So I started tracking all my money in December, on mint.com. It tracks everything, categorizes it, charts your trends, and checks your budgets. (I'm 21 cents over my coffee budget for the month. Mint sent me four emails.) So it's great. I spent hundreds -- hundreds -- less on clothing in January than I did on December. And today, when I pulled up my monthly Mint overview on my iPhone, I actually saw where my money was. I knew what I had, not just a vague feeling of elation (payday) or desperation (every day except payday), I had actual knowledge.
I think it's easy when you have very little money to feel blasé about it. If you feel like it will never be enough, why bother tracking your pennies as they slip too quickly away? Who cares about my measly expenses? My contribution to the global economy is negligible. But even if it's not much, each of my dollars is still as valuable as any dollar held by anyone else.
I was trying generally to save some money last autumn. I was putting money into retirement, and some into savings, paying off my debt well above the minimums. And I was shopping, plenty, but I thought, "if I am actually saving money, too, maybe I'm not so bad off. Maybe I'm managing my money just fine. This is how it should be."
Instead of being a happy moment, though, it was kind of terrifying. I'm not sure if it was the idea of being responsible and competent, or disappointment that I was not rebelling against anyone, or maybe a thought that I could have spent even more money somewhere and still scraped by. Or just discomfort at an unfamiliar idea -- financial insecurity is a way of life. But honestly, the idea that maybe I was just fine made me want to rack up some debt, tie myself up in our great American culture of credit. It sounds absurd, but I went to a seminar for women about money last week, and many of the concerns women confessed that evening were guilt and insecurity over having money (as opposed to concerns over not having it) -- alienating family and friends, feeling undeserving of it or unable to manage it.
I think watching my transactions over the last couple months has made the idea of managing money less frightening. My money is not good or bad, and I'm not better of worse for having it. But it is mine, and I'm glad to be more familiar with it.