DAYS 7 & 8: Financial Fast gets harder when required to plan

You haven’t heard from me since DAY 6 of Michelle Singletary’s 21-Day Financial Fast for two good reasons:  I got lost in my closet and DAY 7 required me to do a budget.

I have never done a budget. Not in my entire adult life. DAY 7 was Sunday. Today is Tuesday, and I’m still trying to do a budget.

budget calculator budget for rotator_0Oh, I had every excuse in the world:

Microsoft Excel sucks.

There’s no way to calculate what I might spend on some things.

I don’t want to.

None of the excuses were good ones, and I’ve put it off long enough. So between the NBC Nightly News and the 19 other tasks I have on my plate tonight, I’m going back to the numbers.

I will create a living document. I will place it on the wall where I can see it every day.

I have learned so much about myself: how quickly I spend money, how much I waste money; how little I pay attention to ways I could save money. I’ve kicked myself with questions: Why didn’t I refinance my house three years ago? Why didn’t I save more?

Michelle writes in the book that guides the fast about Joseph (from Genesis 41: 47-4) who stored grain from the fields even when they were overflowing. He stored so much that “he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  He stored for when the famine came.

We think a famine isn’t coming – even as one is just ending. Joseph’s instructions came to him in a dream. Ours come from parables that we can use to guide our judgment or ignore at our own peril.

In the book, Michelle asks: “How many blessings are you missing because you spend every dime you make? Who are you failing to connect with and bless because you don’t have enough to share – because you’ve failed to save?”

I thought of the trip to Africa I’m taking in the spring and how I canceled going to this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I was patting myself on the back until I realized that had I budgeted better, saved better, I could have done both.

And then it got real deep. I thought about that choice I faced versus the ones that some people make – between medicine and food, between rent and diapers.

Am I an idiot or what?

The DAY 8 guidelines were simple: have two essential funds: an emergency fund and a “life happens” fund. The first should have six months worth of living expenses. The second should have at least $1,000.

I recalled when Paula Madison, a television executive and all-around dynamo who now is an owner of the L.A. Sparks told me years ago that she began saving for her retirement when she was 21 years old.

It looks good on her.

I wish all the time that I had listened.

But what the financial fast has taught me is that it’s not too late. Michelle suggests knowing your net worth. It’s not something you have to discuss over lunch, but you should have an idea.

She also talked about her grandmother living every day as if she would lose her job at the end of it. Anyone working for a newspaper these days should feel the same way. But she also suggests not living in fear.

I don’t know how you do both, except to see that living with debt is like living with obesity. You decide how fat and unhealthy you want to be.

Michelle didn’t say that.

I did.

ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer and blogger whose posts here are about her personal adventures. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley, and she hopes you will support her Kickstarter campaign to record an acoustic gospel album here!