Go back, way back, okay maybe not that far back, to the days of playing in a sandbox. Or beach. You get the idea, someplace where pushing sand and dirt around was an acceptable activity. Whenever I did this I always tried to build the biggest mountain of sand I could. Unfortunately, there would always be this moment where as I heaped more sand on top, the sides of my mountain would avalanche.
In the movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, the village of Ffynnon Garw (Rough Fountain) suffered a similar problem when they attempted to build up their local hill so it would be high enough to be considered a mountain. As they added dirt, it became harder to build up height. Bulwarks kept some of the dirt from sliding away, but each scoop of dirt didn’t add a scoop’s height to the mountain.I’m very certain there is a math formula that explains it and if I were smarter, I’d know it. Instead I tweeted the question to the world to see if someone might know it. I got back a more mathematical explanation of what is happening “new scoop is trying to cover a greater surface area than previous scoop” but no simple name for it. I’ll just call it the Building a Mountain Thingamajig and be done with it. All of this mountain building came to mind as I contemplated my finances.
Trying to build a mountain is like trying to accumulate money. As the money flows in, and I build bulwarks (savings accounts), something always happens that collapses my work. It’s not that I’ve made the best choices in my life regarding money and I’ve had my fair share of financial set backs. The biggest has been when I saw my yearly salary cut in half. I reacted too slowly to my new income level, not cancelling all the subscriptions to all the stuff I felt I needed: cable, Tivo, Audible, and so on. I lived off my 401k (again) as I toiled at my new job thinking at some point a miracle would happen and I would suddenly be earning what I was before. Completely my fault.
Once my income changed, I should have gone on a crash financial diet, but as a pessimist I have a silly optimistic streak. I really thought that it wouldn’t be such a big deal for me to find a new job of comparable earning potential. I didn’t move to a cheaper apartment when I had the money to move which I truly regret now as even paying rent seems to be a horrible obstacle.
A year and a half into the new job, I’m still struggling. Just as I get money in my savings account again, my car insurance is due, or I need to buy a city sticker, or friends get married, have kids, you know, all that life stuff happens. Most of which can be and should be planned for, like car insurance. That isn’t a surprise, yet when living paycheck to paycheck and shoving $10 to $30 into a savings account
every week, it is a complete shock and is followed by a series of ‘oh crap oh crap oh crap’ panic attacks. I smile wanly as I hear stories of people going to great restaurants, buying great drinks, seeing great plays, going on great vacations… great. Just great. Good for them. It isn’t their fault I’ve built a mountain of toil for myself, yet I can’t help myself in feeling intensely jealous. In general it all just feeds my general hatred of the world as a whole, though it isn’t the world’s fault I’ve managed my money so poorly.
When it rains, I never thought I should save all that water for when it isn’t raining. When I was making a comfortable living, I only increased the amount of money going out – I was creating more surface area in my life that each dollar had to cover. Netflix, XBox, Tivo, Cable, Audible, NPR, and so many other subscriptions that all seemed to amount to ‘a few dollars a day’ but took away the ‘few dollars a day’ that I should have been storing in my savings accounts. As a bulwark collapses and part of the tiny mountain I’m trying to build slides away, I feel like it is all futile.
Why am I struggling? I’m so far behind in this race that it is laughable to even attempt to finish. Home ownership? Not going to ever happen at my current pace. Family? I can’t even afford myself, even after stripping out all my entertainment and creating a food budget I can barely keep without eating only ramen for 2 meals out of 5. (I used to buy Ramen 10 for a dollar, but now it is 3 for a dollar… what the heck?). I struggle forward because I don’t know what else to do and I keep hoping for a break. I keep hoping I will finally land a job that pays a real wage again. I keep hoping I will break into the middle class. I keep hoping… period. Hope seems so cruel, but it keeps me struggling and as long as I’m struggling, I’m making some progress. I may not cross the finish line of financial security before all the race officials go home and the finish line is rolled up and moved, but I will get as far as I can.