Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Totting Up

Many years ago when I was not so much Single as Separated waiting to Divorce, I embarked upon one of the most hardworking and economically responsible periods of my life. I lived in the kind of bachelor (bedsitter) flat for which I longed as an undergrad and saved as much money as I could. I worked a relatively stressful but reasonably paid 9-5 job, and I wrote down every cent I spent. In the evenings, I went to my boxing club and when I returned I studied languages.

It's amazing how far I got. I reviewed all my high school Italian and got very far with college Latin. I did all the Ancient Greek homework I should have done when I took Ancient Greek. I vaguely recall intending to review my French, but that fell by the wayside.

Incidentally I did not have a television set.

Not only did I write down everything I spent that year, I wrote down every calorie I consumed. I was quite pleased to be eating an average of 1300 calories a day although in hindsight that was outrageously low for the amount of exercise I was doing. (In addition to evenings at the boxing club, I went in the mornings to the YMCA.)

I took things too far with saving, too. My major expenses were rent, groceries and eventually psychotherapy. And I enjoyed knocking down my grocery bill a few cents each time. It felt like a victory, and advanced my plan to salt away a lot of money in mutual funds and to save for a ten day holiday in Europe, which I did.

One day I had an epiphany at the cash register of the supermarket as I eagerly awaited to see how low my bill was. It occurred to me that the closer both the grocery bill and my calorie intake got to zero, the more likely I was to develop anorexia and die. This thought totally ruined my enjoyment of the game, but it probably saved my health. One of my co-workers had suffered from anorexia as a teen, and while she was working with me discovered that she had done herself permanent damage. In fact, she had to leave work.

But now that I have decided that I would really like to move out of the Historical House one day, into a house or flat B.A. and I can truly call our own, I have gone back to totting up the numbers. I'm sorry I got out of the habit. For one thing, it's really great fun.

Groceries in the UK, by the way, cost the EARTH! For too long my attitude was "I don't want to know", but now that I (or we, now) have another clear financial goal, I really do want to know. It's another step in remaining rooted in reality, which for me is really a lifetime journey.


Woodbine said...

I can definitely relate to the financial part! This is my first summer being totally self-supporting (ie living off my own savings and earnings from a coffee shop job - no parental input) and there is great satisfaction in making sure all the columns add up. My spreadsheet of my earning over the last few months is the most-opened document on my computer. There is a fantastic sense of control in being able to measure everything in numbers.... I wonder if I might being enjoying it too much. I used to be the same way about my transcript back in high school and my undergrad, and I'm not sure that was healthy.
That said, I've never been this way about fitness and food. I just think there are too many traps - like your story about anorexia - that you can fall into when trying to totally control your body. Body image is so closely linked to self esteem (I wish it weren't so, this is such a depressing reality) that I don't want to fool myself into thinking I can control every aspect of mine. I'd only blame myself if my body wasn't how I wanted it to be.
That's exciting news about the long term plan! As cool as it sounds to live in the Historical House, it much be nice to be saving for the McAmbrose House.

Sheila said...

I love to budget. It's just such a matter of pride to me to buy the most possible for the least possible amount, especially where groceries are concerned.

My philosophy is to have a general notion of the amount of food our family needs in each food group in a week, and to buy that amount as cheaply as possible. So I will not reduce the meat, veg, and fruit I buy in favor of cheap starch (so tempting!) or reduce the number of calories (I'd have a revolt on my hands!), but I do buy chicken instead of beef, rice instead of pasta, radishes when I'd rather have broccoli. I go to the cheapest store around (Aldi) and buy whatever is cheapest there. It's so tempting to spend all my money on ice cream and expensive cheese, but every time I do that, the bill makes me gasp and I feel terrible that I've wasted so much when I *know* how cheaply we can eat when I am disciplined.

You do have to be careful not to go overboard, though. I hate arriving to several days before shopping day and finding we're out of food. And I've had to stop my husband from starving himself in favor of the budget ... he will say "Oh, the meat is for you and the kids, I will just eat potatoes." But if we can't afford to feed nourishing food to all the members of the family, it's time to cut some other bill. Nutrition is non-optional.

Julia said...

Seraphic! You will be gratified to know that your phrase "rooted in reality" has taken root in my brain. Just the other day I was at my friend's place and we were bemoaning the life/relationship choices of a woman we know. "But it's just not rooted in reality!" actually escaped my lips.

Last night I struggled to fall asleep because of worrying about money and the future. I'm very responsible with it. I have no extravagances (no coffee for me) and I write down every cent I spend, but life is just expensive. I've managed to save a lot though, which I'm very happy about. I do find it fun, actually. I like to know the interest rates on all my accounts. (It occurs to me that I'm JUST LIKE MY MOTHER.)

I used to do the calorie-count thing, and then I became underweight and I realised that it just wasn't sustainable or smart to live like that. When you're counting calories, the aim is not supposed to be to get to zero, but that's sort of almost what it did become for me. For that reason, I'm unlikely to ever try the calorie-count thing again.

Woodbine, yeah, I was like that with university transcripts as well. In a sense it definitely paid off, as I managed to get a serious scholarship for my Masters, but I did also burn out

Anonymous said...

Julia, I also become anxious over finances. It's strange because like you, I save a lot and am very responsible with my spending. I think for me it's the reality of being a single woman and not having another income to rely on if I lost my job. On the bright side, my savings make me feel more secure and happy.

Silent Jen

Seraphic said...

Silent Juen,I think it is natural to be at least a bit anxious over finances! And married women who think, "Oh well, I'm married, so everything will always be okay" may NOT be rooted in reality! When a man or woman marries, he or she is no longer in total control of his or her finances, and indeed finances are apparently a major theme of spousal squabbles.

Congrats, Woodbine! Sheila, I'm touched by your husband offering to go without. Julia, I'm delighting that you are preaching the gospel of being rooted in reality!

Julia said...

Seraphic, I said it without even thinking about it! And the more I think about it as a concept, the more I realise how many people are actually profoundly NOT rooted in reality about any number of things.

And about finances, I hear scary stories about women ending up widowed and having NO IDEA about their financial situations because their husbands always looked after that side of things. There's nothing wrong with the husband being the main financial decision-maker, but a woman risking winding up being a financially-clueless widow because she never bothered to find anything out strikes me as very not rooted in reality.