A couple of summers ago, I noticed a kitten wandering around my neighborhood. I would see it occasionally while walking my dogs but then weeks would go by before I saw it again. I just assumed it was a neighbor’s kitten who liked to escape. But after a year of sporadically seeing the kitten, I started seeing it more and more often. It soon became clear that this was a stray cat. I knew I wasn’t going to call the SPCA or one of the other organizations because I refuse to be the reason this cat was euthanized. There was no way I could live with myself if I did that. So, like most people, even though I knew I needed to do something, I opted to do nothing.
Until we got our homeowner’s association newsletter. To say that I am not a fan of our homeowner’s association would be an understatement and to say that I am not a fan of the president would be an even bigger understatement. Anyway, I read the letter and in it was this statement “Please remember to put lids on your trash cans. We have stray cats and we don’t want them here”. Excuse me? We don’t want them here? I don’t remember ever giving my opinion on this situation. I cannot stand when someone speaks for me without consulting me first, so I did what I do best. I said “F*ck you” and did the exact opposite. I started caring for the cat and have been doing so since October 2010.
Taking care of the cat is not the easiest thing to do nor is it the cheapest. She needs food and water daily, she needs shelter and in extreme weather, I have to make sure she is as safe as my indoor pets (I want her to live inside but she refuses). It’s a constant worry that she’s going to get hurt or sick. And when we move, I’m not quite sure how we’re going to transport her. On top of all of that, it took months before she would even come near me. Sure, she would eat the food I left for her but she would run away as soon as I was in her line of site. It was insulting but I refused to give up. I was going to make this cat trust me no matter what.
My efforts paid off, too, because now she lets me pet her and she spends as much time with us as she can when we’re outside. She even goes for walks with us and the dogs! I’m pleased that she’s adopted us as much as we’ve adopted her. It’s still tough to take care of her, especially because she’s an outdoor cat. But I don’t take care of her because it’s easy. I do it because it’s right.
(At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this and what this has to do with finance. Hang on–I’m getting there.)
When I finally took control of my finances, it was for similar reasons. Much like my cat, my finances were feral. They didn’t know what it was like to be attended to or treated well. They didn’t know how to respond when someone actually came near them. They would swat or bite back whenever one of us would try to be nice by not overdrawing the account or having a bit leftover for saving. They weren’t used to the attention and it showed.
Just as I did with my cat, I worked on my finances slowly. I started one step at a time. First, by getting organized and developing a system. Then, my husband and I created a budget. Next, we found a debt repayment plan and formulated savings goals. We kept working, bit by bit, until our money trusted us to take care of it the right way. It worked, too, because now our money isn’t feral. It’s now nice, well-behaved and does what we want it to instead of going rogue or hissing at us.
But there were other reasons behind why I started taking care of my finances. One, I started taking care of them because I refused to be one of those people who accepted that debt was a way of life. I know too many people who believe that they will always have some sort of debt, be it a mortgage, car payment, credit card or whatever else you can think of. I refused to accept that mentality. Two, I was tired of my money controlling me. My debt owned me. Every paycheck was spent before I received it and there was never anything left for what I wanted (and sometimes, what I needed). So, basically, I set f*ck you to my debt and the defeatist mentality and did what was necessary—I took care of business.
Believe me, those years of paying off debt were hard. I wanted to give up so many times. I wanted to just accept my debt. I wanted to go on vacation, go out to dinner for something other than pizza, go to a movie in a movie theater, buy a book…anything to make me feel normal. Sadly, there was no room in the budget for that no matter how hard I looked. So I kept going despite my frugal exhaustion because I knew the result would be worth the effort.
Now, whenever I have a conversation about paying off debt, someone inevitably asks why I went through all of that. I tell them I didn’t do it because it was easy. I did it because it’s right.