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Sunday, February 02, 2014

5 reasons I'm excited to do the 21 Day Financial Fast

Due to my new non-book-income life, I am scrambling to continue my freelance work, find a part-time or full-time job and save money/spend less. In the long term, I hope that will involve moving away from my cool but expensive town to somewhere where we can instantly cut our rent and living costs by half, but that will have to wait until next year. For now, I need to reorient myself to the fact that the book income I'd come to rely on is gone. So that's why I was excited to read about Michelle Singletary's 21 Day Financial Fast. I plan to do it from February 6-27. I would start sooner but I agreed to go into New York ($29.50 right there, plus $5 in subway costs) on Tuesday to be interviewed for a podcast. Whether that's a smart business decision or yet another wasteful one, I am not going to think about right now. Instead, here are 10 reasons I'm excited to do this fast:

1. My bank account will stay the same or go up - I check my online statement daily to make sure there's been no fraud and keep track of my spending. I find I've often forgotten I spent money, whether online or in stores. Maybe it's a few dollars at the delicious new French bakery or $25 at Rite Aid or buying new pens at Staples. When I'm in New York, it's often food. Sometimes it's impulse splurges at Amazon. So the idea that my account will either remain the same, or go up (I get a few payments for work via direct deposit) is exciting. It will help me budget better so I know that any money coming in will be money that I have available to me.

2. I will save time by not looking to buy things. Maybe I'll browse, but in general I only shop or browse when I plan to buy something. So the time I might have spent doing that I can devote to finding work and completing assignments.

3. It makes saying no so much easier. Forcing myself not to spend money means saying no to things like trivia, which I was planning to attend on Tuesday, easier. I've already cut back almost entirely on going out, and had decided for 2014 that I would only allow myself trips into New York for work or travel purposes, but this makes it even easier. There are some things that are prepaid, like my Playwrights Horizons tickets, so I am going to figure out how to maximize a single day trip when I do go see Sarah Ruhl's Stage Kiss, the entire reason I joined.

4. An all or nothing plan for an all or nothing girl. I suck at moderation. The very idea just triggers something in me that wants to rebel. I'm good at excess or abstinence, in almost every situation where one can make those choices. So the absoluteness of a fast makes sense to my mind.

5. The satisfaction of knowing I could do it. I will at some point have to pay bills and chip in for groceries and other basics, but I'm trying to wean myself off the toxic cycle of waiting "until the next royalty check," because as I just learned, there's nothing to expect. Those days were fun and a thrill and a blessing, but they are over. So now it's time to push myself to pursue every pitch, every lead, every possibility, while also digging up interview clothes (I'm pretty sure I tossed all my suits when I moved, if they weren't gone already) and refashioning my life. I want to prove to myself I can do it. One of the biggest blows has been the change in where I thought my year was going. I had been hoping to visit one of my oldest friends in Seoul. I'd been hoping to maybe try to get pregnant. I can't/won't do those things without money, which right now is all going toward basic bills, with a lot of math to make it all work out on time, but this also means that I have to clarify my goals. If I still want to try to make those things happen, it can't be about the short term, but the long term. I don't have the cash to put in the envelope I was planning to mark "Seoul" but I can do my best to be in a position to start that savings when the funds do become available, which could be in 3 months or 6 months or 3 years. Do I want to blow $29.50 on yet another trip to New York for no good reason? No. I'd rather save that for traveling somewhere I've never been before, or use it to pay off debts. While it's great to live somewhere "close to New York," there's little value in living somewhere "cool" if you can't afford to go anywhere, or if all you do is stay home and watch TV. I'm more convinced than ever that next year will be an opportunity to find the best home possible for the best value. Some of that is not my decision to make, but in the next year I plan to research the cities I want to live in and see how they might be feasible.

Bonus: taking an extreme but pro-active step like this makes me feel like I'm part of the solution, not part of the problem. It's easy for me to have a million regrets--why did I move to a pricey town and apartment? Why did I travel to all those conferences last year instead of staying home and writing? Why did I buy X or Y? But that kind of thinking will get me absolutely nowhere unless I use it to power my present decisions. After the fast, I will have to figure out how to allocate the money that is coming in in a responsible way. I have a lot of fuckups and regrets, not just in the last year, though some of those are front and center before me at this time of year, but only by not repeating those mistakes can I move into a better future. I will admit that I had a good cry when I opened that sad royalty statement, because though I thought I'd prepared myself for the "worst," I hadn't even begun to conceptualize what the worst could be. As I've learned from a life of epic mistake after epic mistake, though, so often the worst case scenario is actually a blessing in disguise, because you no longer fear rock bottom, because you've lived it. That fear that was occupying an increasing amount of brain space vanishes and you simply live in the here and now and revise and readjust and start over.

Does it suck to work hard on products that don't sell? Of course. But don't tons of businesses fail every day? And I'm pretty sure the smart businesspeople don't crawl into a hole and admit defeat. They cut their losses, and find new products to sell. Or they find a new career. I'm trying to do both. I cried because I thought I was my product. I put too many of my literary eggs in one basket. Now I'm accepting that it's the end of an era and moving on. I'm going to become financially self-sufficient without the books, but also without thinking they are worthless nothings. I put time into them and cared about them and did my best. They are what they are, whether anyone buys them or not. If they wind up bringing me some income in the future, great. If, as is much more likely, they don't, that just means their time has come and gone and my true job as a writer/editor lies elsewhere. Regrets are easy, but accepting the things I cannot change is harder yet smarter. That's who I want to be in 2014: someone who works harder and smarter, not someone who simply gives up. I've been the latter so often that it became ingrained in me that that's who I am: the girl who gives up. Already, before I've ever started this Financial Fast, I know that by committing to it, I'm committing to not giving up. And that is truly priceless.

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