Week 1: An Eye Opening Experience


The evening of January 1st, I made my first comprehensive budget and I’ve been updating and refining it all week. I stayed up late several evenings this week, face illuminated by the pale blue glow of my laptop screen, typing expenses into a Google spreadsheet in the dark and muttering angrily under my breath. I’m in deep you guys.

One week in and this has already been an eye-opening experience. Creating and sticking to a budget has been very helpful in providing me with a bird’s eye view from whence my money comes and all of the wonderful and sometimes silly places to which it goes. Here is a lesson that I apparently must continue to re-learn forever: avoidance doesn’t work, it mostly just makes the thing avoided scarier.  Having avoided taking control of my finances for so long, I find myself on a steep learning curve. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

  1. The good news is that the parts of my life where I expected to find frivolous spending - eating out and my unfortunate predisposition for nice beer - really weren’t all that bad. I can do better, but it wasn’t terrible.

  2. Unfortunately, so much of everything else is in fact a mess. I pay monthly subscriptions for things I don’t use. The big ticket items in my life - where I live, renting a studio space for work, all the various insurances, travel, etc. - are all very expensive. For example, Melody and I live in the very lovely and very central Cherrywood neighborhood in a nice little house with a big backyard. Consequently, we pay through the nose each month on rent.  The last four months I’ve also rented a photo studio on Sixth Street with my good friend Lawrence, which is another several hundred dollars. And just about every month I spend whatever money is left on a plane ticket to somewhere fun or some piece of camera gear (e.g., buying a $1000 drone because I had exactly $1000 and really, really wanted one.)

I re-read Benjamin Franklin’s essay The Art of Wealth this week. It is thoroughly puritanical in ideology, but nonetheless packed with nuggets of wisdom. It opens with a scene where a wise old man offers counsel to a group of townspeople complaining that their taxes are too high:

“If those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others… We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly, and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.”

Throwin’ shade like it’s 1759. And the gems abound, like this one, “Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright.” And, “If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting: the Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.” And, “beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

Like Spain, I fear my outgoes always end up being about the same as my income. Which, if I recall correctly, didn’t turn out so great for Spain. So, next up I intend to ruminate on Ben’s wisdom regarding the many merits of industry, frugality, and prudence. Industry, in that I could work more billable hours each month and maybe even someday overcome my distaste for self promotion and my primordial fear of advertising my services. The rent is simply too damn high not to.

Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright.

- Benjamin Franklin

With regards to prudence and frugality, I may just have to give up some of this stuff that I love. Our landlord is putting our house on the market next month and we will have to move in the coming months when it sells. Until then, we negotiated a substantial decrease on our monthly rent and, I suppose, now have an opportunity to find a place with lower rent.  Meanwhile I have three weeks left to plug up the rest of the holes in the hull.