I barely winced. Earlier this week I got out the checkbook, rummaged around for the bills, and paid them without wincing. Until recently, anxiety attacks lived on the periphery of visiting the mailbox, opening the letters, and checking my bank balances. Some think people with little money casually disrespect their obligations. The opposite can definitely be the case. Negative reinforcement piled on negative reinforcement is emotionally painful to people who pride themselves on fiscal responsibility. I was glad to clear that hurdle.
Did I mention the other hurdles that are off to the side? I’ll get to those in a while.
This ride I’ve had through several of America’s economic classes can methodically be demarcated by financial statements, balance sheets, income and expense reports, and plenty of graphs. Maybe I’ll do that some day. The more important distinctions have been emotional.
- True wealth = pre-pay bills. Take something like a utility bill, pick a big round number and pay months worth. Opening the bills for subsequent months was merely checking to make sure the remaining credit is more than the current bill. Very free-ing. Bills were quickly handled and ignored.
- Somewhat more than enough = pay the bills as they come in, for the exact amount. Reasonably unemotional, actually an innocuous chore, readily handled. The credit card companies might not like the fact I paid off the balance every month, but hey, that’s what everyone agreed to. Congratulate myself on a small chore well-handled.
- Barely enough = pay the bills on time, but maybe time the payment to maximize my return, or to leave the door open for optimism. Some do this no matter how much they have, but when it became a necessity it it became a risky game playing on the borders of grace periods. Opening the bills was almost always a non-event, but surprises did happen. A bit of adrenaline kicks in as cash flow is checked, maybe savings were tapped; but my mood returned to normal soon enough. Ah, but the lingering doubt of less frequent expenses like insurance remained.
- Enough for some but not for all = Certain bills are easy. If the bill is semi-monthly and totals less than a lunch, it gets opened and paid quickly. That became a mini-celebration. Unfortunately, there are also bills that can’t be paid, that might lead to foreclosure or even bankruptcy. There’s no way to know which bills are in the box. My anxiety would kick in as I decided to go out and get the mail. Opening that little door was like postal Russian roulette. An empty box was a great relief. An unfamiliar letter would be enough for me to call a neighbor or a friend to stand with me as I opened the envelope.
- Barely enough for the basics of survival = I never got there, but I could see it from where I stood. And I know others have lived there for years. I don’t know if deep down they become inured or cynical or fatalistic, though I know their surface emotions are usually either an appreciation for what is, or a rebellion against that which keeps them from what is not. I know I don’t want to experience the depths of that potential pain.
I paid my bills without wincing, but I’m very aware that I shoved some of the hurdles to the side. I’ve paid all my bills, except for the mortgage and my homeowners association dues. Propane is probably coming up soon. There’s an entire field of hurdles that are deferred maintenance on the house, my truck, me, and my stuff. As regular readers know, as of October 1st I have enough business that I’ll be able to pay a new mortgage in November – I think. (I still don’t know if there’ll be a mortgage modification, nor how much its monthly payments will be.) As of November, any extra money will go to things that should’ve received it months or years ago. At this rate it will take years to clear the hurdles.
The fall can happen fast, but the recovery takes longer. Maintenance is cheaper than repair which is cheaper than replacement; so, deferred maintenance becomes higher expenses. Making enough, or even more than enough, is a reason for celebration; but the celebrator is probably aware that getting back to where they wanted to be can be so delayed that they might as well have a small party now, and then too.
The wincing is not completely behind me, but opening the mailbox is easier. A friend even mentioned that my shoulders have relaxed. How much muscular stress and stress-related chemistry has my body had to deal with? Adjustments must be made, and for some I’m sure that involves a welcome return to chiropractic treatments long delayed. After a recent massage (thanks for those who’ve been negotiable) my head and sternum were sore because the muscles around them had been tight for so long. Relaxing the muscles was such a significant event that my bones ached. And I was glad.
Money comes and goes and hopefully comes back. Emotions linger. Just like repair work costs more than maintenance, the emotional cost of recovering from loss takes longer than the normal swings between highs and lows. I’m feeling better, and know my emotions are tempered by my experience. Others who are going through, or have been through, worse will have to devote more time to returning to “normal”. Some may be trapped there forever. If we really want the nation to recover, its apparent to me that supporting people financially and emotionally will speed the process. How much American productivity is lost to anxious reactions from our abstraction of money?
The nation, no, the government, specifically the federal government is shut down. Hundreds of thousands are going to have a different relationship with their mailbox. I hope that doesn’t last long, and I hope we recover quickly.
(Note to fellow bloggers: See how busy I’ve become? Less than 1,000 words in the main post. No links. No photos. No time. Gotta go.)