Aspiring to a zero balance

12 06 2010

The first Saturday that I don’t have to rush off to bring children to activities of one kind or another, and I am unable to relax and enjoy the first(what should be) hassle-free day in a very long time.  This is mainly due to the fact that my mind is racing and crammed to bursting (I wonder if anyone’s head ever actually exploded with worry?) with everything from last winter’s oil bill, to when the next overdue bill will arrive from the ESB, to the motor tax/insurance due at the end of the month, to how I will repay my mother the money I owe her, to how will I buy the kid’s school uniforms & tracksuits and new books, (all 5 in school from september) to how I am going to fill the freezer & pantry for a whole month on what is now a modest domestic budget. The list is never-ending and I sink deeper into despair….

I wonder how many other mums are haunted by the spectre of debt and fear of their children’s future?  My guess is very many.  Like many families, during the period of what we believed was “economic growth”, we availed of the credit facilities that were being thrown at us from practically every lending institution around us. While as a couple, we did not avail of a huge mortgage to purchase what we believed even then, was insanely overpriced bricks and mortar, we instead chose to rent, my other half & I did, however avail of a few relatively small loans, both privately and for a couple of start-up businesses. The rest, as everyone knows by now, is very recent history.  The bubble burst and we all had to get back to basics. The term “basics” represents a variety of things to a mixed bag of the Irish public. To some, it means selling the boat or the holiday residence on the continent. “Basics”  may represent not sending children to a fee paying school, to others, it may mean dumping the 89k vehicle and the flashy convertible and buying a second-hand car for cash. These are readjustments, while a pain in the butt & an unpleasant wakeup call, are not real sacrifices in the grand scheme of things.

A disconcerting side effect of all the stress brought about by our collective & varying debts, is the ever-increasing ominous presence of buzzards circling over our heads.  Those who would pick over our entrails as the vestiges of what has been our lives shrivel up and cease to exist in that form.  I have seen much of this in the media and it is a tragic indictment of what we have become as collective humanity.  The conspiracy theorist (that lurks within us all) would say that perhaps this is stimulated by our politicians. If there is a jumble of in-fighting and fault-finding amongst the common people (and some middle-class newly poor people) perhaps there will be slightly less focus on those who lead us into the debacle in the first place. I will concede that we did not have to blindly follow irresponsible leaders, and the extent to which some have chased the tiger is in direct proportion to the mess they find themselves in now. Fortunately (in my case) our debts are not in the hundreds of thousands, not even close to that figure, so a few good years of all the work that has been put in to date in various projects, may eventually yield enough to get back to a zero balance. What an aspiration eh!

No matter how much pressure we feel it always should be remembered that there are others on this planet who have a life or death struggle each and every day. We in the developed world will never know what that truly is. Even those who take time out to assist the needy in various less developed countries will admit that somewhere in the recesses of their minds, is the certainty that eventually they will again experience a warm bath and a satisfying meal.  I have met many good people over the past number of months and many of them are struggling financially in their personal lives.  This does not deter them from giving time and what ever little material help they can squeeze out or raise, to a worthy cause.  It is the experience of struggle in our own world that heightens our ability to empathise with those in places much less forgiving.

I had a bizarre experience the other day. A local business person to whom I owe EURO900 flagged me down on the road (making me late when I was on my way to pick up my 6yr old from her school tour, more stress *que exploding head*), this person proceeded to reference a recent distorted tabloid article regarding volunteer work. “I’ve seen how you were able to raise money to go over there, why can’t you pay my bill?” What an extraordinary leap!  Do only those who are completely debt free have the ability to help those who are much worse off?

If this were the case, most of the charities now in existence would lose most of their volunteers. Of this I am absolutely certain. I wondered afterwards how a respected business person could assume that funds raised for a charity could be somehow used to offset personal debts…….???? Major WTF moment. Perhaps that anyone could make that leap says a little more about them than the person they are apportioning this judgment to.

It is possible and necessary to compartmentalise our lives at times. The events in each compartment remain apart. Each compartment is dealt with separately in whatever means exist in that compartment. If one compartment appears to be covering costs and meeting demands and another compartment is not, the explanation is simple and obvious. The means to resolve the requirements in the struggling portion have not been achieved yet. My struggling portion, like many other mums at present, is my domestic budget & personal finances. I am working on it. Some of the other compartments are doing ok and covering at least some bases.

When I was in my twenties, my biggest worry was whether or not I would have enough cash flow to support my shoe/clothes/accessories/restaurant/concert/party/ motorcycle gluttony. It was all about me, and that’s ok.  I am glad to have had those self-indulgent days.  It makes these days of taking care of everyone but me somehow easier to deal with. Taking care of others is actually more gratifying in the long-term. The *I, me, myself* era tended toward an unsightly feeding frenzy more often than not.  Been there, done that to death. I now aspire to that magical , illusive holy grail that is the zero balance.

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