There’s a thing called decision fatigue (pdf download of an interesting journal article on self-control and decision making). Basically, after you make a bunch of decisions, the quality of your decisions decreases until, eventually, you’re making full-on stupid decisions.
Decision fatigue is one of the things that keeps poor people poor. You’re under this pile of bricks and each one has something written on it. This one over here says, “food” and this one over here says, “feed the kids” and this one says, “Gas bill” and this one over here says, “do something to maintain your marriage” and that one over there says, “save money” and there’s one right next to my face that says, “buy a sundress for your friend’s graduation party” or “just get fast food for dinner” or “spend time with the kids” or “check the homework and sign the homework planner” and “go to the gym” and “make a salad” and it’s like all the decisions forever are all etched into these bricks and it’s YOUR responsibility to lift every one and put it in order. Sure, the first bricks are easy to put where they need to be. “Get the kids to school” and “feed them a healthy breakfast” make the cut. “Do the dishes” happens but it’s a little tougher and by the time you’ve gotten to “make a healthy dinner for the family” your muscles are downright shaky any you’re starting to question if you can, in fact, keep this wall from toppling down on you. No matter how you feel the bricks – and the choices – keep piling up.
Decision fatigue changes that from, “stack all the bricks in order of what is most important and do it every day and don’t veer from it” to, “oh look a sundress wouldn’t it be nice to have something cute for a change”
Moving the bricks is drudgery. It’s the same thing, every day. Check the bank account. Make sure there are no surprises. (move the brick, move the brick) and it’s true that forming habits of checking the accounts and making sure things are paid and knowing my bills by heart is all helpful with not using so much thought on these things but it’s not a perfect system.
I dream of having enough money to just let everything auto-draft right out of my checking account. To just know there’s enough in there and we can cover it all. It would be like having a magical brick machine that moved the bricks off of me and put them … somewhere else where I don’t see them and only have to check in once a month to make sure everything has happened as planned.
I’ve spent so many years with “No” as my default answer. years NOT spending money and NOT shopping and NOT getting nice things for myself, my husband, and my children. Sometimes I berate myself for it because how silly to be tired from NOT doing things. Instead of the store I can hang out at home. Instead of the movies we can just play a game at the kitchen table. Instead of a museum you guys can just go to the park. How can I complain when I have all thse other alternate choices, I should consider myself lucky!
When they are things you really want to do (or normal things only you and the other poors can’t do) they wear down your decision fatigue. Not doing something is as much a decision as doing something when it’s an active choice.
Let’s be honest with one another. I’m totally buying a sundress. Decision fatigue is like an old volcano and it needs a sacrifice in order to stay quiet. I’ll do my best to not completely kill the budget by amiing for an at/under pricepoint of $35.00 so, obviously, it’s not going to be a fancy, designer sundress but if I seriously have to go to the thrift store one more time? Just…no. (I don’t know what your thrift store looks like but the plus section in my thrift store is like the eighth circle of hell.) I consider it a compromise even as part of my brain will – I’m sure – consider it a failure and lack of willpower.
So this is how it is. I stack the bricks and I move the bricks and I keep track of them as I build a wall every month and make sure the whole thing doesn’t topple on me and crush me and, every once in a while, I say fuck it and buy a sundress.
When was the last time you gave in to decision fatigue and just bought something that wasn’t in your budget?