Patience is a muscle.
We are born with no patience and squall the moment we have a need. Lucky for most of us there was someone there to provide for those simple needs. Food, clean diaper, close contact, sleep. We cried for these things and they were magically delivered.
As we grew we learned patience. It was a hard lesson to learn because young children want everything right now but eventually begin to understand caregivers have needs, too. The muscle begins to get toned and defined and we are able to wait in line for lunch without running madly to the lunchlady and insisting on being served first. We wait our turn.
I think the most difficult part is when we realize patience is a choice. We can get a credit card and buy something we want right now, or we can save up the cash and buy it in a few days/weeks/months. We can date someone for years or we can get elope in Vegas. Almost every decision we make has an opposite choice that can be made and in many cases one of those choices requires patience.
When Mr. Brickie and I realized we hated marketing and couldn’t participate in an industry we disliked so deeply, we realized it was going to causea huge problem financially. In order to come out the other side unscathed, we needed a plan that involved years of patience. I don’t think either one of us had ever done anything before that required YEARS of patience. It takes years to go from a 40% bricklayer apprentice at about $17/hr. to a Journeyman at over $40/hr.
Years that would see us lose our house and move to a new state. Patience, we learned, does not mean sitting silently in wait like a crouched tiger ready to strike. It can also look like chaos and failure and fear. Patience can involve transition after transition and you weather them all, knowing the goal is still farther down the path and requires still more waiting and breath-holding and furious scribbled charts and lists of incoming and outgoing cash.
In the middle there are other decisions that require patience as a choice. I have not always been successful in flexing my patience muscle. I still have $200 in the savings account from the fundraiser but I signed up for a credit card because after a cash-based low-cost Christmas I had no spendable cash and couldn’t look my kids in the eye and say, “No birthday gifts for you guys, sorry, maybe next year.”
Should I have been patient and made my children understand low budget Christmas AND low budget birthdays? Yes. Very much so. Am I happy I got $70 off my Amazon purchase and now have a credit card that gives me 3% cash back on Amazon purchases with no annual fee? Yes. Very much so. It means the other credit card will get paid off and put in a drawer somewhere because it only has 2% cash back. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m rationalizing my decisions so I can sleep at night or if I actually make good choices. Patience can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re sitting alone in the middle of nowhere and the only voice you hear is your own echoed back to you in distorted, low tones on the wind.
Patience is lonely, sometimes. I can’t go to fun events because my money has to stay in my bank account for rent or a car payment or gas and electric. Now that we are in between states and cancelled our food stamps (SNAP) in Illinois we don’t have an appointment until February 9th with Indiana and we might not even qualify because I’m just not as well versed with the public aid system here in a state I didn’t grow up in or become poor in or live poor in. In the meantime there is the food pantry we can go to bi-weekly and we are grateful, but nervous.
Patience is anxious when you start to make six quarts of tomato sauce with a pound of ground beef so the flavor is there without the expense. It is anxious when you want to sign up for the low-income YMCA membership but have to be patient because you won’t be able to afford even the drastically reduced rate until after the tax refund comes.
It might sound like I hate being patient, but I don’t. It is an active form of meditation. It is a chant in the back of my mind, “Good choices now will give my children a better life later.” If children learn what they live, mine will learn that losing everything does not destroy you. Starting over is not a curse. A budget is like a bonsai tree – shape it and gently guide it but do not be hasty or make large changes suddenly. I keep my budget taped to the wall next to my computer.
Patience is an antidote to financial shame. Spending money I don’t have to go out with friends and family might feel good in the moment but will create shame later because something else will have to be ignored or skipped because I made an impulsive decision. If I keep everything open with my family and even with you, my dear financial friends, then there is no shame because you can only shame me for my secrets. You could judge me if you wanted to, that’s okay. You can even take a moment to exploit my situation to make you feel better about your own. (You know, that whole I appreciate my legs because some people don’t have any. As if a person can’t appreciate legs without someone legless having to help a girl out.)
I’m fine if my situation makes someone else feel better. I’m thrilled if my stories help another person to make a budget for the first – or fiftieth – time. I have to tell you, though, patience can make time just hang and then suddenly you don’t remember any of the waiting and all the little memories are gone, too, lost in the memory of the waiting feeling.
I’ll be damned if I ever let myself forget how low the lows felt and how high the highs felt.
Even if I have to go back and read it to remember.