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“Brother, can you spare a dime?” – The Money Relationship

Rachel Estapa

I can’t blame the down economy for my regularly scheduled monetary freak-outs. This past year has been a rude-awakening for me on many levels, but right up there with the stark reality of how important it is to carve your own path in life - money is front and center. While I’m very proud that I’ve survived quite well all last year on less than 1/3 of what I used to earn, I still have some lingering poor habits, thoughts and opinions about money. Prior to being laid-off, I seldom thought about future planning, budgeting or when the next payment would come.  If worse came to worse, I just had to buckle down and wait a few days until magically, my paycheck would appear. Now, if you’ve been on unemployment, this same “magical” thing happens too – but when it’s held up or you’ve reached the inevitable end, there’s very little comfort in knowing money is not on its way. I write this blog to share my own experiences and I’ve done a bit of reflecting over this past year, and one major issue comes up time and time again: How come I seldom feel like I’m in a good relationship with money? I’m a bit of a worrier (and that’s being modest) and money is one of those topics that can set my heart-rate soaring. Even before being laid off, I had gripes with money – Where’d it go? I spent it on WHAT? Hmm, Starbucks, are you really worth over $70 a month? Living pay-check to pay-check is rough, but my attitudes and habits reinforced that type of living. Over the past year, my habits changed due to necessity and required rearrangements of life priorities and perspectives. It's been a dual process of cultivating my journey in life, while making my ends -- and I see no reason those two should be different. Such a transition IS possible, but not without major adjustments in perspective and living more simplistically. I have to live on what little income I am generating, make sure to take work offered to me along the way, and continue to build UNDERCURRENT – and am proud of how I've managed thus far, but am not content with my relationship towards money…yet.

These feelings are common in everyone and I’m sure you've wished you had more money, more will-power, restraint, better savings, blah blah. So, what on earth IS the key to it?  If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you can make the same analogy: it's fine and dandy for a week or two, then you get comfortable, think you can handle a little detour from the plan, you start to slip back into old habits – until you find yourself with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s lamenting about the few extra pounds gained back; or, in money's case, the next CC bill that you SWORE you paid on time, but they tacked on a late-fee. It’s a lot to keep track of and even more frustrating when you wonder But I was doing so well, what happened? In my case, if I let even one or two days slip where I don’t check my finances and have a rough estimate of what’s there to work with, it’s a slippery slope down and not pretty come the end of the month. The more you ignore it, the worse it gets [kinda like most things, eh?] The key is that all things important need cultivation, patience and continued faith that it's worth the effort. This understanding underlies every type of relationship: from the one with yourself, with your partner, your house plants and even your money.

So, I am undertaking a little self-challenge to keep my finances in order and just be on the ball; mainly so I  feel more confident that I have it under control, especially when things are tight. Plus, I want to be financially proud and wise – pretty pointless to run a business otherwise, right? I’m a smart woman who makes a lot of mistakes but I’m stubborn enough to keep trying to strike a happy balance.

  • Strat 1: Going Old School I have a hand-written ledger that I’m using to keep track of all my deposits/withdraws from my debit card. Writing works marvels for my efficiency and well-being with just about everything else, but I never did it with finances – until now!
  • Strat 2: Boring Stuff First I'm going to aim to pay my bills at the FIRST of the month and not wait until the last-minute. This was a good tip from a friend and it makes sense – take care of business, then you have play time.
  • Strat 3: Learn, Learn, Learn I'm educating myself more on finances from sites & writers that appeal to my demographic. There's a lot of great resources out there, but my top picks are: I Will Teach You To Be  Rich, Mint.com's blog & Suze Orman's site geared towards GenY.
  • Strat 4: Change my attitude towards $ This one will be the hardest and will be a life-long process. I often see money as a nuisance – sometimes I’ve even sounded a little too commie for my liking. But mainly, money is connected to self-worth and what I value my skills to be. It’s leverage and reflects back on how I use my time and energy.

I think the world got a rude awakening about how much emphasis we put on money and THINGS- and have seen just how quickly all that can fizzle away. This past year has really been about living a life that is more qualitative than quantitative. Lame as it sounds; the good things in life ARE free. But, you can’t tell your landlord that or the annoying Macy’s credit card that just doesn’t seem to get any smaller. For all those less-good matters, common sense, diligence and keeping it real with income vs. expenses rule the day.

Take care (of yourselves and your wallets!)

Rachel