Saturday, July 21, 2012

Economic Self-Care

I know we give a lot of lip service to self-care.  The rationale for self-care is commonly accepted, for the most part.  There is still some resistance to the idea – it seems “selfish” vs. “selfless.”  Balance and moderation is a good guide.

I have written many posts about my particular recipe or routine for self-care - hard-won knowledge from trial and error experience.  My self-care efforts have kept me in the field – fresh and strong – since 1989.

Now I realize that none of those wonderful things on my list are possible without attending to economic and spiritual self-care.  Ultimately, self-care is about attending to our mind-body-spirit.  How we make and spend money is a reflection of the state of our mind-body-spirit – it is a bidirectional relationship (goes both ways).

Living below my means and doing what I am passionate about have been some of the most valuable self-care decisions.

I don’t compete with the Jones’s – I don’t give a care what they buy or rack up on their credit card.  God bless them.  I’d rather sleep well at night (body care) than worry (mind care) about bills - it’s better for my skin even (body care).  I drive a 12 year-old economy car with great gas mileage.  Who cares?  It gets the job done with no car payment (haven’t had one of those in 8 years).  Insurance, registration, gas, maintenance is also cheaper.  It all adds up.  I spend it on massages and working less (mind-body-spirit care).

If I can’t afford it, then I don’t buy it.  That’s more honest – a true reflection of me to the world (spirit care).  I got nothing to prove.  Those that love me will love me regardless.  Those that don’t love me will judge me regardless.  I don’t chase shadows.  I don’t collect status symbols.  I am worthy because God loves me.  God loves you too, by the way.

I don’t strive to have what others have.  I listen to my inner voice and that voice is not particularly greedy or covetous.  It is pretty satisfied to love and be loved, rest in joy, peace and freedom.  You can’t charge those things to your credit card.  I’ve tried.  The effect is very temporary – not real.

As a professional social worker right out of grad school, I worked at a county agency for the protection of children and families.  Most of my co-workers were middle aged or near retirement.  Some looked pretty miserable to be doing this work. 

Naively, I asked them:  Why don’t you quit? Do something else? 
Most answered:  My mortgage.
I remember thinking:  Well, I will never get one of those if it means being forever locked into a job that I hate!  What unnecessary torture!

It is because I haven’t accumulated debt that I was able to go back to school.  It is why I was able to be choosier about the type of work I took on.  It is why I have freedom to choose.

I had a boss who wanted me to work extra hours.  Working extra hours meant more money.  It also meant less time with my young daughter.  I was not having it. Duh.  She tried to entice me with visions of buying a new couch.  Huh?  Seriously?  Time with my young daughter or a mofo couch?  How is this a dilemma?

I don’t worry about money.  I know how to earn it.  I know how to manage it.  I have read and learned and practiced.  I can add and subtract.  It used to be said that 30% of our salary should go toward mortgage/rent.  Now most of us spend above 50%.  Our budget balance is becoming precarious because of our choices or lack thereof.  It all comes with a cost. 

I read somewhere that after $75,000, quality of life doesn’t vary much – so why strive and sacrifice self and family to make more?  I am on a mission but I am not ambitious.  There is something that I came here to do but “make more money than you” is not on my list.

I started saving for retirement at age 21 (with my first job right out of college).  I wonder how much the average social worker saves for retirement?  How long can we do this work well?  Will we have choices about when to stop working if we haven't saved?

I have faith so I don't worry about money.  I have sought out skills to earn and manage money so I don't worry about money.  It makes a difference.

I recommend books like:  "How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously" and anything by Suzy Ormon.  I used to read a column in the business section of the LA Times every Tuesday about financial makeovers.  That's how I learn.  I've been to workshops at non-profit organizations specializing in consumer credit counseling.  I think about, talk about, and make plans about my spending, budget, financial goals, priorities, values.  It all helps.  Where would you like to start today?  Baby steps are best.  What's your next baby step?

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