Mall. Strolling into J.Crew, my mother would tell my sisters and me to, “Pick out what we needed.” (Maybe she said, “Pick out what you want,“ but looking back, at the time, wanting and needing seemed conveniently synonymous.)
And I was blessed that my college (and graduate degree) was paid for in full (the former, by my parents. The ladder by my her paternal grandparents — my dad’s dad was a pediatrician too. Education was everything to them.)
Sitting here today, confessing to you that I did it again, all these blessings seem more like a curse. I was in my 30’s before I truly learned the value of a dollar (a moving target these days.) And at 37 I am still struggling to keep up with my cash flow.
In my early 20’s my paychecks barely covered my New York City rent, let alone the young-and-pretty glamorous lifestyle I couldn’t resist. More than once I overdrew on my debit card and had to call my parents to bail me out. They always did. I never learned.
Sure, the calls were humiliating. But on some level, I believed it was their fault. My overdrafts were a direct result of them having never instilled in me the finite nature of money and/or the importance of a budget.
As my 20’s roared on, it became clear to me that my parents, Dr. and Mrs. Judgmentalstein, had very specific ideas on how their daughters should live (specifically whom they should date, but that’s another story).
When I was 29, I moved to California, determined to never rely on my parents’ money again. I had a good job (thanks to that fancy education that was handed to me and thus I did not respect or retain anything I learned. But hey, I looked great on paper.)
Finally, I was financially free.
Until six years later when my proclivity for spending money went rouge without the safety net of an income.
But all that is behind me now! Seven months ago, I started a sparkling new job that pays me a professional salary. Within a few months, my credit cards were paid off. I was back in the black.
In other words, I had money to spend. F*ck it felt good.
Last month, Justin and I went on vacation. But before we went on vacation, I went shopping.
I know what you’re thinking. I bet I know where all her money goes. How often does this girl shop her face off?!
The answer is not so simple. Well, yes it is. “Very.” I shop my face off very often.
But, unlike my childhood and 20-something self, I would never pay retail J.Crew prices! These days, I shop strictly thrift. (I’m talkin’ $4-$7 an item; $15-$20 if it’s on the premium rack. — J. Crew is rarely on the premium rack.)
Thift-shopping helps me keep my spending in check.
But leading up to our vacay, there were things I needed (things I wanted?) beyond the limited selection of a second-hand store.
Things like new luggage for me and Justin($400 at T.J. Maxx). Cute new shoes, underwear, and just a couple more just cute things as long as I’m here (another $200 at T.J. Maxx). New bathing suits (a couple hundred at J. Crew). New Bose headphones ($800 for two pairs). New bras. (Holy smokes, it had been years since I bought new bras. Another couple hundred gone, but my cha chas have never been happier.)
Well, I guess my auto-pay didn’t pay in full or something, because yesterday, my card was declined.
After recovering my password, I logged into my bank checking account. I paid the credit card in full. Then gawked at the remaining balance. I couldda sworn I had more money than that.
What about my savings account? Do I even have a savings account?
I do have 401(k) accounts (from my previous jobs and currently accruing at my present place of employment). That money is safe—at least until I turn 65. But what about the next 30 years?
I’ve always been a late bloomer. I had my first kiss at 15, lost my virginity at 21, orally at 24, I got my first (my only?) boyfriend when I was 30. And, at 37, I am just starting to figure out who, what, and where I want to be when I grow up.
My boyfriend wants to marry me. We’ve been together for seven years. We’ve lived together for three. Six months ago, still unable to visualize myself as a fully realized adult woman, I told him, “Give me one more year before you ask me.”
I haven’t told him this, but a month or so ago I noticed that something was different. He isn’t just my boyfriend anymore. He is the man I am going to marry. The man I am going to spend the rest of my life with.
And I want that life to be as rich, free, and fulfilling as possible.
Create a budget, Cha Cha.
Stick to it.
And dreams you never knew you had will start to come true.