When we can’t prioritize like a sane adult person, we’re easily confused and disorganized and fall back on our Now Brain.
Our Now Brain wants it now. It’s only thinking about the next comforting thing it can consume. Television, parties, junk food, sex, whatever. Our Now Brain is very good at justifying whatever seems like it will make the current awfulness go away. It’s also very bad at counting consequences.
Our Now Brain is a four-year-old child who will scream and throw a tantrum at us for not getting it exactly what it wants when it wants it. It will throw up all the terrible thoughts and feelings we’re trying to avoid as an extra impetus for getting what it wants.
That little bastard is ruthless and it’ll run your life if you let it.
But when the only priority is not feeling crappy in the short-term, there’s nothing really stopping us from giving into our inner four-year-old. We’re going to spend on the Now until there’s nothing left but stress, pain, mountains of debt and shattered health and relationships.
Get the basics right
We sometimes get really confused about what constitutes ‘the basics’ of living. The basics are really anything we can’t live without, but therein lies the confusion. When we’re not forced to make hard choices, our emotions can make choices for us. We may decide that we need that Seattle coffee every day. We need Netflix.
This is how we end up having the wifi paid up while struggling to pay our utilities. We’re behind on rent and in mountains of debt, but the new sneakers look good – for about thirty seconds before the panic floods back in.
These are ‘the basics’ according to debt guru Dave Ramsey, what his method refers to as The Four Walls of your budget:
- A roof over our head.
- Lights and water.
- Transport to work.
Unless you’ve had a brush with real poverty you may not realize how fundamental these basic tenets are to your well-being and sanity. Miss any of these basics for one month and we practically expire from stress. Even coming close to endangering any of these basics is enough to scare most people into changing their money habits.
I remember a living situation once when we were really struggling. We could barely afford groceries and petrol for the car, but, by God, there was always money for cigarettes. It used to frustrate the hell out of me and made an already intense situation a lot worse. I felt like my peace of mind didn’t matter as much as someone else’s pack-a-day.
I’ve never forgotten that as a lesson in how screwed up our priorities can get. How we so easily and self-destructively prioritize the short-term over the long-term.
The ice-cream story
Prioritizing properly meaning having to say no to yourself – and we’re pretty good at making up reasons for why it’s RIGHT to say yes, in the moment. In the end it comes to the same thing; an empty bank account.
Saying no to ourselves when we don’t have to might even be a totally new experience for us. It may even feel really crappy at first.
I remember this one night, when I first started budgeting properly. I’d been watching my spending and was afraid to ever go into a shop again. Up till then, I had a habit of frequently taking myself out for ice-cream. (The good stuff from The Creamery, none of that Gino Gelato junk you get in shops.) I’d do this when I was feeling low. Like, lower-than-a-worm low, which was… quite often, now I come to think of it.
So one night I sat at home, wanting NOTHING MORE than to go out and find me some ice-cream. I wanted it and I was not going to get it, and I was fucking furious. After twenty minutes of feeling furious, I sat down and wrote about how I was feeling.
As I wrote, I realized I was having a weirdly strong reaction to telling myself I couldn’t have ice-cream tonight. And I realized: I was short-cutting to feeling better without digging into why I was feeling sad. As much as it sucked, I had to sit with my crappy feelings, rather than trying to fix it with sugary goodness. (I don’t know what it is with women processing emotion with ice-cream, don’t @ me).
This sounds dumb, but it was big for me. I realized I’d been eating emotionally and it would have to stop. Not because eating is bad or ice-cream is bad, but because it didn’t work. (And it was also costing me a lot of money. The Creamery ain’t cheap.)
I could have justified ice cream as a mental health expense in the moment. It would have been a) a convenient lie, and b) detrimental to my wallet and therefore my mental health.
So I wrote it out, cried a bit, tidied the lounge and made myself a cup of tea. I repeated that until it was over.
It was months before I had ice-cream again.
Value your values
Living out of line of our values, over time, puts us out of sync with ourselves. It’s called cognitive dissonance – a psychological gap between who we are and what we’re doing – and it causes us stress. When we spend and behave against our values and priorities, we trade in our peace of mind for whatever we want right now.
Prioritizing properly brings you peace of mind. You’re in control. Not your inner bastard four-year-old who wants to get high and eat five pizzas. There’s a peace in being in control, because we’re constantly not undermining ourselves, our success, what’s important to us.
Prioritizing properly means putting your values first. Is living lighter or more mindfully really what’s important to you? Does your spending reflect that? Is social responsibility/generosity/family/creativity important to you? What does your bank statement say?
What do you want it to say?
Article reposted with permission from Drawing Money.