My last entry on this subject, was back in November 2010 but in all honesty, the no spend year probably ended 3 months into the challenge.
I wouldn't consider the challenge a failure, simply because we didn't meet the allotted time or the agreed limitations we placed upon ourselves however. Because over the 12 month period we DID avoid spending on things we would otherwise take for granted. No more automatic trips for pizza when we didn't feel like cooking. No more weekly DVD rentals on cheap Tuesdays. It didn't happen straight away, but we ever so gradually became accustomed to making ourselves cook when we didn't feel like it. After a few costly late fees too, we decided to borrow DVDs from the library instead.
We got the end result we desired, which was to comprehend our spending habits, but more importantly, the behaviours we were thrusting upon our budget to meet. Which brings me to the really juicy bit of the challenge that's worth sharing too. Dave and I were quite naive at the beginning - as you would be with something new - but by conclusions end, we wised up to a very important fact...
If you're talking about financial issues, you're really talking about marital issues.
Chris & Dave, plus a bun in the oven!
If it wasn't for this challenge, Dave and I, may never have faced our individual relationship to money. Dave grew up middle-class suburban with a nuclear family. I grew up borderline poverty with a single parent. Therefore we had totally different ideas of what constituted financial security.
When life changed our circumstances (with or without a no-spend year challenge) we both wanted to alter the rules in favour of our individual vision of security. For example; when money slowly leaked from the bank account I wanted to cut spending more, to make it back up again. Dentist appointments are a pretty big leak, amongst other things. On the other hand, Dave wanted to keep spending on the things that made him feel like a successful working husband and father. He wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Our kitchen, where many a discussion has taken place
Both of our approaches, weren't necessarily wrong, but we both couldn't appreciate each other's individual relationship to financial security. He was trying to say, let the family enjoy itself and I was trying to say, we will when we get out of debt. The stubborn force meets the immovable object, LOL.
What did we learn from all of this? Money has a way of dictating how people relate to each other. It also has a way of dictating how we relate to personal ability. Dave and I could have been ATM machines, the way we seemed to constantly engage via financial transactions: insert logic, expel cash. We didn't just do it to each other though, we did it within ourselves. How could we truly relate to our logic when it's all based around financial transactions?
The no spend year that was, then wasn't, then was again (only in a different format) has been a very enlightening one for this family at Gully Grove. It delves beyond mere financial considerations, and brings it back to the very basics of human nature - relationships. We are always free to have those, but how many of us choose to invest as eagerly as we do our weekly shopping sprees?
You can never have too many baskets though!
An interesting development which has tested this new found understanding, came through the Queensland floods earlier this year. There's a myriad of experiences I could describe during that time, but I'll single it down to the pure financial aspect. We lost a lot of our savings, recuperating from that experience. About $4,000 worth. A pittance compared to some people's losses, but for us it meant we couldn't get the wood heater this winter. Which means we're going to pay for another large electricity bill, now that electricity suppliers are increasing costs for power, yet again.
It also meant we didn't have the money to fix my car when it broke down (still waiting for the shop) and we now have our fingers-crossed, Dave's car doesn't succumb to the lovely new sounds it's developing. This isn't a big pity party for us though. We figured this is just another set of life circumstances which asks, what are you made of guys?
Obviously it's not money, LOL, but we didn't lose ourselves along with the savings account either. And that's really the trick question. How much ability do you have, when you take the emphasis off financial security? Because that seems to be the trend in our current economy. Money is leaking everywhere and people are finding themselves more vulnerable to the economy of transactions. When the ATM doesn't appease you with the cash carrot any more, where do you go from there?
The answer is back to ourselves, back to the things which make us human and unique amongst all other animals. We crave relationships to the things (and people) which are important to us. We have all appeared to have forgotten that along the way to pursuing financial security.
Bringing this back to our no-spend year however, what did Dave and I ultimately change in our behaviours towards spending? Well, Dave had to understand what happens to the money he earns. I actually took responsibility for managing our finances, because hey, I'm borderline poverty chick and can pay bills out of an old shoe, leftover roast and a one-cent coin that cannot be traded any more. This wonderful ability of mine appeases our debtors, but wasn't helping Dave register what all his hard efforts at work, actually achieves. There were limitations I lived with every week balancing the books, but he never understood it existed as a threat to our financial security.
Dave has since gotten in touch with his personal ability to understand money on a whole new level. It's not just something which represents personal freedom, it's also a responsibility that must be understood, to know what you can do with it. He's making real efforts to engage in that process first, before the enjoyment of money comes into it.
What did I have to understand more of, considering I'm probably one of the most responsible people with money I know - apart from my mother, LOL? Well, this is what I love about relationships. This is why I'm glad I married an immovable object, which refused to move out of the way of my stubborn force. He actually had a point and he stuck to his guns. My issue was with enjoying money and he showed me that.
You see, borderline poverty chick knew what it was like to go without shoes, food and merchandised toys growing up. I had lived something I wouldn't want my own daughter to experience (except for the merchandised toys part) and that has consequently made me super vigilant to every cent which crosses my palm. To the point, in fact, that I don't enjoy money.
I've since gotten in touch with my personal ability to let money go, without it being a heinous crime to my personal values. I really needed this step to understand my relationship to spending, and more importantly, to experience financial security in a different light. I can now appreciate that one person's version of "wasted" money, can be another person's version of a gift. Think Judas and Jesus, when it came to having his head anointed with oil. Judas rebuked the woman who spent the money on oil, instead of feeding the poor - yet Jesus said the oil had been saved for her to anoint his head.
Did you catch that part...saved? Yep, you can save money for all sorts of reasons too - like paying off debtors and/or giving gifts. The intent is always at the feet of the person who spends the money. From the outside, with our own version of financial security, we won't always see someone else's intent. Which is why I'm glad our little family at Gully Grove, has now come full circle.
We're better equipped to navigate what money actually means to our family - it's a cash carrot, not a relationship banquet we should be dining from every day. A very subtle difference, but nonetheless a very important one.
I think many people of our generation probably get snagged on the same confusion around what money is meant to represent. What can it actually achieve? They have been coaxed into believing money enables people, when really, human labour is what does anything. As lovely as that sentiment is, it's not going to pay your debtors (if you're in debt) money still does that job; but we should still be in control of our ideals and what we value first. Money should never be in control of ethical priorities. The person comes first, the money, last.
Do we really have a choice though? Yes we do, but it's never an easy one to stick to when life suddenly gets harder. Sharing that responsibility with someone else is harder still. Then again, you could stand to learn something really wonderful and unique about them that you didn't know before.
Ask yourselves: if my financial security was taken away tomorrow, what would I do then?