Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake Up!

DH = Dear Husband

Waking up: Rocky’s way vs. mine

I always know when our dog Rocky has woken up. Thump, thump, thump. It’s the  sound of a happy tail in the confines of his cozy crate.  I’m usually the first to see him, and I get the full benefit of his adoring gaze as he wags his enthusiasm for what is to follow. Am I going to go outside? Am I going to get breakfast? Oh, this is just too good to be true! His day is entirely predictable, but he wakes up and embraces it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up like that. I drift pleasantly enough through semi-consciousness, but once I hit that fully wakened state, there’s an immediate back-pedal reaction. Nooooooo! Not yet. A few minutes more… Sometimes, I trick myself back into that fog between sleep and wakefulness, and on rare occasions I manage to sink right back into sleep. But inevitably, I have to resign myself to consciousness.

Waking up to my financial state

When it came to waking up to my finances, I was much, much more stubborn. I remember significant wake-up calls in every decade I have lived. Life lessons with the clear moral to be wise with my money. But for some reason, I ignored each one and remained in denial. I kept hitting the snooze button.

First decade wake-up call

I remember one day after supper when I was very young – about six years old – I walked with my dad to a convenience store with 5 cents in my hand. I don’t know what he had to buy, but I was getting one of those thick black licorice pipes with red sprinkles on it. The youngest of five children, I could hardly believe my luck in having Dad all to myself, and I soaked in the cool of the evening, the sounds of traffic, the colourful variety of candies at the store, and the darkening sky as we walked home again, a licorice pipe in my mouth. And 5 cents in my hand. Still.

I had forgotten to pay the man! What would I do? If I told Dad, it would break the spell of this rare outing. I didn’t want to interrupt it with confessions of my mistake. We were walking across a field when the unpleasant realization hit me, and in that field, I dropped that coin – along with all unpleasantness it represented. It must have been months later when I told my parents about the incident. The story would be good for a laugh, right? No. My mom and I went back to that store and I paid the man for that long-since-digested licorice pipe. There was no anger in my parents’ response, but there was surprising alarm and swift action.

Moral: Be aware of what you’re doing with your money. Be honest, and don’t pretend things are different from the way they are.

Second decade wake-up call

Clearly, the lesson didn’t stick. As a teenager, I received a clothing allowance. I got $60 per month, and with that money, I was to budget for the expenses of things like movies, fast-food, concerts, gifts for friends and family, and of course, clothing. I babysat a lot in those days too, so in a typical month I would have more than $60 to budget. Only I didn’t budget. And I always ran out of money before the month was over. No problem, I would think. In another week and a half, I’ll have another $60.

But then something amazing would come up, and I’d need to spend money on it. NOW. “Can I have an advance on my allowance?” I’d ask my parents. My mom might sigh, or my dad’s mouth might tighten, and likely I’d hear a little lecture about how I needed to wait until the start of the new month and to stop spending every cent I had. And while I’d always get that advance (take note, parents: don’t enable your kids’ bad spending habits), it was always an ordeal of embarrassment and tension.

Moral: Budget your money so that you don’t end up with the irritations of being broke. 

Third decade wake-up call

In my late twenties, before I met DH, I was a full-fledged disaster with money. I was working as a teacher and earning a decent income, but I always spent beyond my means. I loved buying clothes and going out for meals with friends. I had no sense of what was in my bank account, and I almost always ended up in overdraft before the next pay day arrived. With this level of financial expertise, I bought a small townhouse condo. With a very small down-payment – most of which I had borrowed.

I remember once doing some kind of transaction at the education credit union, and the manager I was dealing with asked me if my mortgage payment had already come out of my account for the month, and I told her that I wasn’t sure. She showed me my balance. And I told her that I wasn’t sure. I saw her eyes go wide. “You can’t tell by looking at what your balance is?” she asked. I immediately defaulted to cutie-pie – that self-deprecating, disarming, ditzy mode that sometimes succeeded in coming across as charming. It clearly didn’t that day. This woman was openly shocked.

Moral: Get a grip! 

Fourth decade wake-up call

Instead, I got a husband. No need to worry about money anymore! DH would look after ALL the finances. He earned more than I did, and he was much better than I was a tracking and budgeting. There was a greater level of control in our now mutual accounts, but like me, DH accepted without question the common understanding that if you can afford the payments, you can afford it. Together, we operated out of our respective faulty money blue prints.

In our mid-thirties, we bought our brand new dream home. The rule of thumb about mortgages as we understood it to be? Make sure your mortgage is no more than three times your combined gross income. We maxed out within the boundaries of that (very bad) understanding, signed the papers in February, and had until August to sell our townhouse condo. Only it wouldn’t sell. With lowering interest rates, the market shifted severely against condos and their fees. I remember sobbing into the night as August came closer and closer. A big loan and an agreement to rent out the condo saw us through that fiasco, and we were house poor until we were finally able to sell our first home.

Moral: Don’t max out. Give yourself a financial cushion so that you can absorb the unexpected.

Fifth decade wake-up call (The one that worked.)

It was when I was forty years old that DH lost heart in what had been a three year roller coaster ride of employment chaos during the high-tech bust of the early millennium. He’d had enough, and he wanted a change in direction. It took six years for him to settle upon that direction, and they were miserable years. A home business brought back sufficient income, but it didn’t see us back to our old ways. Our financial sleep had brought a prolonged nightmare with it, and we wanted to wake up from it.

No more pushing the snooze button. No more whining. No more cutie-pie. No more “If you can afford the payments, you can afford it.” With eyes wide open, we began our journey out of debt. We never want to fall into financial slumber again.


 

Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake up and be honest with yourself about where you are financially. Don’t try to hide from it. Don’t pretend it’s not there. Recognize your financial state for what it is.


 

We had resisted our wake-up because it was much less comfortable than the denial we were able to maintain … until we couldn’t maintain it anymore. I wish I had woken up sooner, but I’m as stubborn now about turning our financial reality around as I was before about tuning out our financial reality. Although the last thing you might want to see with clarity is the state of your money, here’s a promise I can give you: Hard on the heels of the wake-up comes POWER.

DH and I have done a before-and-after debt-repayment comparison, and in the year after our wake-up, with no greater income and no fewer expenses, we paid more off of our debt than we had the year before our wake-up by over 300%. We’re getting there. There’s still a long way to go, but the view is clear.

I like to imagine the day we reach our destination. Completely debt-free! As the sun rises on that morning when we make the last payment on our mortgage, I’ll awaken to the thrill of triumph. No desire to hit the snooze button at all! I’ll embrace the day. And I’ll fully know what Rocky has known all along about the wonders of waking up.

29 comments on “Fruclassity Commandment #1: Wake Up!

  1. Fantastic post. Such an inspiring description of the rewards of clarity. We deny the true nature of a dire situation believing that denial is safer than acknowledging the truth. But, as you describe, denial is a much scarier place to be whereas clarity is empowering. Paying off debt at a rate 300% greater than before the wake up and call to action, is impressive. And I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you so much, Laurie. I find that the side-benefits of clarity in finances have encouraged me to adopt a greater clear-sightedness in general. Rose-coloured glasses really just cloud reality. I really appreciate your comment. Thanks again : )

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the Fruclassity Commandment #1.

    My experiences are similar to yours, except that I always thought I was good with money!

    For that reason it was very difficult to be honest about my debt situation. Being honest about my debt meant that I had to also be honest about my sketchy money-management skills.

    Ruth, I want to thank you once again for helping me to see my debt for what it was, and for the inspiration to do something about it. I am well on my way.

    1. It can be very humbling to wake up. I get that big time. And it’s not surprising to me that you thought you were good with money. “If you can afford the payments, you can afford it.” That kind of thinking leads too many of us to believe we are “good” with money. There is nothing that makes me happier than to know that by sharing my experience, I’ve helped out someone like you, Jesse! Thank you : )

  3. Rocky is such a cutie pie! Where have you been hiding him all this time? 🙂

    You’ve really matured through all of this financial chaos. You’d really have to in order to be this far ahead AND still married. I’ll bet a lot of people wish their journey had been so productive. I look forward to reading your debt free story, Ruth. Keep on teaching and preaching the truth. Your voice is strong and appreciated.

    1. Kay, you’re not kidding when you say “… in order to be this far ahead AND still married.” Our years of financial stress were SO tough on our marriage, and the residue of those years takes time to go away. This common goal to get out of debt has been so good for us. I agree with you about Rocky : ) Thank you for your kind words, Kay. Your encouragement means a lot to me.

  4. While I’ve certainly literally and metaphorically woken up and wished I could only go back to bed, I can’t say financially my wake-up call over the decades has resonated the same way for me. Having said that, I see myself in your anecdotes–especially the rationalizing that is so much a part of our consumer-consuming culture. Enjoy now, pay later.

    My ‘wake-up’ call came about as one of those sleeps where you wake before the alarm feeling totally rested: there is a bliss in them. When I found financial footing, unintentionally, I recognized the freedom I felt in not chasing a dollar to pay off 3$, 4$. I’ll never forget the day I could see my finances for what they were and realized I didn’t need to teach summer school anymore. It was a choice for the first time. I worked to play that summer, and I’ve never taught outside of my day job since.

    I’ve spoken with Prudence before about how much more enjoyable purchases are–be it a house, or a renovation, or a new pair of red, wing-tip, suede shoes (http://s2.onlineshoes.com/images/br095/347836_366_45.jpg)–when they are owned outright rather than held on approval.

    Saving has become a bit of a game at our house. We get so excited, and even a little ditzy Prudence, about how much we’ve managed to tuck away each month. But, of course, we know how much we are putting away; part of the fun is being savvy, and there is nothing terribly surprising when you’re doing it with purpose.

    I digress.

    I suppose I feel a lot like Rocky these days: I have some tail-thumping joie-de-vive, even if I need a coffee before I show it to the world.

    Thanks for the read. More writing means more thinking. More thinking means more awareness–and we could all use a little of that these days.

    1. Hey Cam, thanks for the link to the red suede shoes : ) That’s a cool analogy you make to the “bliss” of waking up well rested before the alarm. I could use a bit more of that kind of awakening. It’s so great that you are enjoying the “savvy” excitement of saving. Is this saving for a nest egg or saving for an outright purchase? Either way, you are on a good path. You and Rocky both : ) Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  5. What a success story! And although you haven’t reached the finish line, I can read the determination (stubbornness) in your written expression. That’s often the tricky part of waking up to whatever “snooze- button” pattern we’re living: staying the course of the new awareness, sticking with it, not falling back into comfortable slumber when we’re a little tired, stressed, or feeling “poor me, I deserve a break” with the ensuing slippery slope.
    Do you ever succumb to these feelings? How do you get back on track as you obviously do.

    1. You raise a very good point there, Elly. It IS difficult to “stay awake” sometimes. I would have to say that the most effective deterrent for me against the occasional temptation to fall off the wagon of frugality is the fact that I write about my progress on my blog. I feel so much accountability because I have “voiced” my goal to become debt free to so many. My hope is that this web site will give many people a forum in which to express their debt-reduction goals, as well as a crowd of “accountabilibuddies” for each : )
      Thank you so much for your comment!

  6. Our stories are so similar in that respect, Ruth. I too have had LOTS of guilt over not waking up sooner, but all we can do is move forward onto success, and we are!! OH, and Rocky is SO cute. Love him!

    1. I don’t have too much guilt over not waking up sooner – but it does come in waves on occasion. I want to tell everyone out there who thinks, “It’s too late for me to turn things around,” that it’s not! Start from where you are, whether you’re 25 or 65!
      (Rocky is fully aware of how cute he is, and he thanks you : )

  7. This is the perfect first commandment! Without truly acknowledging the financial situation you’re in, it’s impossible to create a sound plan. I think taking stock and being honest with myself about my finances, my life, and my goals is the best thing I’ve ever done. It forced me to articulate what I want and how I can get there. It really does start with our own perceptions!

    1. This “waking up” thing is HUGE in all areas of life – and it’s amazing how interconnected all of those areas actually end up to be. It’s fantastic that you have chosen to abide by this awareness in your own life from the get-go. Thanks so much for your comment, Mrs. FW : )

  8. Great article Prudence! Waking up and facing the light shining on beauty and struggle is exciting and scary. I think the good news is that, as human beings we have the capacity to be creative problem solvers so we need to “seize the day” and have fun while doing it. Your blog will help many in their journey.

    1. You make a good point by saying that the light shines on beauty as well as struggle. I think it was the fear of struggle that kept me hitting that snooze button for so long. But now that I’m facing the struggle, wide awake, I’m seeing unexpected beauty too. Thank you so much for your comment, Shirley. I hope that you’re right in saying that this blog will help many in their journey!

  9. We’re four decaders too. We didn’t have our financial wake up until I was 40, so wish I did earlier in life, but no time to worry about the past just need to keep moving forward, cleaning up the mess each day and teaching our children better.

    1. That’s it, Brian. You got to it at a younger age than we did, so relative to us, you’re ahead on this track. The point is to get started – no matter what your age. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Congrats..wake up and smell the roses or do a “Rocky tail thump”. So much good and meaningful in life is free – living within our means frees us up to embrace it.

    1. You make a good point, Lou, in reminding us that “waking up” means waking up to the good as well as the stressful/ugly. And it’s also true that the “freedom” part of “debt-freedom” starts well before the last payment is made. Thank you for your comment!

  11. Amazing story Ruth! Waking up and being honest with where you’re at financially is an essential first step if you ever want to make a change and improve your situation.

    1. Yes it is, Chonce. It’s sort of a protective instinct to stay in denial, but that state is powerless. You are definitely wide awake and forging ahead : ) Thanks so much for your comment!

  12. Very well said Ruth, or Prudence, or whoever you are. I connect with your stories and agree with the lessons you take from them — especially the one about the need to “be aware of what you’re doing with your money.” What we do with our money says a great deal about who we are — if we blow it away on frivolous things, we haven’t painted a very nice portrait of ourselves. But the whole world of advertising and commerce is trying to trick you into believing otherwise. It’s constantly telling you to treat yourself, you deserve it. It’s hard to resist. As you have made very clear, we’ve got to face the world honestly. We’ve got to stay wide awake and in control of ourselves, remembering what’s important in our lives. If we can control our budgets, maybe we can learn to use planet Earth prudently too. It’s all about living in the real world, recognizing what’s truly valuable and building a better future. I’m glad to see you fighting the good fight. If I were Rocky, I’d be thumping my tail right now.

    1. Thank you Paul. I am both Prudence and Ruth : ) (Is that confusing?) I believe you’ve hit upon something important in your suggestion that if we learn to control our use of financial resources, we can learn to control our use of the earth’s resources too. So much is interconnected, and I agree that clarity and authentic values light the road to a better future in all ways.

  13. What a humbling post Ruth! It can be so easy to be blind to your current financial situation, but that will definitely not help in the long run. My hubby and I were blind for several years, and although it wasn’t easy going through a wakeup call, we are in a much better place today because of it.

    1. “Humbling” is right! At first, I was so embarrassed by our debt and by my history of financial foolishness. I’m really encouraged by our progress though, and that goes a long way to eliminating any lingering shame. I’m glad that you and you hubby have benefited from your wake-up call. It’s not pleasant, but it really is a blessing in disguise. Thanks for your comment, Christina : )

  14. Yes! Looking at your overall situation, over the whole of your life, and not just in the moment, is key — it’s not enough to have the money to make the payments, you need to organize things so that you can fund the future you want without panic!

    1. It’s hard for some of us to gain that long-term view in a YOLO culture. There’s a sort of urgency to buy now so that you don’t miss out. But you’ve got the right vision. As we set up the future, urgency dissolves, and peace takes its place. Thanks for your comment, C : )

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