The $20 Challenge: Making it more "me"

The $20 Challenge: Making it more "me"
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I have been quiet for the past couple of weeks — but I haven’t given up on the challenge; I am, however, trying to reframe it.

The $20 Challenge takes lots of energy. It’s a lot of math, most of which is in my head, on the go — which is kind of stressful. When an unexpected opportunity or expense comes up, I have to strategize: Can we afford this? Where will I be able to save after the fact? And these questions are often followed by self-doubt that I’ll screw up again and guilt for screwing up, when nothing has even happened — I’m just predicting based on past experience, and that’s not fair.

I thought to myself today, I need a way to make this easier. Cash budgets work for a lot of people, so I could try taking $100 out every Monday to use throughout the week. With the kids back in school, it wouldn’t be hard to maintain — we’ve had a few impromptu pizza nights, but other than that they haven’t been as bored and needy as they are over the summer. That directly equates to spending less money on toys and treats.

It feels like other limits need to be set as well, however. Like I have to start doing the heavy lifting — those annoying tasks that everyone says save you money but you’d rather go to the dentist than do. For example:

  • Calling the car insurance company to see how raising the deductible would affect your premiums
  • Calling the credit card companies to ask for lower interest rates
  • Organizing the coupon cache so that finding the practical ones (for things like toothpaste, toilet paper, paper towel, etc) is easier
  • Starting, keeping and maintaining a Price Book in a practical, user-friendly way so that you know, when out and about, if you’re getting a good deal or not on the above items and other things

There are larger pieces of the puzzle in play as well, and I’ve been struggling with it because of one reason: All of the energy funneled into this just doesn’t feel like ME. I know I shouldn’t identify my “self” as someone who overspends or someone who always goes over budget or someone who is “bad” with money. But I also don’t feel like I fit in this other box of super-saving, uber-thrifty, I-know-how-to-stretch-a-dollar moms. Maybe that is the problem, I thought — I’m trying to label myself while this is all going on, perpetuating an old belief that I don’t belong or fit in or I’m a misfit. Which sometimes works to my advantage — I know I’m a rebel and I have to do things my own way, but I’m also impatient and I want it all figured out NOW! I just want it to be easy, I said to myself over lunch…and I don’t want to feel like my life revolves around this challenge and a $20 bill. Doesn’t it always seem like so much hinges on money? Is it just me?

Yesterday was my birthday, so luckily this all feels like a fresh start. I looked myself in the mirror last night and quite seriously gave myself a kicking-ass-and-taking-names pep talk. I have support; I have great friends and a community of healing practitioners around me who remind me that I’m doing great and I can look forward to “this or better.” Whatever stereotype I’m trying to latch on to or whatever cardboard box I’m removing from the top of my head, I know that’s all just surface stuff…if I can relate even the small decisions back to the bigger picture, the bigger dream, and listen to my gut, I know at least it will FEEL easier.

Whether you think we’re human beings having a spiritual experience or spiritual beings having a human experience, there will always be that tension between the practical and the spiritual. So the conclusion I finally came to is that the practice is remembering what matters most. The practice is life itself, so it’s somewhere in here as well, and the trick is to not make the looking for it the hard part — which is why The $20 Challenge has been working in the first place. Spending less means bringing less crap into the home. Having less crap around me at home makes it easier for me to focus, think clearly and maintain a calm balance. Should I be able to do that no matter what the situation? Sure, you could argue that either way. But I know how I *like* my life to look. And if I can keep it on a level of effortless peace and ease, I won’t be having these conversations in my head any more about painful phone calls and contorting myself to save a buck. When I am who I am and I’m more IN the flow of how I like to live my life than OUT of it, all of these decisions seemingly make themselves.

Losing yourself in the midst of change is easier than staying present. I don’t want it to keep happening, though, and that is at the heart of what matters most — when you lose sight of who you are, everything goes sideways, from money to parenting to work and play. I am reminded of this morning’s entry in The Book of Awakening — Mark Nepo reframes “unconditional love” to mean an unconditional commitment to be all of who we are, honestly, in the name of love. This challenge is nothing if it isn’t in the name of love, for myself and the kids. And being relentlessly who I am does NOT have to be a challenge — no more added pressure — it should feel good, and it should feel ease-full. Any time in the challenge or in life when it isn’t, that is a sign that I’m drifting out of my lane. I know the feeling. I think maybe I’ve just spent a lot of time ignoring it.

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